The Ocean-Based Climate Solutions Act is the first major bill to prioritize racial equity in addressing the climate crisis. It takes important steps to advance equitable solutions for addressing climate threats to frontline communities of color that are bearing the brunt of climate impacts. Around the country, Tribal communities, and communities of color are hit first and worst by the dramatic changes we are seeing along our coasts—from rising seas to record-breaking hurricane and flood seasons. This bill recognizes these disparities and provides much needed funding to help these communities adapt.
Climate change is a threat-multiplier that is making our existing social and economic inequities even worse. Climate impacts are disproportionately borne by low-income communities and communities of color, which are more frequently located in low-lying flood-prone areas, and experience underinvestment, higher rates of pollution, and lower disaster aid payments as a result of racist housing, land-use, and other policies. Tribal communities that rely on natural resources for subsistence and culturally important hunting and fishing also face unique threats from climate change. They are disproportionately affected by both impacts to Tribal lands as well as degradation and loss of important coastal ecosystems.
Here are a few examples of the provisions included in the Ocean-Based Climate Solutions Act that seek to address the needs of these communities.
Enhancing community resilience
The bill would create a new $3 billion “shovel-ready” coastal restoration program that would prioritize assistance for those hardest-hit by the COVID-19 pandemic, specifically low-income communities, communities of color, Tribal communities, rural communities, and fishing communities. Further, the bill would prioritize at-risk, frontline communities in new grant programs, including a Living Shorelines Grant Program and Blue Carbon Grant Programs, and also by expanding and shifting the priorities of existing grant programs, such as the Coastal and Estuarine Land Conservation Program. These types of funding opportunities are critically important to advancing community-driven resilience projects, like the work of the multi-racial coalition Shore Up Marin City which is working to restore an urban wetland to reduce flood risk and enhance recreational amenities in an underserved community in Marin County, California.
Supporting Tribal resilience
This bill would also create two programs designed to address the unique threats that climate change poses to Tribal communities. At the Bureau of Indian Affairs, a new Tribal Resilience Program would be created to ensure that the U.S. is meeting its federal trust obligations and supporting adaptation planning and resilience projects in Tribal communities to reduce climate-related threats. It would also provide dedicated grants to Tribes as part of the Coastal Zone Management program and would support Tribal work to build community resilience by restoring coastal ecosystems and deploying nature-based climate solutions. The funding programs created by the bill would provide the assistance Tribes need to plan for and implement projects to address climate impacts. For example, this would help support efforts of the Quinault Indian Nation in Washington that is working to relocate out of the flood zone to adapt to rising sea levels.
Support voluntary relocation efforts
The bill would also stand up a Strategic Climate Change Relocation Initiative to assist communities that are seeking to relocate out of harm’s way as a result of climate impacts, like rising seas, eroding shorelines, and more intense and frequent hurricanes. Many native communities in Alaska and other regions are already seeing extreme loss of their ancestral lands, which is forcing them to pursue efforts to relocate their communities to higher ground. Relocation is a complex issue, due in part to the painful history of forced relocation in this country inflicted on Indigenous and Asian communities. Many Indigenous communities, like the Isle de Jean Charles Band of Biloxi-Chitimacha-Choctaw Tribe in Louisiana, fled to low-lying areas to escape forced relocation in the 1800s, and are now facing a difficult decision to relocate again to higher ground due to increased flooding as a result of climate change. That is why federal initiatives like these are crucial to supporting these types of community-led relocation efforts.
Audubon supports these and other measures in the bill that would advance environmental justice and equitable climate solutions for the most at-risk communities. This bill provides much-needed resources to enhance climate resilience in underserved communities that are on the frontline of climate impacts.
This is part 4 of a 4-part series on the Ocean-Based Climate Solutions Act. Check out other stories in this series on coastal resilience, ocean energy, and marine life.