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Climate Action and Advancing Health Equity

Addressing climate change represents a significant opportunity to improve public health, advance health equity, and build community resilience. Many actions that limit climate change also improve the health of families and communities and reduce health inequities.

These “win-win” strategies include active transportation, urban and community greening, compact development and mixed-use zoning, consumption of locally-grown produce, and affordable, healthy, and energy-efficient housing. The health benefits of these strategies can include reductions in obesity, chronic diseases, respiratory illnesses, and injury, and improved community cohesion and mental health (see Table 1).

Table 1. Climate action strategies and potential health benefits

​Climate Action Strategy

​Potential Health Benefits

​Inclusive economic prosperity

Invest in economic drivers such as schools and small businesses, sustainable and inclusive business practices, policies that reduce income inequality, fair and accountable public institutions

  • ​Increase access to resources and opportunities
  • Promote equity and just transition
  • Reduce health care costs
  • Improve physical and mental health outcomes, especially with reducing infant / child deaths and chronic diseases
  • Increase life expectancy
​Create safe, stable, living wage, green jobs
Prioritize economically disadvantaged communities for labor and workforce development
  • ​Promote equity and just transition
  • Reduce poverty
  • Reduce work-related injuries and deaths
  • Improve outcomes across many indicators of health and well-being
  • Reduce health care costs
  • Increase life expectancy

Reduced vehicle miles traveled (VMT)

Active transportation (walking, biking, public transit)

  • ​Increase physical activity
  • Improve mental health
  • Reduce chronic disease
  • Reduce air pollution

Reduce emissions through land use changes

Transit oriented and infill development

  • ​Increase physical activity
  • Increase access to services
  • Reduce chronic disease
  • Enhance safety
Reduce energy intensity in local food systems
Buy local, farmers markets, gardens, reduce consumption of red and processed meats
  • ​Increase access to healthy and fresh foods
  • Reduce air pollution
  • Increase resilience
  • Improve cardiovascular health
  • Increase social cohesion
​​Urban and community greening
Tree planting, parks, green infrastructure
  • ​Reduce temperature and urban heat island effects
  • Reduce air pollution
  • Reduce noise
Reducing building energy use
Energy efficiency, weatherization, cool roofs / green roofs, water conservation
  • ​Reduce energy costs
  • Create local green jobs
  • Promote healthy homes
  • Promote cooler communities

Linking GHG Emissions Reduction and Climate Adaptation

Taking action to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions is critical for protecting and promoting public health. 

California’s goals for reducing GHG emissions by 40% compared to 1990 levels by 2030 (PDF), and reaching carbon neutrality by no later than 2045 is in line with the international goal of limiting warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius or less to avoid the worst impacts of climate change. 

Climate Adaptation Gap diagram illustrating climate risk level related to emission reduction scenarios from 4-1.5 degrees (IPCC)
Figure 1. (adapted from the UN Environment Programme, Adaptation Gap Report, 2021)

The more we can rapidly reduce GHG emissions now, the more we can reduce climate risks later and close the “adaptation gap” -- or how much we will need to adapt to the impacts of climate change, as illustrated in the "Linking Emissions Reductions & Climate Adaptation" diagram above. As emission reduction scenarios improve (e.g., low emissions scenario at 1.5 degrees Celsius), the climate risk level lessens.

Climate Action for More Resilient Communities

The capacity for climate resilience is significantly driven by living conditions and the forces that shape them, such as income, education, housing, transportation, environmental quality, and access to services. Strategies such as alleviating poverty, increasing access to opportunity, improving living conditions, and reducing health and social inequities will result in more climate resilient communities. Public health engagement in climate change is essential to ensure that climate action strategies promote optimal health, well-being, and equity.

The CDPH Climate Change and Health Equity Section (CCHES) provides health equity input into California’s plans for transportation, housing, land use planning, and other systems that affect both health outcomes and vulnerability to climate change impacts. 

Learn more about how CCHES is taking climate action >>

Learn more about CCHES' California Building Resilience Against Health Effects (CalBRACE) Project >>

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