Bringing an equity lens to climate change

In British Columbia, a history of colonialism and enduring colonial policies as well as systemic discrimination creates ongoing social inequities. These inequities become exacerbated by climate change, and so our work on climate resilience needs to have an intersectional lens in order to consider how different groups are affected and may be at greater risk to climate impacts.

The impacts of climate change that we are seeing in our province, such as heatwaves, droughts, wildfires and flooding, are not felt evenly across our society. Climate change poses the greatest threat and risk to those that have been the least responsible – generally people that face deep-rooted and systemic challenges like poverty. Populations that are more privileged and have more resources subsequently have much stronger capacity to protect themselves from the impacts of climate change. As the effects of climate change rise in BC, so does the urgency of addressing this equity challenge.

What does intersectional mean?

Intersectionality refers to the complex and cumulative ways in which the effects of multiple forms of discrimination (such as racism, sexism, classism, ageism, etc.) combine, overlap, or intersect in the experiences of marginalized groups.

Below, we explore a few equity lenses that we can bring to climate resilience:

Class

Low-income populations in both urban and rural regions often have less resources and capacity to adjust to changing climatic conditions or respond to extreme events. Adaptation measures like investing in an air conditioner for heatwaves or building flood-protection upgrades for homes are not possible if households are struggling to meet basic necessities. People in poverty also have higher rates of adverse health conditions, they are more exposed to environmental hazards, and will therefore take a longer time to recover from extreme or disastrous climate events. When planning for adaptation policies or programs, we need to consider how low-income populations can access or benefit from those measures.

Gender

Gender-responsive climate change adaptation examines how views about gender and social norms influence vulnerability to climate change. Women are often under-represented in decision making in climate-vulnerable sectors, and too often, the definition of successful outcomes ignores the perspectives of women. When adaptation is approached as a technical issue, the inclusion of diverse actors working on sociocultural and gender issues can be overlooked. Societal roles can also be gendered, and the relational work in forming and strengthening community and familial bonds is often gendered female. This is important climate resilience work that also places additional labour on women. Adaptation actions need to consider gender differences and involve women in decision making on climate resilience investments. Indigenous women have been leaders of environmental stewardship for generations and their knowledge and unique experiences with climate change greatly contribute to community resilience.

Race

Systemic racism, evident in areas such as residential segregation, unequal educational opportunities, and discrimination in economic advancement, have led to increased risk of communities of colour to climate change impacts. In Canada, colonialism, land theft and the reserve system has forced some Indigenous communities to be located in areas that are physically vulnerable to climate hazards, such as flooding and erosion. Research has shown that Indigenous reserve lands are disproportionately exposed to flooding, with approximately 22% of residential properties at risk of a 1-in-100 year flood (Thistlethwaite et al., 2020). Indigenous communities also face the colonial legacy of aging and poorly maintained housing and infrastructure, which are at a higher risk in extreme weather events. Actions for climate resilience and resources must be committed to Indigenous and racialized communities to address these inequities. Indigenous governments and communities of colour have the local knowledge and insight needed to address climate risk.

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