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DeBacker: Refined climate strategy advances racial and economic justice


This commentary is adapted from the February edition of Cities. Climate. Equity., the Kresge Environment Program’s newsletter. Sign up for it and other Kresge newsletters here.

The grantmaking and social investing of Kresge’s Environment Program are guided by strategies that we hope will maximize the impact of our giving. We recently posted new guidelines on our website, which reflect a subtle but important shift in our funding priorities.

Fundamentally, we remain committed to helping cities combat and adapt to climate change while advancing racial and economic justice. Our updated strategies, described below, place even greater emphasis on supporting organizations working to advance climate justice and enhancing the capacity of the community development finance system to provide loans for climate-beneficial projects.

Our vision:

At Kresge, we imagine a future where everyone is protected from the short- and long-term effects of climate change because their communities have proactively transitioned to renewable energy, prepared for climate change impacts, and done so by elevating equity and justice as critical priorities.

Climate change is increasingly harming people, communities, businesses and natural resources across the U.S. and the world, as evidenced by a seemingly unending series of extreme weather events. Record-shattering heat. Chronic drought. Wildfires. Devastating storms. Coastal and inland flooding.

To avoid the worst impacts of climate change, we must drastically – and quickly – reduce greenhouse gas emissions while giving communities the tools required to mitigate and prepare for climate change.

This is exactly what our strategy shift intends to do.

We know the impacts of climate change are disproportionately affecting people of color and people with low wealth, adversely affecting their health, well-being and opportunities in life. To take equitable climate action, cities must reckon with decades of structural inequities and racism that now exacerbate the effects of climate change.

Ultimately, this means achieving equitable climate action in U.S. cities requires a strong, well-resourced and well-networked movement of trusted nonprofit organizations and leaders who center climate, equity and justice.

We are humbled and proud to support a cadre of grantee partners who are accelerating equitable climate action in cities. These leaders and their organizations are doing the hard work that is critical to addressing climate change and advancing climate justice.

As a national foundation working at the intersection of cities, climate change, and equity, we help to drive public-sector climate action crafted in partnership with community leaders:

  • We support the leadership, influence and power of people of color, people of low wealth and equity-focused organizations in climate change-related decision-making;
  • We support the capacity and effectiveness of changemakers within local government who are committed to equitable climate action;
  • We foster connections among public-sector staff, community leaders and other urban practitioners to advance equitable climate action; and
  • We advocate that communities address climate change mitigation and adaptation concurrently.

Our grant and program-related investment dollars are directed to six strategies:

Climate change will profoundly affect American cities and the people who live in them. We want to help cities and their residents co-create the best possible future – one in which everyone has the opportunity to thrive.

We invite you to view our refined 2024 Environment Program Strategy to learn more about our key focus areas of transforming urban energy, health and water systems, and field building.