What UN World Leaders Can Learn from California’s Climate Law


New America Media–The UN Climate Summit convened government leaders, business, and other stakeholders to discuss ways to mitigate climate change. As UN leaders and climate activists gear up to advance climate change solutions, the discussion must go beyond polar bears, climate treaties, or climate science.

While everyone is ready and eager for bold action to address our current climate crisis, the most important voices in this discussion, those of indigenous, low-income, and people of color at the frontlines of climate pollution, must be the loudest.

Here in California, we passed the state’s landmark climate law, AB 32, the Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006, which reduces greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020. It was a step in the right direction to avoid climate change, but environmental justice advocates ensured that frontline communities were not left behind in the movement toward a more sustainable California.


SB 535 (Kevin de Leon), the Climate and Community Investment Act, ensures that the communities who suffer most from climate pollution can benefit directly from investments in clean energy and green jobs. This year, over $200 million will go towards programs that reduce pollution, while benefitting the most polluted neighborhoods.

This is one lesson that UN leaders must learn from California. Otherwise, they risk widening the disparities that exist between frontline communities and the rest of the world. They risk creating two separate states: a state for those that have Teslas and solar panels and a state where those living at the frontline of pollution and extraction have little to no access to healthcare and opportunity.

In moving towards a Just Transition, one where we can all participate in the solution to the climate crisis, UN leaders need to take into account all of the impacts of their decisions. If we start with the communities that have been most impacted by the extractive economy that is devastating our planet, we can begin to uplift equity, economic opportunity, and ecological balance.


If UN leaders really care for our climate, their climate action must take us towards a Just Transition that keeps fossil fuels in the ground, creates millions of meaningful jobs, and puts our communities back to work building the infrastructure we really need to address the climate crisis.

That is why I marched in the People’s Climate March last Sunday. I marched to represent the 1,000 members of our organization, who are Asian immigrants and refugees living beside the Chevron refinery and the convergence of three major highways in their backyards. I marched so that they and frontline communities all over the country can breathe cleaner air, enjoy local clean energy, and build an economy that makes us climate resilient. I marched because our climate is too fragile and precious for the UN to gamble on trial-and-error solutions. The UN needs to borrow from California’s tried and true climate policy that is good for both people and planet: invest in community-led climate solutions.


Mari Rose Taruc is a mother who has 20 years of organizing experience in environmental justice campaigns.

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