Lolly Lim

Program Manager of Climate Investments Research

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Ten years of California Climate Investments reveals essential lessons on investing in lasting and transformative community-led solutions to climate change

The story of climate change is also a story of inequity. Pursuits of profit and power have deepened racial inequality, and the impacts of pollution and climate change on communities of color exacerbates the racial wealth, health, and opportunity gaps

As State and federal policymakers are making massive investments in climate change solutions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and build resilience in the communities most impacted by climate change, California has been at the vanguard. Ten years ago, the state of California launched a climate funding initiative with an intentional emphasis on equity known as California Climate Investments (CCI). Now, after a decade and $10 billion in investments, we have the opportunity to learn from both the strengths and the shortcomings of CCI.

A Call to Invest in Community Power: Lessons from Ten Years of California Climate Investments for the State and the Nation, developed by The Greenlining Institute and USC’s Equity Research Institute offers something novel: the most comprehensive third party equity analysis of the nation’s longest running portfolio of equity-centered climate investments.

This report was developed through intensive research, conversations, and analysis. Our teams delved into the heart and details of CCI, engaging with 100-plus interviewees and stakeholders. Through a comprehensive analysis, the report found CCI aspects that are excellent with regard to equity, areas where delivering on equity can be improved, and places where the promise of equity has been derailed. 

This research can be used to identify lessons from these programs and assess how they can be used to shine a light on what strategies work towards advancing equity, and pitfalls to avoid. 

Authors Lolly Lim, Program Manager of Climate Investments Research at Greenlining and Vanessa Carter Fahnestock, Project Manager at ERI present 10 lessons for creating and implementing equity-focused climate investments.

10 Lessons for Future Climate Investments:

  1. Equity goals matter and must be paired with clear requirements, trackability, and accountability to yield measurable results. 
  1. Climate investments produce the most visible, felt impacts when projects are community-driven or have significant community buy-in and involvement. 
  1. Climate investments are not neutral. Harmful investments—particularly those that perpetuate fossil fuel infrastructure, false solutions, worsen local pollution, or create harms globally—must be identified and corrected, or defunded. 
  1. For equity outcomes, community and EJ groups must have structural influence over climate investments that go beyond engagement (e.g. determining what types of programs are funded, pushing back on unwanted projects).
  1. Ongoing support from the state and philanthropy is needed to ensure communities can easily access and utilize public climate dollars, and build longer term capacity. In particular, defragmenting programs, streamlining and reducing administrative barriers, and providing ample technical assistance should be priorities.
  1. Tribal Nations and Indigenous communities relate to climate investments in their own ways—and investments must tailor support to respect the unique context of these communities. 
  1. The ecosystem for climate justice has and will continue to make climate investments more equitable and impactful for communities through power-building, advocacy, community engagement, and project implementation. 
  1. Complete data that incorporates community knowledge alongside quantitative statistics is essential for determining and tracking equity outcomes. 
  1. The next evolution of climate investment programs can build on previous improvements by producing deeper economic benefits including high-road
  2. In many places, including California, the immense scale of need in pollution-burdened communities likely requires deeper, more reliable funding towards climate justice solutions, including philanthropic investments.

The findings in this research can be used to highlight effective strategies for climate investments for state legislature and agencies, philanthropic organizations, and the White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ).

Read the full list of report recommendations here and our press release here.

Lolly Lim

Program Manager of Climate Investments Research