Image: California Department of Water Resources

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.

Factors that contribute to vulnerability include existing inequities, institutionalized racism, and exclusion; poor environmental conditions, lack of access to services, and poor living conditions; existing conditions such as chronic health or mental illnesses; and a lack of investment and opportunities. All of these factors contribute to a person or community’s vulnerability to the impacts of climate change and ability to adapt.

Communities on the front lines of climate change 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 economy marked by inclusive democratic participation in the policy decisions that affect daily life.[1]

Moving towards an integrated approach

The Governor and legislature of California recognize that while climate change touches everyone, the impacts do not affect all people equally and resources must support the resilience of the people most vulnerable to the effects of climate change. While not specific to climate adaptation, the California Legislature recognizes the need to target climate mitigation investments in Disadvantaged Communities. Authorized by the California Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006 (AB 32), the cap-and-trade program is one of several strategies that California uses to reduce greenhouse gas emissions that cause climate change. The funds must be used for programs that further reduce emissions of greenhouse gases, and through Senate Bill 535 (de Leon) and Assembly Bill 1550 (Gomez), a dedicated share of the proceeds from the State’s cap-and-trade program must benefit disadvantaged communities.

Many of the State’s existing climate mitigation investment programs are also building in climate adaptation and resiliency components, specifically targeting efforts that build resilience within disadvantaged and vulnerable communities. And, with the passage of Assembly Bill 398, climate adaptation and resiliency is now identified as one of the seven priority expenditure areas for the cap-and-trade program.

State agencies, prioritizing actions that promote equity and foster community resilience

As directed by Executive Order B-30-15, state agencies are also taking action to incorporate climate adaptation considerations into planning and investment decisions. Guided by the principles specified in the executive order, state agencies need to “prioritize actions that promote equity and foster community resilience”.

While many state agencies are in the early stage of implementing EO B-30-15, the Governor’s Office of Planning and Research, with support from a Technical Advisory Group, developed guidance to support agency implementation, including guidance on how to promote equity and foster community resilience.

How to prioritize actions that promote equity

Entities working to create or implement adaptation plans, programs, or projects should identify vulnerable communities by assessing physical, social and economic factors. . While a tool has yet to exist that specifically identifies vulnerability to climate impacts related to adaptive capacity, tools such as CalEnviroScreen 3.0, the Healthy Places Index, and the Regional Opportunity Index can be used to identify vulnerable communities by census tract. These tools, when used in combination with climate projections can help to identify how a changing climate may exacerbate existing inequities. Cal-Adapt is a publically accessible online resource that provides climate projections data and visualization tools.

Building community resilience also requires meaningful collaboration and partnership with frontline communities that are experts in creating solutions that are responsive to community need and opportunity. Inclusive public engagement is essential to give people a voice and decision-making power over actions that affect their lives.

A useful tool to help public agencies incorporate equity considerations into community resilience and adaptation efforts is the Equity Checklist (link), a tool included in the EO B-30-15 guidance. Public agencies can apply equity considerations by completing the Equity Checklist as part of adaptation and resiliency processes.

All Resources for Equity And Environmental Justice