Investments in Environmental Justice Screening, Mapping Tools Needed to Reduce Climate Impacts, Environmental Degradation

WASHINGTON, D.C. — For decades, Black, brown, Latinx and Indigenous communities have been forced to bear the brunt of pollution, climate impacts, and environmental degradation. Environmental Justice Screening and Mapping tools, which allow researchers and policymakers to analyze patterns of environmental and climate hazards, can be a powerful ally to fight this injustice. Current tools, however, often omit crucial data pertaining to factors like social and economic progress, resilience, and public health — factors that can demonstrate a community’s ability to withstand and respond to the threats of climate change.

A new report released by Dr. Sacoby Wilson and other researchers at the Center for Community Engagement, Environmental Justice, and Health at the University of Maryland, in partnership with the National Wildlife Federation, identifies a comprehensive list of indicators that better represent climate equity and climate resilience, which should be included in any new environmental or climate justice mapping tool. The report also included policy recommendations to integrate these mapping tools into decision-making, and help address barriers to climate justice to build healthy, sustainable, and resilient communities.

Worsening extreme weather events like heatwaves, floods and hurricanes are ravaging already disadvantaged communities,” said Dr. Wilson, director of the Center for Community Engagement, Environmental Justice, and Health and associate professor at the University of Maryland. “Through mapping health, environmental, climate, sociodemographic, and economic data, environmental justice screening and mapping tools can support equitable access to climate solutions by building understanding of where environmental and climate impacts occur. Properly investing in these tools, and using them to drive decision-making, is absolutely crucial if we want to create healthy, resilient, and equitable communities for all — and absolutely crucial if we are to meet the goals of the Justice40 Initiative”

This report comes as pressure mounts for the White House to advance a critical climate and economic justice screening tool, which is expected to be released this year as a part of the Biden administration’s Justice40 Initiative.

“When it comes to confronting the climate crisis, Black, Brown and Indigenous communities are overburdened and underserved and that is fundamentally unjust,” said Mustafa Santiago Ali, vice president of environmental justice, climate and community revitalization at the National Wildlife Federation. “Developing these vital screening and mapping tools and implementing them into state action plans and federal legislation will help give frontline and fenceline communities fair and equitable access to basic human rights like clean air and clean water and the resources they need to move from surviving to thriving.”

The report laid out gaps in existing environmental justice mapping tools and proposed indicators to better measure socioeconomic equity and progress, such as increases in the local minimum wage, and advancement of green businesses or businesses owned by people of color. It also included specific policy recommendations for federal and state decision-makers, to ensure geospatial tools are widely available, commonly used, and highly relevant and to operationalize climate equity and social progress into programs and policies. The recommendations include: 

  • Microtarget areas in greatest need of intervention.
  • Ensure adequate funding, maintenance, and oversight of the tool.
  • Focus on equitable organizational and procurement capacity building. The development of locally relevant indicators should be a reciprocal process to ensure the data reflects challenges and barriers faced by community-based organizations while guiding restorative policies and financial assistance for dismantling systemic inequities.
  • Codify the use of federal environmental justice mapping tools into legislation at all levels of governance, planning, and development. Formal guidance on proper use and acceptability of Environmental Justice Screening and Mapping tools, their data, and their analysis will increase application and impact for translation into policy development. Ensuring the new nationwide Environmental Justice Screening and Mapping tool can calculate cumulative impacts and a comprehensive equity score will also help policymakers more effectively integrate the tool into decision making.
  • Pursue further high-resolution datasets to fill spatial data gaps. A major challenge for effectively building and utilizing this tool is the lack of quality data on indicators related to environmental risks and community needs as well as economic progress, climate risk, and resilience
  • Utilize Environmental Justice Screening and Mapping tools to inform federal funding distribution. Environmental Justice Screening and Mapping tools are useful in increasing public environmental health literacy, validating community experiences, and informing federal and local plans to build healthy, resilient and just communities.

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