What is climate justice and how does it relate to health?
Climate change threatens the health, livelihoods, and wellbeing of everyone, but it negatively affects specific groups more than others and often makes existing social and health inequities worse. Climate justice is focused on addressing the unequal impacts of climate change by prioritizing the health and safety of those who face the greatest risk as we prepare for and recover from climate events such as extreme heat and cold, wildfires and wildfire smoke, and flooding.
The goals of climate justice are to make sure no one is left behind in the climate crisis and to transition to a healthier and more fair future for all living beings. This also means as we move away from fossil fuels, we also move toward a “just transition” that promotes a stable and sustainable economy, advances job and health equity, and is rooted in a thriving and healthy environment. Learn more by watching the World Bank Group's Just Transition for All video.
What is the connection between climate justice and environmental justice?
Environmental justice in government focuses on developing, implementing, and enforcing environmental and public health laws so every person can live in a healthy and safe environment regardless of race, color, national origin, or income. Learn more about how state government is prioritizing environmental justice in its work.
The grassroots environmental justice movement, primarily led by communities of color, is part of the foundation for climate justice work. The principles of environmental justice can also be used to support a climate justice approach to addressing climate change. Environmental justice and climate justice share overlapping goals, in part because communities who are overburdened by environmental injustices also face higher risk and greater impacts from climate change. Learn more about the Principles of Environmental Justice (PDF).
An important distinction between environmental justice and climate justice: environmental justice focuses on communities of color and low-income communities who are both most likely to live closest to, and are disproportionately impacted by, pollution and other environmental burdens. Climate justice focuses on those who are experiencing climate change first and worst, which encompasses a much broader group of people.
Who are the populations and communities most impacted by climate change?
Specific communities and populations are more likely to experience barriers to preparing for and recovering from climate events. Many of these barriers are connected to institutional and structural discrimination that often put these communities and populations in challenging life circumstances and unhealthy environments. For example, the EPA’s 2021 Report on Social Vulnerability and Climate Change found that the U.S. Black/African American population—who have been highly impacted by racism and pollution—is projected to experience the biggest increases in childhood asthma, job losses, and mortality as a result of climate change. Moreover, the risk of exposure to climate hazards and negative health impacts are multiplied for people who belong to more than one of these groups:
- Communities with environmental justice concerns, who are most often communities of color, low-income communities, and Tribal and Indigenous communities.
- Low-income, unemployed, and unhoused people.
- People in high-risk occupations, such as outdoor laborers.
- People with specific health needs including, but not limited to: pregnant people, people with pre-existing illnesses, young children and the elderly, people living with disabilities, people with mental and behavioral health challenges, and people who are neurodivergent.
- People with limited English proficiency and some immigrant and refugee groups.
- Any other group that has been systematically and routinely underinvested in, overlooked, or discriminated against, such as the LGBTQAI+ community or veterans.
How is DOH prioritizing climate justice?
The Department of Health has several staff dedicated to environmental and climate justice who are working to bring health equity, anti-racism, and environmental justice into the climate conversation at the federal, state, and local government levels. DOH’s Climate and Health Section’s Climate Justice Coordinator focuses on implementing strategies to lessen the health impacts of climate change for high risk groups and works within communities and across state government to embed community priorities and climate and environmental justice principles into how the state approaches climate and environmental policy implementation.
A Strategic Framework for a Just Transition, Movement Generation (PDF)
Climate and Health Assessment: Populations of Concern, US Global Change Research Program
Washington State’s Environmental Justice Task Force Final Report (PDF)
What is 'Climate Justice'?, Yale Climate Connections