Building Equity into Climate Solutions

Q&A with Benjamin Preston

The RAND Center to Advance Racial Equity Policy develops solutions to build racial equity in systems and policies for the future. One such area is protecting our climate in ways that are equitable and equity-oriented. Benjamin Preston, director of RAND’s Community Health and Environmental Policy program, shares more.

Benjamin Preston

Senior Policy Researcher Benjamin Preston

Photo by Diane Baldwin / RAND Corporation

What are the most pressing issues in climate and equity today?

The big challenge we face today is what I call the climate policy paradox. Clearly, we need to act aggressively on climate change to protect our nation’s most vulnerable people and places. Yet, it’s increasingly clear that our responses to climate change, if not designed with inclusion and equity in mind, can harm the very people and systems we seek to protect. So our approach to climate policy needs to quickly broaden from a focus on achieving emissions reductions to a more holistic focus on the promotion of human and ecological well-being.

How is RAND contributing to this discussion?

I see RAND as contributing on two fronts. First, we are directing our research and analysis capabilities to improve understanding of the intersections between climate and equity. This includes, for example, leading the development of new metrics for evaluating environmental inequities as well as analysis of the legacy of racism on present day exposure to climate hazards. Second, we are using our positions on federal advisory boards, our research networks, and our relationships with communities around the country to highlight the critical importance of diversity, equity, and inclusion as the foundation for effective climate policy.

How do we move toward durable policy solutions that will have lasting impact?

While there’s no doubt that it’s important for us to tackle the issue of climate change head-on by identifying fair and effective solutions that transition society to a resilient, low-carbon future, we also need to see climate change within the bigger picture of social challenges. That means addressing more fundamental and structural inequities in society associated with education, housing, health, and employment. Hence, we are increasingly seeing climate action aligned with a larger social justice narrative, particularly at the local level. In those cities and states where we’ve seen lasting policy commitments on climate, we’ve seen steady, albeit incremental, steps forward toward sound climate policy.

Read more about RAND's climate policy work, and the RAND Climate Resilience Center.