“Climate Change and Environmental Justice Solutions,” is the theme of the 28th session of the virtual North American Commission for Environmental Cooperation (CEC) Annual Council Session.

This public forum is bringing together the CEC Joint Public Advisory Committee (JPAC), the Traditional Ecological Knowledge Expert Group (TEKEG), young innovators, and the public at large for public participation throughout a two-day session on September 9 – 10, 2021.

Celebrating a renewed commitment to North American cooperation on environmental action, the United States Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Michael Regan, as Council Chair, is the virtual host of the CEC Council representatives from Mexico and Canada.

The Council meets each year to assess progress on environmental cooperation in North America, establish shared priorities, and meet with the public to discuss pressing environmental issues facing the region.

This year’s virtual Council Session includes the following public opportunities:

  • A Public Forum of the CEC’s Joint Public Advisory Committee (JPAC) focused on gathering public input on climate change and environmental justice issues. The JPAC forum “Leaving no one behind: working together for more equitable solutions to climate change impacts” will feature a trilateral expert panel and moderated Q&A.
  • A Youth Roundtable on ‘The Role of Youth in Ensuring Environmental Justice through Responses to Climate Change’. The public is invited to join the conversation and learn from North American youth on their approaches to building and advocating for solutions to climate change under the scope of environmental justice and inclusivity.
  • A Dialogue with the Council on Climate Change and Environmental Justice, and presentations by the North American winners of the CEC’s annual Youth Innovation Challenge.
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Today’s JPAC Public Forum on Climate Change and Environmental Justice featured a discussion on equitable solutions to climate change impacts facing communities across North America. Increased weather events have included unprecedented flooding, coastal erosion, drought, fires, and heat waves. However, as experts noted, not all communities are impacted equally. Vulnerable or historically marginalized communities and their residents are experiencing these impacts more severely due to their exposure and their ability to recover from them. Where they are situated and their residents’ health, diets, income, language barriers, and limited access to resources are all factors impacting their resiliency and are often the result of historical policies, programs, and development practices—resulting in inequalities strongly affecting housing, infrastructure, and political representation.

This JPAC forum focused on potential solutions to increase the resilience of vulnerable or historically marginalized communities by incorporating social considerations in climate programs, such as housing and zoning policies and infrastructure initiatives, and building partnerships with all stakeholders, including underrepresented groups. The forum also highlighted examples from communities and organizations coming together throughout North America.

The youth roundtable included the following:

  • Iman Berry, co-developer of the Green Ummah Curriculum (Canada)
  • Eduardo Lezama, education coordinator of the Re-Earth Initiative Program of Public Events-v24 (Mexico)
  • Justin Onwenu, inaugural member of the Michigan Advisory Council on Environmental Justice and Black Leadership Advisory Council (United States)

Robert D. Bullard, PhD, is with Iman Berry (Canada), Eduardo Lezama (Mexcico) and Justin Onwenu, (U.S.)

“We don’t need baby steps. We need big transformative steps for the sake of humanity,” said Bullard.

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And it seems his panelists are ready to take on those big steps:

Berry: “I believe the best way to combat eco-anxiety is by taking action.”

Lezama: “I would love for people to take away from this conversation that we all have a part in this work. We need everyone to collaborate.”

Onwenu: “Including young people in environmental work is not a matter of pity or checking a box, it’s hugely beneficial to the movement.”

The powerful keynote presentation by Dr. Leticia Merino Pérez, a distinguished researcher from the National Autonomous University of Mexico, pointed out the increased climactic vulnerability of North America. She also provided her informed opinions on the ideal solutions to overcome the climate crisis. For over 35 years, she has devoted herself to research on issues and public policies related to the use, management and governance of territories and natural resources in rural and indigenous communities.

Dr. Leticia Merino Pérez, researcher from the National Autonomous University of Mexico.

“I don’t want to alarm anyone, but this is just the tip of the iceberg of the changes we will experience,” emphasized Pérez. “We need new governance systems that can respond to the Anthropocene crisis.”

She said that setting targets is important but that North America “needs a transformative justice approach, not a conservative approach. The access to resources needs to be secure. This substantive justice has to be based on access to universal rights.”

Robert W. Varney, JPAC member

According to Robert W. Varney, JPAC member, the current CEC meetings remind him of the early environmental meetings in the 1970s, when the Earth Day movement came to fruition, which led to the EPA and environmental laws.

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“This direct engagement of youth across the country was the turning point in the U.S.,” recalled Varney. “We have a similar situation and a similar opportunity to take action on climate change and environmental justice.”

Tomorrow’s agenda includes the Council Public Meeting Climate Change and Environmental Justice In accordance with the Agreement on Environmental Cooperation (ECA) Article 3(4), the CEC Council shall hold public meetings in the course of all regular sessions. These public meetings have been held since 1995 and represent a unique opportunity for North American citizens to engage with senior environmental officials and learn about North American environmental collaboration in the context of free trade as well as share their views with the Council. This year’s public meeting will focus on “Environmental Justice and Climate Change Solutions”.

Simultaneous interpretation in English, French and Spanish is available.

To register for this event or for further information, click here.

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