With the impacts of climate change disproportionately affecting low-income communities in Providence, Mayor Jorge Elorza unveiled a plan that he hopes will help mitigate the disparity.
The “Climate Justice Plan,” released Oct. 25, aims to combat climate change in Providence through a “justice lens,” offering detailed policy recommendations as well as more sweeping systemic changes that would transition the city away from fossil fuels while prioritizing community impacts, according to a city press release.
The plan includes specific benchmarks for “frontline communities,” or those most impacted by climate change, such as reducing the rate of childhood asthma by more than double by 2035. It also outlines “housing and anti-displacement” targets as well as goals for more “collaborative” governance structures.
Providence is one of the first cities in the country to have a plan that focuses on frontline communities, according to Ben Smith, director of marketing at Elorza’s office. This is particularly important as low-income communities are more vulnerable to the impending effects of climate change such as increased flooding and heat waves. With these anticipated events comes a greater risk of health hazards for these neighborhoods, which already report higher rates of asthma, The Herald previously reported.
The plan has been in the works for two years and grew out of a collaboration between the city’s Office of Sustainability and the Racial Environmental Justice Committee, Smith added. The REJC formed as part of the Equity in Sustainability Providence Initiative and is composed of community members and local government officials.
“One of the things that I was really pleased to see was that one of the early goals of the plan was to have members of the Racial Environmental Justice Committee represented,” said Kurt Teichert, a senior lecturer in environment and society at the University who has been monitoring the plan through its release. He added that the presence of the REJC brought a new perspective to the proceedings.
Elorza, who previously set a goal for Providence to become carbon neutral by 2050, said in the plan that the REJC “raised important issues, like making sure climate action doesn’t lead to displacement, and that we prioritize reducing carbon emissions that harm Providence’s most vulnerable populations.”
The involvement of the REJC followed Elorza’s effort to center the voices of affected communities. “The primary shift is the shift of power and decision-making and accountability,” said Andrea Atkinson, executive director at One Square World, a nonprofit which helped manage the process of creating the Climate Justice Plan. Atkinson added that generally, climate policy decisions are made by people who are not from impacted communities, and thus lack first-hand knowledge of these issues.
Teichert echoed Atkinson’s sentiments. “The goal of this plan was to have the plan developed at the grassroots level, with the people in those communities at the core,” he said, adding that the approach was much more “ground-up” compared to the traditional method of prioritizing the expertise of outside consultants.
The plan also includes an audio component of prerecorded scenarios entitled “Future Stories,” narrated in both English and Spanish. These stories provide nine different speculative accounts on how Providence will be transformed in accordance with climate change goals. Teichert added that these stories are particularly important in combating the idea that climate change is too big of a problem to tackle. “Helping people envision what their stake is in this and what they can do about it, I think it can be really powerful.”
The plan aims to tackle emissions from buildings and transportation, which constitute the most significant sources of climate pollution in Providence.
“The City has already begun efforts to implement key strategies of the plan, with longer-term projects to be executed as outlined,” Smith wrote in an email to The Herald.