Explore climate equity related resources in the search area below.

Climate Vulnerability

Preparing for climate change requires increasing the resilience of communities and people to be able to withstand and recover from climate-related disruptions, and to be able to learn and adapt in the face of this change. However, some communities are better positioned to respond, recover, and adjust as these changes occur, while others are more vulnerable and experience disproportionate impacts. Vulnerable communities caution that the goal of climate adaptation should not be to simply help people “bounce back” after disasters and other climate effects, but to “bounce forward” to a renewable, sustainable, and regenerative economy marked by climate equity and inclusive democratic participation in policy decisions that impact daily life.[1A primary charge of the Integrated Climate Adaptation and Resiliency Program (ICARP) at the Governor’s Office of Planning and Research (OPR) is to prioritize equitable adaptation solutions to the climate risks faced across the state – advancing a climate-resilient California for all (SB 246, Wieckowski, 2015).

A critical component of equitable adaptation is examining the impacts of climate risks on vulnerable communities. The ICARP Technical Advisory Council (SB 1320, Stern, 2020) describes vulnerability factors in the Defining Vulnerable Communities in the Context of Climate Adaptation guide as follows: 

“Climate vulnerability describes the degree to which natural, built, and human systems are at risk of exposure to climate change impacts. Vulnerable communities experience heightened risk and increased sensitivity to climate change and have less capacity and fewer resources to cope with, adapt to, or recover from climate impacts. These disproportionate effects are caused by physical (built and environmental), social, political, and/or economic factor(s), which are exacerbated by climate impacts. These factors include, but are not limited to, race, class, sexual orientation and identification, national origin, and income inequality.” 

This definition and the accompanying guidebook builds on the State of California’s commitment to equity and environmental justice as part of an integrated strategy to build climate resilience. For additional state history, background and definitions related to equity, access the Background tab of this page. Climate Vulnerability Components Graphic - adapted from 2020 APG

Adapting to climate change involves strategies for planners, communities, and individuals to be able to prepare for, withstand, and recover from immediate and worsening climate risks. However, some communities are better positioned to do so, while others are burdened with navigating systemic socioeconomic and environmental inequities in addition to climate impacts. The ability to moderate the potential damages or take advantage of the opportunities from climate change is known as adaptive capacity and is influenced by many factors.

Burdens that reduce resilience and adaptive capacity include:

  • existing inequities, such as those caused by institutionalized racism, redlining policies, and exclusionary practices or political disenfranchisement;
  • disproportionate exposure to environmental pollution;
  • lack of access to healthcare, education, jobs, and other services or opportunities; 
  • persistent housing insecurity, gentrification, and poor living conditions; 
  • physical states or conditions, such as age and pregnancy; 
  • and chronic health or mental illnesses, some of which are a result of structural racism and classism.

Each of these factors contribute to a person or community’s ability or inability to navigate and adapt to climate impacts. 

Entities working to create or implement adaptation plans, programs, projects, or generally working to build adaptive capacity, should identify vulnerable communities by assessing physical, social, and economic factors using both quantitative and qualitative sources. For more information on climate vulnerability, see: Defining Vulnerable Communities in the Context of Climate Adaptation. This guide outlines climate vulnerability assessment tools to evaluate climate risk and adaptive capacity, and specific indicators to include in vulnerability assessments. Phase 2 of the Adaptation Planning Guide provides specific steps and guidance to local governments for completing their vulnerability assessments.

To explore completed vulnerability assessments, use the Phase 2: Assess Vulnerability filter in the search below. To compare more tools and data sources, explore the Tools, Data and Scientific Studies and Find a Tool pages on this site. The Equitable Planning and Community Engagement page also provides a summary of 2020 Adaptation Planning Guide equitable adaptation resources and guidance.

What is Climate Equity?

As defined in California’s 2020 Adaptation Planning Guide,  

Equity means that all people are justly and fairly included in society and that everyone is able to participate, prosper, and achieve their full potential.[1] It recognizes that everyone enjoys different advantages and faces different challenges, and that everyone should be treated justly and fairly according to their circumstances. Equitable climate adaptation planning involves identifying persons who may be most vulnerable to climate change and ensuring that planning processes, distribution of resources, and efforts to address systemic wrongs are all conducted in an equitable manner.”

Equitable approaches to adaptation build on a long legacy of environmental justice efforts in California. According to the OPR General Plan Guidelines, equity is a framework that encompasses a range of topics such as “access to jobs and economic opportunity, arts and culture, safety from violence, public administration, management of goods and services, access to education, and complete neighborhoods. Social equity is applied across the age range and various disciplines, and has many other nuances.”  Environmental justice fits within this framework and is focused on “the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of people of all races, cultures, incomes, and national origins with respect to the development, adoption, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies” as codified in California state law. In 2016, after decades of grassroots organizing from social justice organizations and allies, the California Legislature and Governor passed SB 1000 (Leyva, 2016), which requires local governments to include an environmental justice element, or related goals, policies and objectives integrated in other general plan elements, that identifies vulnerable communities within their jurisdiction.

Building on this concept but specific to climate change, climate justice is defined in the APG as “the concept that no group of people should disproportionately bear the burden of climate impacts or the costs of mitigation and adaptation”.[2] (APG pg. 155). Health equity is also closely related to environmental and climate justice. Health equity examines all factors, including pollution burden, that shape health disparities for different groups, that are systemic and avoidable and, therefore, considered unjust or unfair. Health equity means that everyone has a fair and just opportunity to be as healthy as possible.[3] This requires removing obstacles to health such as poverty, discrimination, and their consequences, including powerlessness and lack of access to good jobs with fair pay, quality education and housing, safe environments, and health care. Learn more and find resources at the California Department of Public Health website. 

Together, these definitions inform the concept of climate equity, a crucial aspect of holistic climate resilience for all.

In addition to ICARP, many of the state’s climate mitigation investment programs have integrated climate equity. AB 398 (E. Garcia, 2017) requires these programs to target efforts that build resilience and mitigate emissions within disadvantaged and vulnerable communities. SB 535 (de Leon, 2012) and AB 1550 (Gomez, 2016)  require that a percent of proceeds from the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund (GGRF) be spent on projects located in disadvantaged communities.  State agencies are also taking action to incorporate climate considerations into planning and investment decisions, as directed by Executive Orders B-30-15 and N-19-19. Guided by the principles specified in the executive orders, State agencies must “prioritize actions that promote equity and foster community resilience.”  OPR, with support from a Technical Advisory Group, developed Planning and Investing for a Resilient California: A Guidebook for State Agencies as guidance to support agency implementation.

More information on equitable adaptation planning is provided on the Equitable Planning & Community Engagement page of this Topic, which highlights the historical legacies of disinvestment in environmental justice communities, introduces key concepts in contemporary efforts to address harm and lead change, and offers guidance for those seeking to implement new standards from the 2020 Adaptation Planning Guide. Additional Climate Equity resources are available using the search tool below. 

The following summarizes equitable planning and community engagement concepts from the four phases of the 2020 Adaptation Planning Guide. To learn more, explore the full text of the APG and the searchable database of climate equity resources below.

What is equitable planning and community engagement?

Building community resilience requires meaningful collaboration and partnership with vulnerable communities that are experts in creating solutions that are centered around community needs and opportunities.This is especially important where communities have historically been excluded from government decision-making – for example, Tribal governments and communities have frequently been marginalized in local government decisions throughout California’s history. Equitable public engagement is essential to establish meaningful relationships with communities, repair and build trust, provide a space for open dialogue, allow people to express their voice and experiences, and share decision-making power over actions that affect their lives and those of future generations. 

Table 1. Types of Equity
Procedural Equity
- Create processes that are transparent, fair, and inclusive in developing and implementing any program, plan, or policy.
- Ensure that all people are treated openly and fairly.
- Increase the civic engagement opportunities of communities that are disproportionately impacted by climate change.
Distributional Equity
- Fairly distribute resources, benefits, and burdens.
- Prioritize resources for communities that experience the greatest inequities and most disproportionate impacts and have the greatest unmet needs.
Structural Equity
- Make a commitment to correct past harms and prevent future unintended consequences
- Address the underlying structural and institutional systems that are the root causes of social and racial inequities
- Include adaptation strategies to eliminate poverty, create workforce development, address racism, increase civic participation, protect housing availability, increase education, and provide healthcare.

Source: Tina Yuen, Eric Yurkovich, Lauren Grabowski, and Beth Altshuler, “Guide to Equitable Community-Driven Climate Preparedness Planning,” prepared for Urban Sustainability Directors Network, May 2017, https://www.usdn.org/uploads/cms/documents/ usdn_guide_to_equitable_community-driven_climate_preparedness-_high_res.pdf

Certain communities experience climate risks more than others, impacting their resilience amid a changing climate. As communities indicate the need to equitably distribute resilience resources to those most vulnerable, it is helpful to think of equity as multidimensional and having three objectives: procedural, distributional, and structural, as demonstrated by the table on the right excerpted from the 2020 Adaptation Planning Guide (APG). The APG also recommends that community outreach and engagement should be conducted through all phases of adaptation research and planning, and should continue through implementation. 

Tips Before Getting Started

Before beginning a community engagement process, government entities may consider a self-assessment to gauge the effectiveness and equity of existing engagement practices. Useful tools for a self-assessment, as explored and recommended in the APG, are The Spectrum of Community Engagement to Ownership guide by the Movement Strategy Center, which is a theoretical model for varying levels of participation and engagement, or the Adaptation Capability Advancement Toolkit (Adapt-CA) by the Alliance of Regional Collaboratives for Climate Adaptation.

The APG does not make a specific recommendation for any one set of activities or goals. Local agencies and communities must determine what level of engagement is appropriate to facilitate community participation in decision-making. It is useful for government agencies to conduct such a self-assessment to see how much existing community relationships and trust, staff capacity, financial resources, and time they have for a project before deciding what an engagement strategy will look like, in order to accurately communicate the decision-making influence a community will have over a policy or plan and continue to build trust. 

Additional detail on community engagement strategies and considerations in the context of the four-phase APG process are included below; these summarize many of the Guide’s suggestions; but are not intended as a replacement for reading the guide, which contains additional details, resources, and guidance not presented here meant for the context of a comprehensive climate adaptation planning process. Beginning with the adaptation planning scoping phase (Phase 1), continuing with the vulnerability assessment (Phase 2), and approaching the development of strategies (Phase 3), the APG reinforces that close collaboration bolsters community understanding and support for implementation. Implementation (Phase 4) should build on prior engagement activities, actively and meaningfully involve community members, and provide transparency and accountability in the monitoring, learning, evaluation of effectiveness, and course corrections.

Example Engagement Strategies

In all phases, equity is a critical component of these efforts. This could mean informing and engaging climate vulnerable populations by:

  • Partnering with community-based organizations to conduct outreach (and providing stipends when available).
  • Using culturally appropriate materials in relevant languages and approach outreach in ways that are culturally familiar to the community.
  • Holding events at local, frequently visited locations that are easily accessible by transit (like libraries, schools, or recreation centers).
  • Doing preparation work to train community members to be ambassadors on the planning process and lead aspects of the outreach.
  • Use arts, music, and storytelling to engage youth and a broader audience.
  • Providing childcare services and/or kids’ activities. 
  • Provide assistive technologies (products, equipment, and systems) to help people who may have difficulty speaking, typing, writing, remembering, pointing, seeing, hearing, or learning.

Meaningful and equitable community engagement will look different for every community according to the unique context, needs, and capacities of distinct communities. Finally, Tribal Governments and communities are also often underrepresented in local government processes and should be intentionally engaged or partnered with throughout the process, especially when a potential project impacts tribal resources. (Note: If the plan or project resulting from the adaptation process is a General Plan Amendment or otherwise subject to the California Environmental Quality Act, the lead agency must follow state regulations for tribal consultation and assessment of potential impacts to cultural resources as early as possible in the project.)

Summary of Equitable Planning Considerations in the 2020 APG

The following considerations are not an exhaustive list of all guidance from the APG. Explore each phase in more depth or download the full guide to learn more.

Equitable Outreach - APG Summary Table


A useful tool to help public agencies incorporate equity considerations into community resilience and adaptation efforts is the Equity Checklist, a tool included in the EO B-30-15 guidance, found in the featured state resources below. Public agencies can apply equity considerations by completing the Equity Checklist as part of adaptation and resiliency processes. While this checklist is designed to be a helpful tool, it is critical to treat this checklist as just one tool amongst many to integrate equity throughout the process. There are many additional strategies and considerations that may be useful and more applicable to each unique community than what is included on checklists such as this one. 

Additional resources for community engagement and communications can be found by using the keyword “community engagement” in the Search below, or using the Communication and Educational Material filter. 

Featured State Resources

All Resources for Climate Equity