Coalition Calls for Climate Action and Equitable Outcomes in New California Bond

More than 160 groups urge historic investment in the communities and natural resources most affected by climate change

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Coalition Calls for Climate Action and Equitable Outcomes in New California Bond
Three teenagers pull the fluff out of a cattail while on a hike.
Youth campers play with a cattail during a hike in Suisun Marsh, the largest brackish water marsh on the U.S. West Coast, and the site of ongoing restoration projects that enable this habitat to store carbon, provide flood mitigation, and conserve fish and wildlife.
Liz Hafalia San Francisco Chronicle via Getty Images

Editor’s note: This article was updated May 6, 2024, to add Jos Hill as a co-author.

In California, as in most of the world, climate change is hitting hardest in the most vulnerable communities—those with the fewest resources to prepare for or respond and adapt to their shifting reality. Fortunately, there’s hope for relief: On Feb. 12, Pew joined more than 100 organizations to launch a California state legislative effort to place a bond initiative on the November 2024 ballot to support investments in the communities and natural resources most affected by climate change. The coalition has since grown to over 160 organizations.

The proposed bond is structured to ensure that more than 40% of the investments flow to disadvantaged communities that are overburdened by pollution; the bond would complement the Biden administration’s Justice40 Initiative. If it passes, the proposed $10 billion bond would represent the largest voter-approved climate resilience investment in U.S. history and would prioritize investments specifically requested by the communities most at risk from climate impacts.

“Our working-class communities of color are currently living through intensifying climate emergencies and compounding structural inequities,” Elle Chen, coalition member of the Asian Pacific Environmental Network (APEN), said in a recent conversation with California state legislators. “We have a unique opportunity as a collective to concretize Justice40 principles with real investments to our frontline communities facing cumulative impacts.”

Working collaboratively, Chen and other coalition members seek to provide California’s people and wildlife with better access to clean air, water, and open spaces. Additionally, the proposal calls for investments to better protect vulnerable communities from floods, fires, extreme heat, and other climate impacts.

A firefighter in yellow gear turns away from a wildfire with flames and smoke visible in a grassy area.
A firefighter manages an intentionally set “backfire” to reduce available fuel for a true wildfire that is advancing near Orange, California, in February 2006. Fire season in Southern California is now year-round due to the recurring droughts and warming climate.
David McNew Getty Images

‘Later is too late’

Climate change is harming California residents and industries in unprecedented ways. Disadvantaged and vulnerable communities are experiencing materially negative effects first and worst, through effects such as rising air pollution, increased allergens, extreme heat, and worsening droughts and wildfires, floods and storm surge, and declining water quality.

Numerous studies underscore the gravity of the situation in California:

  • An Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report found that without prompt investment and commensurate action in nature, adaptation options that would benefit people today would not be effective in the future.
  • Since 1980, the state has experienced 46 extreme weather events that caused at least $1 billion in damage, according to data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Centers for Environmental Information.
  • According to California’s Fourth Climate Change Assessment, the state’s lands and waters—and the forestry, farming, fishing, ranching communities, and California Native American Tribes that depend on them—are under increased threat without substantial investments and adaptive management.
  • In a 2023 report, the Association of Bay Area Governments, Metropolitan Transportation Commission, and San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission concluded that it would cost $110 billion to protect residents from sea-level rise in the Bay Area, putting the $10 billion climate bond request from the coalition into perspective.

As the letter from the coalition states, “The time is now. Later is too late.”

A person stands in a sunny spot surrounded by a grove of tall trees.
A hiker stands among giant Redwood Trees in Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park. A proposed climate bond in California would expand protections for natural areas and fund other action to help climate change, with an emphasis on vulnerable and underserved communities.
Christopher Kimmel Getty Images

Californians cherish the diversity of life in their communities

Despite being among the states most at risk for biodiversity loss, California remains a global biodiversity hotspot with the potential to sustain people and wildlife into the future. And public opinion research consistently indicates that Californians want to protect this biodiversity—their lands, air, water, and communities—and that they’re willing to pay for it.

The coalition’s climate bond proposal combines aspects of two proposed bills from the 2023 legislative session—S.B. 867 authored by State Senator Ben Allen (D) and A.B. 1567 authored by Assemblymember Eduardo Garcia (D)—and advances important environmental justice investments that were not included in those bills. Key elements of the proposed climate resilience bond include:

  • Increasing access to safe drinking water and improving flood protection.
  • Improving wildfire prevention and resilience, including by increasing forest health and addressing the impact of wildfires on human health.
  • Restoring wetlands, reintroducing salmon, and improving forest health and habitat connectivity.
  • Enhancing public areas to make communities more resilient to extreme heat events.
  • Protecting and restoring coastal and tidal habitats to minimize flooding, erosion, and runoff.
  • Incentivizing farmers and ranchers to improve how well their soil holds water and nutrients, sequesters carbon, and refills groundwater reservoirs (the water table).
  • Improving air quality, increasing grid reliability, and creating local jobs through community projects to increase renewable energy, develop microgrids, and improve energy storage.

The California Legislature has until June 27 to pass legislation that would send the climate bond to the November ballot for voters to decide.

Jos Hill is a director and Bobby Hayden is an officer on The Pew Charitable Trusts’ U.S. conservation project.

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Speeches & Testimony

On Feb. 12, 2024, The Pew Charitable Trusts and more than 100 partners submitted a letter to California Governor Gavin Newsom (D) and state lawmakers urging them to pass legislation placing a bond initiative on the November 2024 ballot to support investments in the communities and natural resources most affected by climate change.

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