In 2000, the Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP) was founded as the first platform to track and monitor carbon emissions and environmental stewardship from large corporations.

Over the last two decades, CDP has expanded its data collection and survey ventures to encompass reporting from states, regions, and especially, cities.

Environmental preparedness disclosures from cities provide profound insights on how effectively society is tackling the climate crisis because cities contain half of the world’s population, and are responsible for two-thirds of the world’s energy consumption. CDP specific disclosures, in particular, can illuminate the level of class and race consciousness in local environmental policies.

Cities as a Lens for Environmental Stewardship

Katie Walsh, Cities, States and Regions for CDP North America, told Blavity in the eight years since the Cities Program was started, the number of participating global cities has grown to 800. She stated these cities annually report “on how are they addressing climate risk, what actions are they taking, how are they trying to mitigate [risks], how are they trying to adapt, and how are they trying to protect water security.” Largely, CDP publicly provides this self-reported information in four forms: City-Wide Emissions, Cities Adaptation Actions, Cities Vulnerability Assessment, and Cities At Risk Report.

The 2018 Cities At Risk Analysis revealed 85 percent of participating cities reported climate hazards. Walsh pointed out,  “70 percent of [these cities] are talking about flood risk, 60 percent of them are talking about extreme heat, and 36 percent of them are talking about drought.”

It is the Cities Vulnerability Assessment, however, that best demonstrates individual city initiatives, and their effects on marginalized communities.

“What we thought was very interesting in particular is that of the cities who are reporting hazards, only about half of them have done the vulnerability assessment,” Walsh said. “A vulnerability assessment includes physical impacts, but it also includes social impacts [on] the community, so it struck us that only half of the cities have done a vulnerability assessment.”

Matchmaking for Environmental Justice

Understanding the climate hazards and vulnerabilities a city and its respective communities may face is a crucial component in how CDP aims to help communities — on a neighborhood level — actualize climate action and mitigation plans. CDP’s Cities Program has recently been advising cities on their community-level climate action plans via the Matchmaker project.

According to Walsh, Matchmaker asks “cities to tell [CDP] what projects are they seeking financing for to further their climate action and resiliency.” Information gathered through Matchmaker is requested and compiled in detail not required in CDP’s other disclosure activities.

“One of the components of [Matchmaker] is asking cities when they’re putting a project in, what zip code is that project going to impact,” Walsh said. “The goal here is that you want to be working on climate, you want to be working on mitigation, adaptation and risk resilience, but you don't want to do so while worsening harm, and creating wider inequities for communities that have been historically marginalized, not involved, low income, communities of color. We have to ensure that any of the projects in these proposals [are] completely taking that into account.”

This degree of socio-geographic detail informs CDP in a way that allows it to advise the social and environmental impact and municipal bond investment communities on how to best support equitable environmental proposals.

“[Social and environmental impact investing] is actually an accelerating field because what all the research has found is millennials and women are increasingly the investors of tomorrow, and they don’t want to be invested in projects that do social or environmental harm,” Walsh explained.

She continued, “Municipal bond investors are paying for the bonds the cities are issuing and they also really care about what cities are doing on climate because if the city is going to be underwater in 50 years, or if the city is going to have its entire tax base leave — businesses and individuals — because of so many extreme weather events, and they can’t rebuild, then the city won’t be able to pay back their bonds.”

Matchmaker’s work in securing funding for necessary resilience projects has led to the development of, and investment in, climate mitigation projects in traditionally overlooked communities of color.

In Baltimore, Matchmaker has supported the city’s Resiliency Hubs. Resiliency Hubs in Baltimore originated from a 2014 recommendation from Clean Energy Group (CEG) encouraging Baltimore to invest in solar and energy storage in low-income communities.

Since CEG’s initial recommendation, the Maryland Energy Administration has formalized a Resiliency Hub Grant Program. This grant funding has been influential in the creation of Baltimore’s seven current Resiliency Hubs. It has also supported other community spaces looking to transition into becoming City recognized Resiliency Hubs.

Because Baltimore has both a black population of 63 percent, and a poverty rate of 21.8 percent, low-income black residents are far more likely to be exposed to climate hazards. According to Baltimore’s disclosure to the CDP, this is a substantial reason why the city is “working to develop more resiliency hubs to better serve communities that face climate change-related hazards.”

CDP’s ability to connect resiliency hub leaders with private financing opportunities promotes the long-term viability of this initiative, ensuring that these hubs are fully funded in ways not always possible from public funding alone. CDP uses this monitoring and funding support model in other cities throughout the United States.

In Cleveland — where half of the city’s residents are black — the city’s first Climate Action Plan spawned the Cleveland Tree Plan. As of the 2019 disclosure, this enterprise aimed to increase Cleveland’s tree canopy percentage from 19 percent to 30 percent over the next twenty years by, in part, planting 50,000 trees by 2020.

“If you have the urban heat island impacts, which is a big risk from climate change, you can actually cool a city down if you’re able to plant enough trees en masse,” Walsh explained.

She also highlighted how the Cleveland Tree Plan is seriously considering racial equity in its tree plantings.

“[Cleveland] is being really specific about where these new trees get planted, and it’s not just about planting them in wealthy communities, or more affluent white communities,” she told Blavity.

Building Social Equity on an Institutional Level

Beyond funding and data collection support for existing resilience efforts, Matchmaker also works with the Government Alliance for Race and Equity (GARE) to train city officials on how to effectively create equitable environmental policies.

CDP uses GARE frameworks — primarily its Racial Equity Toolkit — to provide workshops and consultations for city officials who opt into Matchmaker. CDP hopes that familiarization with GARE’s Racial Equity Toolkit will stimulate local government officials to heavily consider equity as they design climate policies.

“We don’t want to see any work that widens inequality for any historically marginalized community,” Walsh said.

She also sees some evidence the racial equity training is effective. She remarked that “the city of Asheville, NC has used this toolkit to reform their climate resiliency plan.”

Limits on Insights Don’t Discourage Assistance

As the Cities Program continues promoting climate vulnerability awareness and socially equitable policy design, it’s encountering resistance to reporting from some of the most vulnerable cities in America.

“The question we think about with the Cities At Risk report is if you almost did an inverse of the map and looked at the blank spaces, and looked to see where is my city, and asked, ‘why is my city not there?’” Walsh expressed. “If you think about cities experiencing extreme growth rate, in vulnerable areas, a really big city like Jacksonville Florida is not reporting to CDP.”

In these climatically vulnerable areas, non-disclosure to the CDP often compounds issues for marginalized communities of color, who are often the first casualties of environmental disasters. Given the symbiotic dynamic of disclosure and then support, CDP recognizes that it’s only one component in promoting environmental justice.

This dynamic also encourages CDP to be as much of a facilitator for change as cities are willing to request.

“[We are] a bellwether to see if your city is doing this work,” Walsh concluded. “If your city is not on the map, really understanding the impacts and the climate emergency movement, what can we do? How can our organization support your city to start to address these key areas?”