How will climate change affect Cleveland’s poor communities?

The U.S. Global Change Research Program was founded in 1989 to help leaders understand and thoughtfully respond to man-made or naturally occurring changes in the environment, especially as they relate to climate change.

About a year ago, this research program released a report put together by 300 experts from the government and private sector. Titled The Fourth National Climate Assessment, the report stated that climate change will hurt poor urban and rural communities the most, exacerbating difficulties already present in those communities.

According to the report, some of these difficulties are:

  • Energy poverty: Housing in low-income communities often lacks sufficient insulation and air conditioning. Many residents are often “energy poor” and can’t afford to heat and cool their homes.
  • Illness and health conditions: These already occur at high rates in poor communities. Climate change puts people at greater risk for heart and lung disease, heat stroke, and bacterial infections, further threatening urban residents’ wellness.
  • Environmental hazards: Because cities produce 80% of the greenhouse gases in our country, residents typically live near pollution sites. This is in addition to other environmental hazards they might be exposed to, such as inadequate waste management or lead paint.
  • Recovery time from natural disasters: Low-income communities typically take longer than wealthy communities to bounce back from natural disasters.
  • Lack of resources: People in poor communities typically have less access to resources, institutions, and information that could help them prepare for and avoid the dangers of climate change.

Thankfully, Cleveland’s leaders have a plan.

On the tails of President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Paris Climate Agreement, Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson recognized that if local governments wanted to protect their citizens, they would have to do it themselves. In 2018, the City of Cleveland updated its Climate Action Plan (CAP), which named 28 objectives that would build toward the end goal of reducing Cleveland’s greenhouse gas emissions 80% by 2050.

Mayor Frank Jackson denounces the White House’s decision to pull out of the Paris Climate Agreement.

Many of these objectives, such as improving affordable access to clean energy and making homes more affordable, comfortable, healthy, and energy efficient, were seemingly written with poor communities in mind. At a thorough 82 pages, the CAP lists progress made since 2013 and action steps the city will take with each objective.

Part of a page from Cleveland’s Climate Action Plan.

One area of concern the authors of the Fourth National Climate Assessment had was “green gentrification,” which can happen when communities make improvements to protect against climate change. By making improvements and increasing the property value of homes in the neighborhood, low-income residents can be pushed out.

One way to guard against this happening is to include low-income members of the community in the process of formulating plans around climate change.

But it seems that Cleveland city officials already thought of that. During the process of revising the CAP, 300 resident leaders were asked to participate in 12 neighborhood workshops and give feedback on the plan. City officials also read responses submitted during a public comment period.

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