Integrating Equity in Climate Action Planning

Integrating equity in city climate action planning has been prioritized in a few cities across the country, most notably to date Portland, Oregon and San Diego, California. Other cities, like Seattle, have led efforts to increase equity in programs, policies and procedures across city operations for many years. Learning from some of these examples while creating a plan best suited for Cleveland neighborhoods is an over-arching goal for the Office of Sustainability.


As we work with partners forming our Climate Action Advisory Committee to update our Climate Action Plan, the formation of an Equity Sub-committee will be instrumental to normalizing (creating a shared understanding of equity) and operationalizing (putting that understanding to work) equity. Regarding the creation of a shared understanding, the Office of Sustainability put forth the following draft definitions relating to equity during our August launch of the Climate Action Plan Update:


  • Equity[1]:  involves trying to understand and give people what they need to enjoy full, healthy lives.


    • Racial equity is the condition that would be achieved if one's race no longer predicted, in a statistical sense, how one fares.
    • Equity Lens is a transformative quality improvement tool used to improve planning, decision-making, and resource allocation leading to more racially equitable policies and programs.


  • Structural Racism[2]:  Racial bias across and within society…cumulative and compounded effects of an array of factors such as public policies, institutional practices, cultural representations, and other norms that work in various, often reinforcing ways to perpetuate racial inequity.


  • Equality & Equity: Equality aims to ensure that everyone gets the same things in order to enjoy full, healthy lives. Like equity, equality aims to promote fairness and justice, but it can only work if everyone starts from the same places and needs the same things.




While building a shared understanding of equity is necessary, it is not sufficient.   As we work to operationalize equity, or put that understanding to work, we expect to encounter persistent barriers along the way. For example, false perceptions about the role climate change plays in many of our communities in Cleveland can limit our effectiveness to act. Speaking to this point, The City of Portland, in their Climate Action through Equity report notes,


“Climate change and other environmental issues are often viewed as issues that are not relevant to low-income communities and communities of color. Concern with the environment is frequently perceived of as being a concern of more affluent and less diverse communities. Yet this narrative paints a false portrait and obscures the real diversity that exists. While there may be a lack of representation of low-income people and people of color in mainstream environmental organizations, this does not then translate to a lack of concern with environmental issues. On the contrary, research has shown that people of color support environmental protection at a higher rate than whites. 68 percent of minority voters feel that climate change is an issue we need to be worried about right now, not something we can put off into the future.”[3]


In addition, false perceptions about racial inequity itself are also limiting. Many people continue to hold common, but inaccurate, perceptions about race. Four dominate perceptions, referred to as “Race Frames” by Eduardo Bonilla Silva include: Racism and inequity are things of the past (i.e. “White people are doing worse than people of color.”); Racial disparities are caused by culture/behavior (i.e. “Poor black and Latino youth don’t do well in school because their families don’t value education.”); Racial disparities are inevitable (i.e. “Some group has to be at the bottom.”); and, Programs helping people of color are unfair to whites (i.e. “Affirmative Action is an unfair policy.”).


It is with this foundation of creating a shared understanding and confronting false perceptions that equity will begin to influence and be integrated into in the Cleveland Climate Action Plan. We would like to thank our partners at Cleveland Neighborhood Progress and the Racial Equity Institute for helping us create a mindset to address inequities relating to climate change and sustainability. Over the next year, nearly 100 stakeholders tied to the Climate Action Plan update will go through racial equity trainings to tackle this work in a meaningful way.




1,2 The Annie E. Casey Foundation, “Embracing Equity: 7 Steps to advance and embed race equity and inclusion within your organization,” 2014  


3 Climate Change and Communities of Color, Key Poll Findings and Top Lines Report

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