Exploring the disproportionate risks from climate change facing Washington state communities

Unfair Share Report

New Report Finds Climate Change Hits Some Harder Than Others

Everyone in Washington state will be affected by climate change, but the impacts will hit some harder than others. Those are key highlights of a new report, An Unfair Share: Exploring the Disproportionate Risks From Climate Change Facing Washington State Communities.

The report, produced by the Climate Impacts Group at the University of Washington, finds that people of color, indigenous peoples and those with lower incomes frequently face greater risks from climate change. These groups can be more exposed to negative impacts of climate change like fire, flood, drought or extreme heat because of where they live and work.

Seattle Foundation funded the report as part of our new Climate Justice Impact Strategy, a Foundation-wide strategy to ensure that communities of color and low-income communities lead and shape efforts to address the impacts of climate change in an equitable way. 

The report is a collaboration between Front and Centered, a climate justice coalition of more than 60 community-based groups; the University of Washington Climate Impacts Group; [email protected]; and the University of Washington Department of Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences. It was informed by community listening sessions hosted by Front and Centered across the state, in which community members from various backgrounds shared concerns about climate change and environmental pollution.

An Unfair Share provides a detailed review of what we know about the environmental and health impacts of climate change in the Pacific Northwest. Blending academic research with community-based perspectives, the report identifies a range of factors that determine how some residents may be more exposed and vulnerable to climate change.

“Climate change is a global issue, with specific local impacts. Who you are, where you work and where you live are all critical factors in how you experience the impacts of climate change and the risks you face,” said Heidi Roop, Research Scientist with the Climate Impacts Group.

The report highlights key issues for Washington state communities, including:

  • With high temperatures on the hottest days in the Puget Sound region projected to be as much as 10°F warmer by the end of this century, people who work in agriculture, construction and other outdoor jobs, many of whom are people of color, will be exposed to more extreme conditions that pose significant health risks.
  • As sea levels rise and rainfall and runoff increase, communities that live near coasts or rivers will be increasingly exposed to severe flooding and coastal hazards. Lower-income residents are less able to recover from such events.
  • As warming increases the frequency and intensity of wildfires, there will be greater risks to residents’ health and homes in areas prone to wildfire.
  • Resources and social cohesion help determine a community’s ability to cope with the impacts of climate change. Given the placed-based nature of climate change-related risks, community members are likely to be the experts in developing and deploying solutions that bolster their resilience to climate change.

The project partners hope the report will spark additional research on climate change and equity to fill key knowledge gaps, and that it can support community-based organizations’ efforts toward equitable solutions for those on the frontlines of climate change.

“This report is an important way to bring together community perspective with academic research to advance solutions to our most critical challenges,” said Sally Gillis, who leads the Climate Justice Impact Strategy at Seattle Foundation. “While climate change affects all of us, we need to center our efforts around those most impacted – communities of color and low income communities.”

You can view and download the full report at bit.ly/unfairsharereport

In addition, this two-page document offers a concise summary of the report.