Measuring TCFD Disclosures

September 24, 2020 – Vigeo Eiris and Four Twenty Seven Report. The TCFD recommendations helped to catalyze a global conversation on the need for increased climate risk assessment and disclosure. While there is much progress still to be made, there has recently been significant developments in the uptake and quality of TCFD-aligned climate risk disclosures. This report explains Vigeo Eiris’ new TCFD Climate Strategy Assessment dataset, sharing key findings of how firms’ disclosure align with each element of the TCFD framework and includes a case study on how companies’ risk reporting compare to their physical risk exposure.

Download the report.

Consistent climate risk disclosure is essential to improving market transparency and building a more resilient financial system. As devastating extreme events, regulatory developments and investor pressure have led to an increase in climate risk disclosure, the Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures’ (TCFD) recommendations have become a global reference. Moody’s affiliate Vigeo Eiris’ new TCFD Climate Strategy Assessment dataset provides a granular view of how 2,855 companies report in line with TCFD recommendations.

This new Vigeo Eiris and Four Twenty Seven report, Measuring TCFD Disclosures, explores the key findings from this assessment, highlighting companies’ disclosures in governance, strategy and risk management.  We find that while 30% of companies have identified at least one climate-related risk that may affect their business, only 3% have disclosed enhanced due diligence for projects and transactions. The report highlights examples from the three sectors of energy, electric & gas utilities and diversified banks to compare reporting for several indicators within each TCFD category. It  includes a case study on the energy sector to review how companies’ physical risk exposure compares to their risk disclosure. Based on Four Twenty Seven’s data on physical climate risk, we find that there is still significant discrepancy between how companies are exposed to climate risk and what they disclose. This is essential for investors to understand when leveraging disclosures to assess their own risk exposure and when engaging with companies around improving climate risk assessment and disclosure.

Key Findings:

  • Overall:
    • 30% of the companies have identified at least one climate-related risk that may affect their business and strategy over the short, medium and long term.
    • Physical risks are most frequently reported, followed by policy and legal risks.
  • Governance:
    • 15% of the companies report on having assigned climate-related responsibilities to management.
    • 16% have established processes to inform board members about climate change issues.
  • Strategy
    • 12% of all assessed companies report the development of products or services that contribute to the low-carbon economy, making it the most common Strategy disclosure.
    •  Only 8% of the European and 7% of the North American companies in the panel disclosed climate change as a material factor in their financial planning.
  •  Risk Management:
    •  30% of the assessed energy companies report using an internal carbon price.
    •  Enhanced due diligence for projects and transactions remains a minority practice, with only 3% of companies disclosing information on this specific recommendation.

Download the report.

————————————–

For more information on climate risk exposure and disclosure explore Vigeo Eiris’ transition risk data and Four Twenty Seven’s solutions for assessing physical risk exposure across asset classes.

Moody’s Launches Comprehensive ESG Solutions Group; Appoints Global Head

Moody’s launches an ESG Solutions Group, offering data and analytics across ESG, climate risk and sustainable finance. Read the press release from Moody’s:

LONDON–(BUSINESS WIRE)– Moody’s Corporation (NYSE: MCO) announced today the formation of an Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) Solutions Group to serve the growing global demand for ESG insights. The group leverages Moody’s data and expertise across ESG, climate risk, and sustainable finance, and aligns with Moody’s Investors Service (MIS) and Moody’s Analytics (MA) to deliver a comprehensive, integrated suite of ESG customer solutions.

The ESG Solutions Group develops tools and analytics that identify, quantify, and report on the impact of ESG-related risks and opportunities. Moody’s ESG capabilities expanded following its investments in Vigeo Eiris (VE), a global pioneer in ESG assessments, data and tools, and sustainable finance, and Four Twenty Seven, a leader in climate risk analysis, in 2019. ESG and climate risk considerations are already integrated into credit ratings and research offered by Moody’s Investors Service, and will be integrated into a range of Moody’s Analytics risk management solutions, research, data and analytics platforms.

“Moody’s ESG Solutions Group brings together capabilities from across the company to help market participants advance strategic resilience, responsible capitalism, and the greening of the economy by identifying risks and opportunities and providing meaningful performance measurements and insights,” said Rob Fauber, Moody’s Chief Operating Officer.

The ESG Solutions Group is led by Andrea Blackman, who has over 30 years of experience in harnessing financial and technology innovation in leadership roles with banks, asset managers, and financial technology vendors. She previously managed Moody’s CreditView, growing it into the leading global research, data, and analytics platform for credit market professionals.

Including its affiliates, Moody’s ESG-related offerings now include:

  • 5,000+ company ESG assessments
  • Controversy screening for 7,900 companies
  • 1 million climate risk scores
  • 250+ sustainable bond and loan reviews
  • 70+ ESG specialty indices
  • Credit ratings that integrate ESG risk considerations
  • Risk management solutions integrating ESG and climate risk factors

VE and Four Twenty Seven will continue to offer market-leading stand-alone ESG and climate risk solutions given strong demand for their innovative products. VE recently launched enhanced Second Party Opinions for sustainability bonds that integrate aspects of the EU Taxonomy and Green Bond standard. Four Twenty Seven recently announced the addition of wildfire risk to their on-demand Real Asset Scoring Application for a property or facility’s projected exposure to climate change effects.

For more information visit Moody’s ESG & Climate Risk hub at www.moodys.com/esg

Webinar: Climate Change and Wildfires

How will climate change increase wildfire potential? This Four Twenty Seven webinar shares our methodology for assessing global wildfire potential and highlights key findings from our analysis.

Speakers

  • Natalie Ambrosio Preudhomme, Director, Communications, provides an introduction to the implications of wildfires for finance, business and government stakeholders.
  • Colin Gannon, Director, Research, explains Four Twenty Seven’s methodology for assessing wildfire potential.
  • Lindsay Ross, Director, Global Client Services, shares key findings from the analysis, highlighting regional hotspots and discussing actionable ways to leverage this data to inform investment in resilience.

For more information on Four Twenty Seven’s wildfire dataset read our report, Climate Change and Wildfires: Projecting Future Wildfire Potential.

Moody’s: U.S. Nuclear Operators Exposed to Physical Climate Risks

Increasing physical climate hazards affect the operations and costs of nuclear plants due to their water needs and reliance on critical equipment. In its report, Nuclear Operators Face Growing Climate Risk but Resiliency Investments Mitigate Impact, Moody’s Investors Service leverages Four Twenty Seven’s physical climate risk data to explore the exposure of nuclear power plants to climate hazards, including heat stress, water stress, flooding and hurricanes.

The analysis found that nuclear power plants are vulnerable to increasing frequency of extreme weather conditions such as flooding and storm surge, due to their need for water cooling which means many plants are adjacent to large bodies of water. Technology and equipment required for safe plant operation are susceptible to damage and nuclear plants along the East Coast and the Gulf of Mexico are particularly exposed to floods from sea level rise.

Clustered in the Midwest and eastern part of the U.S., market-based plants face less risk of hurricanes or sea level rise than regulated/cost-based plants. However, they face increased heat stress and water stress which can reduce plants’ cooling capacity. The credit impact for market-based plants can be more significant than the regulated plants that are more easily able to make-up costs through rate recovery programs.

Nuclear plant operators face physical and economic risks due to extreme events driven by climate change, and operators and owners will have to consider these risks and explore increased resilience options, as they approach license expiration and renewal processes between 2030 and 2050.

Moody’s subscribers can read the full report here.

——————————–

To learn more about Four Twenty Seven’s climate risk data, check out our solutions for investors, banks and corporations or read our report on Assessing Global Wildfire Potential.

Moody’s Including Four Twenty Seven Climate Risk Data in Research and Ratings

Four Twenty Seven’s physical climate risk data now informs Moody’s ratings and research on US commercial mortgage-backed securities and commercial real estate collateralized loan obligations. Moody’s presale reports include a physical climate risk table for the property backing the loan, showing its exposure to floods, heat stress, hurricanes & typhoons, sea level rise, water stress and wildfires in the next 10 to 20 years. Read the press release from Moody’s Investors Service:

——————————

New York, August 11, 2020 —

  • Four Twenty Seven measures the degree of risk from floods, heat stress, hurricanes and typhoons, sea level rise, water stress, and wildfires
  • Moody’s presale reports now include physical climate risk tables for the properties backing the loans in CMBS and CRE CLO transactions

Moody’s Investors Service is now including climate risk data and analytics from majority-owned affiliate Four Twenty Seven in its research on and ratings process for US commercial mortgage-backed securities (CMBS) and commercial real estate collateralized loan obligations (CRE CLOs). While Four Twenty Seven climate risk scores inform Moody’s ratings, they are not a direct input into Moody’s rating models.

“CRE market participants are particularly exposed to physical risks associated with climate change, which could impact both properties and the surrounding communities,” said Nicholas Levidy, a managing director with Moody’s Structured Finance Group. “In the coming decades, climate hazards could disrupt access to certain locations and operations, damaging infrastructure and, where climate events become chronic, undermining an asset’s viability. The Four Twenty Seven scoring system provides a systematic way for us to monitor the impacts of gradually worsening extreme weather hazards.”

As extreme weather events and conditions become more frequent and severe, anticipation of these hazards will be increasingly reflected in insurance costs, and eventually also capital expenditures and commercial property valuations, Levidy says. Climate change could also raise utility costs due to factors such as higher demand for energy or a lack of water.

“Four Twenty Seven leverages global climate models to help investors and lenders understand what future risks related to climate change are likely to emerge,” said Emilie Mazzacurati, founder and CEO of Four Twenty Seven. “Our analytics look 10 to 20 years into the future, with this data compared to historical conditions to produce a measure of expected disruption from climate change.”

Four Twenty Seven provides aggregated climate risk scores and portfolio analytics that quantify a property’s exposure to the impacts of each of the six physical climate risks, with scores ranging from ‘no risk’ to ‘red flag,’ or extremely high risk. Four Twenty Seven scores are “gross” exposure scores, which Moody’s considers and supplements in the context of any property- or borrower-specific risk mitigants that may exist such as insurance, building systems, age of buildings, infrastructure improvements or government intervention measures.

Moody’s presale reports now include a physical climate risk table for the property backing each loan in a CMBS or CRE CLO transaction. The table provides the risk level and a site score for the given property, as well as a country benchmark score, for each of the six climate hazards.

The combination of data and analytics will enable commercial real estate professionals to better understand the exposure of their properties to the physical impacts of climate change, and to factor that insight into their investment decision-making processes.

For more information visit Moody’s Investors Service.

Climate Change and Wildfires: Projecting Future Wildfire Potential

August 6, 2020 – Four Twenty Seven Report. Wildfires are complex physical phenomena that come at extraordinary costs to human and natural systems. Climate change is already making wildfires more severe and this new research finds that it will lead to more days with high wildfire potential in areas already prone to wildfires, and create hotter and drier conditions that will expose entirely new areas. Understanding which areas are exposed to changing wildfire conditions will help leaders in government, finance and public health to mitigate catastrophic loss. This report explores Four Twenty Seven’s new methodology for assessing global wildfire potential, identifying regional trends and hot spots.

Download the report.

The 2019-2020 Australian bushfires raged for seven months, killed more than 30 people, hospitalized thousands more,[1] and burned more than 10 million hectares of land.[2] While the full financial and ecological impact is still unknown, costs from those fires are likely to exceed the $4.4 billion.[3] Meanwhile, ten of the largest wildfires in Arizona’s history occurred in the last eight years and nine of California’s largest wildfires occurred in just the last seven years.[4]

Beyond direct losses and disruption from damage to buildings and infrastructure, air pollution from wildfires has led to healthcare costs in excess of $100 billion in losses per year in the United States.[5] Leaders in government, finance, and public health need to understand how and where climate change will further heighten wildfire potential because of the serious threat wildfires pose to societies, economies, and natural systems.

This new report, Climate Change and Wildfires: Projecting Future Wildfire Potential, outlines Four Twenty Seven’s approach to quantifying global wildfire potential, capturing both absolute and relative changes in frequency and severity by 2030-2040.  Wildfire potential refers to meteorological conditions and vegetative fuel sources that are conducive to wildfires. Using a proprietary methodology submitted for peer review, our analytics link climate drivers such as changing temperature and precipitation patterns with the availability of vegetative fuels to assess wildfire potential in the future.

The analysis also explores key regions exposed to increasing wildfire potential and discusses the implications for financial stakeholders and communities. Our analytics affirm common understanding about locations exposed to wildfire, providing an indication of the increasing severity and frequency of wildfires in areas already prone to these events. The report also offers insight into areas that may have less obvious exposure, but are likely to have higher wildfire potential over time. Preparing for wildfires is a local, and often regional effort. The relatively high spatial granularity of our results (~25 kilometers) enables decision-makers to evaluate wildfire potential at a useful scale.

Key Findings:

  • Four Twenty Seven developed a first-of-its-kind global dataset projecting changes to wildfire potential under a changing climate, at a granularity of about 25 x 25 kilometers.
  • In areas already exposed to wildfires, by 2030-2040 climate change will prolong wildfire seasons, adding up to three months of days with high wildfire potential in Western Australia, over two months in regions of northern California and a month in European countries including Spain, Portugal and Greece.
  • New wildfire risks will emerge in historically wet and cool regions, such as Siberia, which is projected to have 20 more days of high wildfire potential in 2030-2040.
  • Globally, western portions of the Amazon and Southeast Asia will experience the largest relative increases in wildfire severity, further threatening crucial biodiversity hotspots and carbon sinks.
  • Confronting this new risk will take unprecedented resources and new approaches in regions not familiar with wildfires and worsening wildfire seasons will continue to threaten already limited resources in currently exposed areas.

Download the report.

Download the press release.

[1] Cohen, Li, “Australian bushfire smoke killed more people than the fires did, study says,” CBS News, March 20, 2020, https://www.cbsnews.com/news/australia-fires-bushfire-smoke-killed-more-people-than-the-fires-did-study-says/.

[2] Rodway, Nick, “‘We are a ghost town’: Counting the cost of Australia’s bushfires,” Aljazeera, January 27, 2020, https://www.aljazeera.com/ajimpact/ghost-town-counting-cost-australias-bushfires-200127035021168.html.

[3] Ben Butler, “Economic Impact of Australia’s Bushfires Set to Exceed $4.4bn Cost of Black Saturday,” The Guardian, January 7, 2020, https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2020/jan/08/economic-impact-of-australias-bushfires-set-to-exceed-44bn-cost-of-black-saturday.

[4] Cappucci, Matthew and Freedman, Andrew, “Arizona wildfires grow as flames flicker throughout Desert Southwest and California,” The Washington Post, June 22, 2020, https://www.washingtonpost.com/weather/2020/06/22/arizona-wildfires-grow-flames-flicker-throughout-desert-southwest-california/

[5] Fann N., Alman B., Broome R. A., Morgan G. G., Johnston F. H., Pouliot G., & Rappold A. G., “The health impacts and economic value of wildland fire episodes in the U.S.: 2008-2012,” The Science of the Total Environment, 2018.

Four Twenty Seven Wins WatersTechnology Asia Award

JULY 9, 2020 – Hong Kong – Four Twenty Seven Wins WatersTechnology Asia Award for Best Alternative Data Provider. 

The WatersTechnology Asia Award 2020 for Best Alternative Data Provider recognizes Four Twenty Seven’s innovation, accuracy and high standard in curating and deploying data for financial stakeholders. This regional award showcases vendors and end users with high quality solutions with global relevance that are also especially pertinent to Asia markets.

In 2020 Four Twenty Seven launched the first of its kind Physical Climate Risk Application, allowing investors to score any asset in the world on its exposure to floods, heat stress, hurricanes & typhoons, sea level rise and water stress. This came as financial regulators across the Asia-Pacific region have increasingly contributed to the global call for increased measurement and disclosure of climate risks in investment portfolios, encouraging financial actors to step up.

Committed to meeting the growing need of investors and other financial stakeholders in these markets, Four Twenty Seven opened a Tokyo office and hired a senior country representative, Toshi Matsumae, in October 2019. In June 2020 we announced a partnership with Derani Brewis of DB Funds Advisory, who leads our business development in Australia and New Zealand. We’ve seen growing demand for physical climate risk analytics from these markets and look forward to engaging more directly with stakeholders across the Asia-Pacific region to deliver our award-winning climate risk data and continue refining our analytics to meet their needs.

——————

Explore Four Twenty Seven’s on-demand Physical Climate Risk Application for real assets and learn about our other data products for investors, banks and corporations to assess their exposure to physical climate hazards.

Four Twenty Seven Announces Partnership with Nova Group, GBC

July 9, 2020 – BERKELEY, CA – New Climate Resilience Assessment leverages Four Twenty Seven’s physical climate risk data to enable proactive risk management by commercial real estate stakeholders

Commercial real estate assets are increasingly affected by climate change, whether it be costly hurricane damage, increasing energy costs due to higher temperatures, or the impacts of sea level rise on asset value. As it becomes evident that every asset has its own risks and that these risks will continue to manifest in financial loss, real estate investors and property managers need to prepare. Granular, site-specific data on risk exposure is the critical first step for understanding these impacts, and it is essential to use these assessments to inform investment in preparedness. Nova’s new Climate Resilience Assessment fulfills this demand for data-driven insights into how to build resiliency, based on the risks and characteristics of the specific asset of interest.

“The single most frequent question we get from clients is ‘I know my risk now, but what do I do next?’ We are delighted to partner with Nova Group to answer this question, filling the urgent demand for site-specific guidance on how to build resilience,” said Emilie Mazzacurati, Four Twenty Seven’s Founder & CEO.

“Arguably there is no greater risk confronting the global commercial real estate industry than climate change. We are thrilled to partner with the industry leaders of Four Twenty Seven to amplify their forward-looking, predictable, and location-specific data to create a more resilient world,” stated Ben Bohline, Nova Group’s President & CFO.

Read Nova Group’s announcement here.

Racial Justice and Climate Change: Adaptation

Introduction

Black communities and other people of color are disproportionately exposed to the impacts of climate change and also tend to have fewer financial and healthcare resources to prepare for and respond to these impacts. Adapting to climate change without an explicit focus on racial justice can further reinforce inequalities; hence, building systemic resilience to climate change must include investment in communities that are on the frontlines of climate impacts, including Black communities.

For the Local and Regional Government Alliance on Race & Equity, “racial equity means that race can’t be used to predict success, and we have successful systems and structure that work for all.” Equity means that different groups are provided with the resources they need to address their distinct challenges, acknowledging that these will not necessarily be equal. Thus, adaptation must include equity in every step of the process, from risk assessment and decision-making to planning, implementation, monitoring and evaluation. Key elements of equitable adaptation include conducting vulnerability assessments that account for place-based vulnerabilities, integrating consideration of social and cultural value within budgeting decisions, involving frontline communities in the decision-making from the start, and investing in the resources and policies these communities need to thrive. While by no means exhaustive, this article highlights the importance of racial equity for several phases in the climate adaptation process and shares some emerging best practices.

Risk and Vulnerability Assessment

The first step in the climate adaptation process is identifying risk exposure and vulnerability. Climate risk is not based solely on exposure to climate hazards like floods and extreme heat, but also on vulnerability, driven by a community’s specific characteristics. Vulnerability is shaped by the sensitivity of a given population and its adaptive capacity. Thus, the impact of a climate hazard, such as a storm or drought, will depend upon the resources and sensitivities of exposed communities.

Adaptive capacity is multifaceted, including both tangible resources such as access to transportation, air conditioning and green spaces and intangible elements such as social capital. Effective risk and vulnerability assessments explore these characteristics of a community, to identify how risks may manifest, and serve as the foundation for determining what adaptation measures are needed. For example, members of low-income communities with low vehicle ownership and greater dependence on public transportation will be less likely to be able to evacuate during an extreme event, experience longer-term impacts if subway stations are flooded or damaged, and be more likely to face economic hardship if they cannot get to work or lose their jobs. For extreme heat, communities with more urban green spaces, widespread access to air conditioning, or access to public cooling centers such as libraries, are likely to be less vulnerable than communities in dense urban centers with little greenery and/or those without access to safe public cooling centers.

Social capital is built through regular interaction, shared values or culture, and human connections, which build trust and lead individuals to look out for one another. In some cases, high social capital has increased communities’ resilience, helping to counterbalance a lack of tangible resources. For example, during Chicago’s deadly 1995 heat wave, while Black communities were hit hardest, the Black community of Auburn Gresham stood out with lower death rates than Chicago’s most affluent neighborhoods. The distinguishing factor was the way Auburn Gresham’s infrastructure was conducive to building social capital—its sidewalks and restaurants promoted opportunities to get to know each other and interact. Assessing the social elements of adaptive capacity in climate vulnerability assessments is critical to understanding a community’s needs and ensuring that adaptation efforts build on and leverage existing social capital.

Sensitivity refers to the characteristics of individuals and communities that affect how a climate hazard may impact them. For example, Black communities often have high sensitivity to climate hazards, due to preexisting health conditions, which are driven by disproportionate exposure to environmental toxins. Likewise, agricultural communities are particularly sensitive to water stress due to the water-intensive nature of agricultural activities, with those that lack financial resources and political influence likely to experience the greatest impacts. Engaging with a community to assess its exposure to physical climate hazards, the resources it has to respond, and its residents’ particular sensitivities lays the groundwork for equitable adaptation.

Budgeting

A climate risk assessment centered on concerns for social equity can inform an equitable planning and budgeting process. Traditional cost benefit analysis can undervalue the needs of low-income communities or communities of color, due to its emphasis on ensuring adaptation costs do not exceed  property values. While this approach is often used to determine the best locations for adaptation investment, it can perpetuate inequitable distribution of impacts and investment. For example, in Cedar Rapids, IA, a flood mitigation study found that a region on the Cedar River’s West Bank did not qualify for investments in flood barriers due to relatively low property values. However, hundreds of these homes were destroyed by flooding in 2008. Policy makers can integrate a consideration for equity and improve the longer-term return on investment by replacing the current cost benefit analysis to account for vulnerability and longer-term community impacts and savings, rather than only up-front economic impacts.

The distribution of disaster recovery funds will dictate the resources available for community rebuilding and, in many instances, Black communities do not receive the funds they need. For example, after Hurricane Harvey, Taylor Landing, TX received $1.3 million in recovery funds—about $60,000 per affected resident. Taylor Landing is a town of 228, which had a median household income of about $69,000 in 2017 and, according to the Census, had no Black residents. Meanwhile, nearby Port Arthur, a town of 54,000 residents, with a median household income of $32,000 and a population that was over a third Black, received $4.1 million from the same funding—about $84 per affected resident. This inequitable distribution of funds is due to an unrepresentative regional fund allocation system. The members of the council that distributes the funds disproportionately represent the region’s smaller, primarily white towns, rather than the region’s largest cities, including Port Arthur. Moreover, the Small Business Administration approves disaster loan applications from primarily white communities at almost twice the rate that it does for applications from majority Black communities. This discrepancy is largely because disaster loan applications are based on credit scores, which are typically lower for minority populations and are more likely to remain low if these communities lack the resources to recover. This exemplifies the need for Black communities most exposed to climate impacts to be represented in decisions about resource allocation to support climate resilience and for reconsidering financing structures.

Acknowledging that many Black communities face compounding challenges due to a historic lack of investment in their communities, investing in these communities, and reducing the loss and costs that come with repeated impacts are important steps in ending this cycle. This calls for a restructuring of federal disaster response funding processes, moving beyond rigid frameworks based on home value and including advisory committees composed of members of the frontline communities. Financial institutions also have an opportunity to increase the flow of financial capital to Black communities. Strategies can include building advisory offerings meant to foster financial literacy and savings, shifting to key performance indicators focused on client financial health rather than promoting indebtedness and creating new models to reach those typically excluded. For example, accepting proof of current employment instead of requiring credit history to allow individuals to begin building credit would help those typically unable to access capital begin to obtain financing. Building equity in budgeting and promoting equitable lending practices would play a role in breaking the cycle of disenfranchisement.

Integrating Equity into Adaptation

Maladaptation and the Need for Change

There are many different types of adaptation measures, including structural measures, land-use policies and capacity-building. The impacts and efficacy of any adaptation measure is highly context-dependent. One common point of failure is the exclusion of certain stakeholders or when planners, consultants, and policy-makers make their own judgements of what is important and may ignore important characteristics of the community. In this case, there is often high potential for maladaptation, or unintended consequences that end up perpetuating existing social inequities by increasing the exposure of those who are already on the frontline.

For example, levees and other flood barriers often worsen downstream flooding as they force the water through a narrower channel, so there is more volume to inundate surrounding areas that do not have flood protection. The cost benefit calculations discussed above drive these engineering decisions and lead to protection for more affluent communities while nearby low-income towns endure the consequences. Likewise, while increasing flood insurance premiums may help provide incentives to move from flood-prone areas, for those who cannot afford to leave it also leads to increased affordability challenges and potentially the decision to forgo flood insurance, compounding challenges when flooding does occur.

As governments begin to invest in adaptation measures, there is a risk of climate gentrification, or the pricing out of Black residents and low-income communities. For example, in Norfolk, VA, part of the sea level rise strategy is to demolish several public housing units, replacing them with mixed-income buildings and transforming the rest of this exposed area into a green space that can absorb floodwater. The city provides some assistance and vouchers for relocation, but the burden largely falls on the low-income residents. In some cases, their only options are to live farther away from the city center, paying more money for gas to commute to work and making the daily efforts of providing for their families even more challenging.

Many factors influence the efficacy of adaptation outcomes, including whether or not the adaptation is responsive to the community’s needs. For example, if a new cooling center is built, but residents lack transportation or feel uncomfortable meeting in public spaces with few amenities, the cooling center will do little good. Likewise, evacuating ahead of hurricanes saves lives and warning systems can help prompt more thorough evacuations. However, residents that are not informed about the importance of evacuations or those who do not trust public authorities are unlikely to heed evacuation warnings, particularly if evacuations are challenging due to resource and transportation constraints. The long history of racism and exclusionary government programs have weakened trust of public authorities in some communities. Creating adaptation strategies that are truly equitable and effective requires understanding the community’s needs and tailoring a climate response that can be fully embraced by the community at risk.

Changing Policies

Policy makers must start exploring alternatives to adaptation guidelines that perpetuate inequity, such as the Army Corps of Engineers’ sole use of property value metrics when assessing which communities get flood protection, or waterfront adaptation that leads to climate gentrification. Some cities including those in the Bay Area, Atlanta and Chicago have started developing Land Trusts to ensure that affordable housing is available in the long-term, even as areas increase in value. The Land Trusts permanently own the land, but allow low-income families to enter into long-term leases and to build equity on the homes. When the time comes to move, the family sells to another qualifying low-income family and a resale formula is used to determine the amount, providing profit for the family that is selling while keeping the home affordable for other low-income families. This is one example of ways that innovative policies can foster equity alongside climate adaptation.

Engagement and Representation

Community engagement should be integrated into all steps of the adaptation process. This engagement can be broken down into three forms: outreach, consultation and deliberation. Outreach is the one-way, information sharing that comes from informing the community about climate risks or adaptation efforts, and consultation involves soliciting community feedback on draft plans and decisions. While this is important, it is essential that community engagement doesn’t just occur in the middle or end of the process, but rather is a central component from the beginning. Having community members present during the decision-making process will help identify what the community really needs. Equitable representation of community members, in terms of demographics and socioeconomic status is essential.

Another important outcome of intentional community engagement is transparent, two-way trust-building. Understanding the language, scientific literacy and culture of a community helps to build trust, and ultimately, to reduce vulnerability as a result of more successful and inclusive adaptation efforts.

Building Upon Existing Capacity

As discussed above, social capital is an important component of resilience and shared culture is one element of social capital. It is often the case that strong bonds exist in communities of color based on shared culture. While many Black communities and other communities of color lack financial capital and, thus, often do not have financial resources to build resilience, their social capital provides a solid foundation from which to build equitable, cohesive adaptation plans. Funneling resources through existing networks such as local religious groups and community cultural centers helps bolster this social capital while also allowing the organizations most informed regarding a community’s needs and trusted by its population to lead adaptation.

One example of adaptation rooted in community engagement and trust building is Baltimore’s Make a Plan, Build a Kit, Help Each Other program centered around residents sharing their stories and discussing the impacts of climate change, while working with local experts to develop preparedness plans. It is important to meet communities where they are, framing adaptation efforts around ensuring that communities have the social resources needed to prepare for climate hazards and acknowledging the wealth of insight and experience the community has to provide.

Conclusion

Equitable climate adaptation involves identifying areas that are on the frontlines of climate change and what they need to prepare for climate impacts. It also involves considering the implications of policy and ensuring that a disproportionate burden is not placed on frontline communities. Investing in equitable adaptation is one essential tool for addressing the disproportionate impacts of climate change on Black communities and other people of color. For too long, planning decisions have excluded communities of color, with long-term negative impacts. While more recent adaption efforts have sought to end this vicious cycle by creating a more inclusive environment for planning, communities of color still lack the political clout and funding to move projects forward. Opportunities to build partnerships with (or within) these communities, identify new funding and development models that directly address decades of exclusion, and reduce repeated loss by helping those most exposed confront climate change, must be embraced and advanced.

 

Racial Justice and Climate Change: Exposure

Introduction

The relationship between race and climate change is too often ignored. The recent protests for racial justice and police reform call attention to the fact that racism is still deeply embedded in our institutions and public policies. In the United States, people of color are disproportionately affected by polluting industries and climate change. A long legacy of racist housing policy and weak environmental protections contribute to this disproportionate exposure, coupled with systemic issues related to public health, education and wealth.

As part of our commitment to help raise awareness of the nexus between racial equity and climate change, this article will provide a brief overview of environmental injustice issues in the U.S., as well as highlight the disproportionate impacts of climate change on Black communities and people of color.

Disclaimer: We are aware that the history of environmental justice in the U.S. is deep and complex, and this short piece cannot do justice to the complex web of issues and suffering imposed on minorities. We hope this blog post provides an entry point for identifying organizations and researchers with greater expertise and a long history of commitment to environmental justice.

Housing Discrimination and Environmental Injustice  

The disenfranchisement of Black communities and other people of color in the United States includes discrimination in terms of access to education, public transportation, recreation, employment, healthcare and housing. Environmental racism is just one manifestation of this oppression and is particularly evident in housing and development.

Black communities and other people of color have been relegated to neighborhoods that have greater exposure to environmental pollution and toxicity than primarily white neighborhoods. Housing and lending policies have historically limited options for Black communities and people of color and concentrated these communities in locations with higher exposure to environmental hazards. In the 1930s, federal housing policy actively and intentionally contributed to segregation, subsidizing development for middle to low-income white households and prohibiting people of color from purchasing those homes. Relegated to live only in certain areas, entire minority communities were then “redlined,” labeling home buyers’ mortgages as too risky to insure. “Threat of infiltration of negro[s]” and “Infiltration of: Negroes” were often listed as reasons for giving a community a low grade, and for deeming the community as “hazardous.”

In America, where homeownership is the single most important source of equity- and wealth-building, Black households have historically been shut out of higher-value neighborhoods and have been systematically prevented from benefiting from the upward mobility and financial resources that accompany homeownership. Factors like redlining, disenfranchisement and the operation of toxic facilities in Black neighborhoods means that homes in majority Black neighborhoods are valued at half the price of homes with non-Black residents. Lack of opportunity to build equity through home ownership is a key reason that African American wealth equals just 5% of white wealth in the U.S.

Furthermore, as of 2019 over 30 million Americans live in areas where water infrastructure has violated safety standards. For example, in rural and primarily Black Lowndes County, Alabama, only around 20% of the population has a sewer system—the others have pipes deploying raw sewage into their yards. Navajo Nation residents rely on water contaminated by uranium mining, and infections and cancer are rampant in these communities. Lack of access to safe water leads some residents to drive for hours to obtain safe water, which in turn hampers education and work efforts, further perpetuating inequities. There is a nationwide trend in lack of enforcement and regulation around safety standards for drinking water, and often low-income, Black, Indigenous and other people of color who lack political clout endure the most severe impacts. In 2017 the American Society of Civil Engineers rated the U.S. drinking-water infrastructure as a D, estimating a need for $1 trillion investment in the next 25 years to prevent further erosion of pipes.

After decades of discriminatory housing policies and inequitable development, Black communities are still disproportionately exposed to pollution and environmental toxins, leading to detrimental health impacts which are often compounded by lack of access to suitable healthcare. This disproportionate exposure has been well-documented since the 1980s when a nationwide study by The United Church of Christ Commission on Racial Justice found that race was the strongest determinant of the location of commercial hazardous waste sites. Nationally, “African Americans are 75 percent more likely than Caucasians to live in fence-line communities—those next to commercial facilities whose noise, odor, traffic or emissions directly affect the population.”

Disproportionate Exposure to Climate Impacts and Climate Justice

While climate justice has multiple dimensions, at its core it refers to the understanding that those who are least responsible for climate change suffer its gravest consequences. Globally this manifests in developing countries experiencing the worst impacts of climate change, while their industrialized counterparts bear the responsibility for the carbon emissions responsible for worldwide climate impacts. From an intergenerational perspective, today’s younger generations are inheriting the consequences of older generations’ actions related to climate change, with Greta Thunberg a vocal advocate for generational justice.

Climate justice also manifests through racial inequity, in particular in the U.S., where the impacts of climate change will not be distributed evenly. While Black communities and other people of color bear the greatest health costs of industrial activity and of physical climate hazards, they also bear less responsibility for the greenhouse gas emissions causing the climate crisis. While individuals within these communities can be highly resilient, confronting social and economic disparities daily, these communities also often lack the resources to adequately prepare for and respond to the health impacts of pollution and physical impacts of climate change.

Floods

Flooding in the United States disproportionately affects Black residents, as Black neighborhoods are often in low-lying floodplains, with impermeable surfaces and a lack of effective flood protection infrastructure. In many cases, nearby chemical sites, refineries and other industrial infrastructure are also located in flood zones, multiplying the risks of exposure to toxic chemicals during storms. While many middle-income white households face difficult decisions about whether to permanently leave their home in the floodplain, not everyone has the economic freedom to make such decisions. In many cases, Black residents and other people of color do not have access to the transportation or the savings to evacuate at a moment’s notice, let alone permanently relocate.

Storms

The overexposure of Black neighborhoods to flood risk, alongside the lack of resilience investment in these communities, also leads to disproportionate vulnerability to the impacts of storms. During Hurricane Katrina, Black individuals were among those that were least likely to evacuate, with access to transportation being a key factor. The city’s four largest public housing buildings, primarily occupied by Black residents, were permanently closed after incurring storm damage. Four of the seven zip codes enduring the costliest flood damage due to Hurricane Katrina were at least 75% Black and the community most damaged by Hurricane Harvey was 49% nonwhite. This is a common trend across the nation.

These statistics, stem partially from a history of inequitable funding. In 1965 Hurricane Betsy hit New Orleans, causing the most damage in New Orleans East and the Lower Ninth Ward, which are primarily Black neighborhoods. This catalyzed investment in levees to protect New Orleans from flood waters, but these investments went primarily to predominantly White neighborhoods which were not as damaged and already had some flood protection infrastructure. This distribution of funds foreshadowed the unequal distribution of impacts when Katrina hit decades later.

Sea level rise

Global sea levels have risen by about eight inches over the past century, with the rate of rise increasing recently. In responding to sea level rise, jurisdictions tend to take one of two approaches: invest in adaptation measures to keep the water out, or abandon an area to the rising seas. Studies show that low-income minority neighborhoods are more likely to be abandoned while higher-income predominately white neighborhoods tend more often to be protected. One reason for this is decision-making that relies only on financial indicators. Resilience investments driven by cost benefit analysis focusing only on the property values, rather than looking at social and cultural characteristics of a community, further contribute to the inequitable impact of climate change.

Relatedly, as the risks of sea level rise become more evident there is an increased risk of “blue-lining” – a term used by Tulane Professor Jesse Keenan, to express its connection to redlining. Many Black and low-income populations that did not receive investment in sound sewage and drainage systems due to redlining experience the worst impacts of flooding today. As banks and investors learn about exposure to floods and sea level rise, they are increasingly hesitant to offer funding to these neighborhoods. Yet without investment, communities are unable to improve their infrastructure and build resilience, further reinforcing the cycle of racial injustice.

Research in Miami-Dade County, Florida found a positive relationship between price appreciation and elevation in most study cities. This shift can potentially lead to ‘climate gentrification’—another term coined by Prof. Keenan, as minority populations migrate towards more exposed areas. For example, in Miami’s higher elevation, traditionally minority neighborhoods such as Liberty City and Little Haiti, rising property values are making homes unaffordable for residents, reflecting the new preference for high elevation. This combination of being priced out of higher elevation neighborhoods and property values decreasing in more exposed coastal areas may further contribute to the cycle of disproportionate exposure to sea level rise among Black populations and other minority residents.

Water Stress

According to the World Resources Institute’s data, 20% of the U.S. currently experiences “high” or “extremely high” water stress, and this number is expected to increase significantly by midcentury. Population growth will further threaten drinking water supplies, and the impacts will be uneven. In 2014 the water table in Fairmead, an unincorporated town in California’s Central Valley with majority Black and Latino residents, dried up and the citizens had to rely on donations and emergency relief for drinking water. Many of Fairmead’s residents are farmers, relying on water for their livelihoods as well as for human consumption, and water for irrigation comes from private wells that are only a few hundred feet deep. While these farmers cannot afford to drill deeper wells, nearby corporate farms can afford to drill wells up to 1,000 feet deep and are thus less affected by the dwindling water table. Climate change will exacerbate existing inequities around water access, particularly for Black and Indigenous communities.

Extreme Heat

Extreme heat kills more residents annually in the U.S. than any other climate hazard. Temperatures can vary by as much as 20ºF between neighborhoods due to the urban heat island effect. The hottest neighborhoods tend to be disproportionately covered in concrete and home to low-income and Black residents. Research shows that these urban development trends are connected to the history of racist housing policies. Residents in low-income and Black communities are also less likely than middle-income and white populations to have well-insulated homes, access to consistent air-conditioning or cool, safe public gathering spaces. Meanwhile, the asthma, heart disease and other chronic illnesses precipitated by exposure to air pollution, increases the health risks of extreme heat.

Conclusion

Due to a history of segregation and systematic economic oppression Black communities are consistently relegated to areas most exposed to flooding and extreme heat, while at the same time lacking resilience investment and access to educational, health and transportation resources to effectively prepare for and respond to disasters. Investing in equitable climate change adaptation is one facet of pursuing climate justice. Equitable adaptation requires involving community members in every step of decision-making and reviewing adaptation options based on the exposure and vulnerability of the community in question, as well as the potential for downstream impacts on others. We discuss this subject in our blog on equity as a cornerstone of adaptation.