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Environmental Justice
Publication December 7, 2023

Centering Black Voices at COP28: A Call for Environmental Justice

Environmental Justice

COP28 is a yearly meeting held by the United Nations to develop climate action plans. With this year's gathering currently underway, the urgency to address climate change and environmental hazards is apparent. At a time when the world is getting hotter due in part to poor climate decisions, the United Nations cannot afford to allow these negotiations to be performative. 

COP leaders need to prioritize allocating more resources to communities who experience these climate impacts at higher rates. Black communities, in particular, find themselves disproportionately affected by the consequences of climate injustice. The United States' leaders negotiating at COP28 must action President Biden's mandate for environmental justice inclusion with all federal agencies. 

In this blog post, we explore why Black communities should care about COP and how our voices are essential in shaping a future that prioritizes environmental and racial justice.

The Environmental and Climate Impact on Black Communities:

Historical and systemic factors, including the proximity of carbon-emitting plants, government policies, and racist practices are ingrained in national and global industries and have resulted in detrimental effects on the health of Black people. Consider the following alarming statistics:

  • More than 1 million Black Americans live within a half-mile of natural gas facilities.
  • More than 6.7 million Black Americans reside in the 91 US counties with oil refineries.
  • More than 1 million Black Americans face a "cancer risk above EPA's level of concern" due to unclean air.
  • Approximately 13.4% of Black American children have asthma, compared to only 7.3% of White children.
  • According to the recent National Climate Assessment, Black communities will face more flooding in the future than any other community. 

Environmental Racism: A Perpetuator of Anti-Black Racism:

The concept of environmental racism has been a primary method to establish, advance, and perpetuate anti-Black racism. Despite being in denial about the true impacts of climate and racial injustice, America has witnessed the harmful pattern of environmental racism persist. The absence of Black voices at COP would mean the exclusion of crucial perspectives, leading to discussions that lack racial justice considerations.

To highlight some urgent effects of environmental racism, consider the following key statistics:

  • Coastal communities in the South, where Black Americans form a significant percentage of the population, are at the highest risk of sea-level rise.
  • A 2021 EPA research study indicates that the most severe harms from climate change disproportionately affect historically excluded communities, who are least able to prepare for and recover from such impacts.
  • The top 20% of proportionally Black census tracts face twice the flood risk as areas with the lowest proportion of Black residents.
  • Studies reveal that White communities experience higher levels of reinvestment after natural disasters compared to other communities. Black families often see a decrease in wealth in areas with substantial damages, while White families witness an increase.

Advocating for environmental and racial justice locally and globally is imperative for the future of Black health and communities. Ensuring clean air, drinking water, and energy sources that do not further harm Black people requires active participation in global negotiations. A Black American perspective is essential in addressing local climate change and environmental issues across the diaspora internationally.

Experts and leaders from across the world must center communities with these discussions, including the Biden Administration, and place Black voices and experiences at the forefront of these environmental talks. The history of climate calamities in Black communities underscores the urgency of addressing environmental and racial injustices on a global scale. Prioritizing Black voices is crucial in shaping the future to ensure a world that uplifts equity, justice, and sustainability for all.

Want to know how you can get involved? Sign our petition calling on the Biden administration to prioritize bold climate action during COP28.