Climate Equity Agenda Key to Passage of California's Climate Legislation

Environmental advocacy is not enough. Environmental and social justice must play a role in California's legislative effort to battle climate change, opine two professors from UC Berkeley and USC in the San Francisco Chronicle.

2 minute read

September 21, 2016, 9:20 AM PDT

By Irvin Dawid

Climate Change Protest

Mariusz S. Jurgielewicz / Shutterstock

California nearly ended its historic, decade-long legislative effort to fight climate change that began with the passage of the California Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006. Instead, "Gov. Jerry Brown cemented an unexpectedly strong alliance of labor unions, grassroots 'environmental justice' organizations and environmentalists," opine Carol Zabin, who chairs the Donald Vial Center on Employment in the Green Economy at University of California, Berkeley, and Manuel Pastorprofessor of sociology and director of the Program for Environmental and Regional Equity at the University of Southern California, in this op-ed for the San Francisco Chronicle.

In the face of business opposition, these groups helped pass SB32, a bill to require a 40 percent emissions reduction by 2030, by pairing it with a companion bill, AB197, designed to ensure that emissions reductions and job benefits actually occur in less advantaged neighborhoods.

Zabin, Pastor, Abigail Martin, and Jim Sadd authored research released on September 13 on the pairing of labor and environmental justice groups to fight climate change in California.

According to Zabin and Pastor, "Research has shown that incentives for residential rooftop solar and clean cars have gone disproportionately to more affluent people, forcing those left out to advocate separate programs for renters and low-income drivers." On the labor front, unions question whether jobs in the "low-carbon sector" will pay as high as those in "conventional energy infrastructure."

The climate equity agenda was also key to a $900 million agreement struck between Gov. Jerry Brown and legislative leaders on how to spend cap-and-trade revenues in the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund.

Per the governor's press release of Sept. 14:

"These cap-and-trade investments will help spur innovation of all kinds to curb carbon pollution," said Governor Brown at a signing ceremony in downtown Fresno, where cap-and-trade proceeds are helping to improve bus rapid transit services and access to affordable housing.

Zabin and Pastor acknowledge that "[s]ocial equity and emissions reductions are not always easy to pair."

One example is community-scale solar, which involves decentralized, midsize solar projects that are larger and thus lower-cost than solar rooftop on individual homes. Community solar can be located in poor areas, does not require homeownership, and can be contracted to include prevailing wage standards and entry into apprenticeship programs for local residents.

Engaging workers and disadvantaged communities will be key to future climate legislative successes, conclude Zabin and Pastor.

Related research:

Related on Planetizen:

Social Equity: The Missing Leg of the Three-Legged Stool of Climate ActionMarch 13, 2016

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