Through the Commission for Environmental Cooperation (CEC), the governments of Canada, Mexico, and the United States, marked a significant milestone with the 31st Annual Council Session and JPAC Public Forum held in Wilmington, North Carolina.

This year’s gathering, presented in a hybrid format from June 24-26, 2024, was themed “Strengthening Environmental Justice through Community Empowerment,” reflecting the CEC’s enduring commitment to addressing environmental challenges faced by marginalized and underserved communities across North America.

Over the past three decades, the CEC has played a pivotal role in promoting sustainable practices and addressing transboundary environmental issues, including air and water quality, biodiversity conservation, and climate change resilience.

The 31st Annual Council Session and JPAC Public Forum served as a platform for stakeholders from government, civil society, academia, and Indigenous communities to review progress, exchange insights, and chart a course for future environmental initiatives.

 

EJ4Climate funds for climate action

The day began with presentations on the EJ4Climate Grant Program and the Communities for Environmental Justice Network.

The EJ4Climate Grant Program, established in 2021, funds projects that assist underserved and vulnerable communities in Canada, Mexico, and the United States as they prepare for climate-related impacts. This program has been instrumental in empowering communities to develop solutions and partnerships addressing environmental and health vulnerabilities.

Moreover, the program provides direct funding to Indigenous communities and community-based organizations, delivering environmental justice and advancing local solutions to adapt to climate change.

“This year’s focus on empowering communities and fostering meaningful engagement is crucial for building a just, inclusive and sustainable future,” said Janet McCabe, deputy administrator for the United States Environmental Protection Agency.

McCabe reaffirmed the commitment to collaborative efforts with Canadian and Mexican partners, alongside local communities, youth leaders, and Indigenous groups, to confront pressing environmental challenges, safeguard public health, and uphold environmental justice across North America.

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Empowering communities and advancing environmental justice

Central to the discussions was a critical examination of initiatives aimed at improving air quality in underserved neighbourhoods. Research, including studies from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), underscored the disproportionate burden of air pollution on low-income and minority communities, exacerbating existing health disparities.

The dialogue highlighted the imperative of implementing clean energy technologies and strengthening regulatory frameworks to reduce harmful emissions and promote healthier environments for all residents.

Additionally, the EPA has highlighted that water conservation efforts can yield significant cost savings for communities, businesses, and households by lowering water bills and infrastructure expenses.

“As we tackle the challenges of the triple planetary crisis of climate change, biodiversity loss and pollution, the cooperation between our three countries, through the CEC, is more important than ever,” shared Sandra McCardell, assistant deputy minister, for the International Affairs, Environment and Climate Change Canada.

According to the World Resources Institute, more than 40 per cent of the global population faces water scarcity challenges, a figure expected to escalate due to climate change and population growth.

CEC session spotlights youth-led innovations and dialogue

The afternoon session commenced with Jorge Daniel Taillant, CEC executive director, emphasizing the organization’s steadfast dedication to environmental justice and community empowerment.

Following his remarks, youth teams from the Generation of Environmental Leaders Program (GELP) showcased innovative projects aimed at enhancing community resilience and environmental sustainability among young adults aged 18-35.

The session focused on public dialogue centred on environmental justice, where Council members and esteemed experts deliberated strategies to empower marginalized communities.

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The speakers underscored the pivotal role of youth engagement in advancing environmental justice initiatives. The Generation of Environmental Leaders Program (GELP) invited teams of young leaders from across North America to support community-driven projects aimed at preserving our shared waters, lands, and air, showcasing the potential of youth to drive positive change in environmental sustainability.

CEC’s 30th-anniversary celebration

The session also commemorated the CEC’s 30-year legacy of environmental cooperation, featuring an interactive showcase of successful and replicable projects spanning the past three decades:

  • Monarch Conservation – The CEC continues its commitment to preserving the migratory routes and habitats of the monarch butterfly across North America. This initiative, essential for biodiversity and agricultural productivity, involves collaborative efforts to safeguard breeding grounds in Canada and the United States, as well as wintering habitats in Mexico.
  • Food loss and waste initiatives – These projects focus on reducing food waste through community engagement and innovative solutions. By tackling food security and environmental sustainability, these initiatives minimize waste, thereby lowering greenhouse gas emissions and conserving valuable resources.
  • Hazardous waste management – The development of a data exchange system for hazardous waste transfers underscores the CEC’s dedication to environmental protection and compliance with international regulations. Effective management of hazardous materials is crucial for preventing soil and water contamination, safeguarding public health, and ensuring transparency and accountability in waste handling practices.

Announcements and new initiatives

As the session concluded, the CEC announced the continuation of the EJ4Climate Grant Program, which aims to support community-led projects addressing climate change impacts in underserved and vulnerable communities across North America.

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With a US$2 million fund, the program will award up to $200,000 per project, emphasizing initiatives that incorporate community-based environmental education, hands-on activities, citizen science, and traditional ecological knowledge.

Youth engagement: Launching a youth ambassador program focused on air quality monitoring and advocacy, with an investment of $500,000. This initiative aims to empower young leaders with the skills and knowledge to actively participate in environmental protection efforts and advocate for policy changes at local and national levels.

Community resilience projects: Allocating $1.2 million to projects enhancing community resilience to extreme weather events, promoting clean energy transitions, and restoring local ecosystems. These efforts aim to bolster community capacity to withstand and recover from climate impacts through green infrastructure development, disaster preparedness enhancement, and support for renewable energy adoption.

Capacity building and training: Providing $300,000 for comprehensive training and resources to community organizations to better address environmental justice issues and implement sustainable practices. Workshops on environmental health, grant writing, and strategic planning will empower communities to lead their sustainability initiatives, fostering local leadership and a network of informed community advocates.

The CEC’s 31st Annual Council Session and JPAC Public Forum concluded with a resounding commitment to empower marginalized communities, foster youth leadership, and uphold environmental justice across the continent.

As Sandra McCardell from Environment and Climate Change Canada emphasized, “Amidst the challenges of climate change, biodiversity loss, and pollution, trilateral cooperation through the CEC is essential now more than ever.”

Reya Shreya Rai is an editorial intern for Environment Journal. She is a writer and a student of Contemporary Journalism at Centennial College. 

Featured image credit: Commission for Environmental Cooperation (CEC)

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