Skip to main content
Open Access Publications from the University of California

Climate Change Mitigation: Climate, Health, and Equity Implications of the Visible and the Hidden

  • Author(s): Shonkoff, Seth Berrin
  • Advisor(s): Morello-Frosch, Rachel
  • et al.

Anthropogenic climate change and the mitigation strategies aimed to attenuate it are both issues of great importance for human rights, public health, and socioeconomic equity. To understand these concerns and to better inform policy and strategic action it is critical to explore: 1) the disparities in the costs and benefits of climate shifts; 2) the abilities of different populations to adapt to these shifts; and 3) the social and health equity dimensions of the climate change mitigation strategies imposed. The health and equity implications associated with anthropogenic climate change mitigation are multi-scaled and range from the household level (i.e., in the case of household-level energy efficiency and fuel switching projects); to the regional and community levels (i.e., in the case of communities that benefit and are impacted by California's Global Warming Solutions Act, or AB 32); to the national and international levels where resource transfers from more developed nations to less developed nations are key to reaching climate mitigation goals.

Critical to the generation of sound and equitable climate mitigation policy is the manner in which climate change mitigation efforts are measured, monitored and evaluated. In other words, methods and metrics determine what is seen and what is rendered invisible. These measurements act as a partial determinant of the observed outcomes and subsequently, the policy decisions that are guided and bolstered by their results. It is therefore crucial to unpack the methodologies and metrics used to measure and evaluate climate change mitigation strategies in order to understand and predict impacts and benefits, and to assess the equity dimensions of different mitigation measures.

Chapter 2 focuses on the environmental health and equity dimensions of both anthropogenic climate change and the California Global Warming Solutions act of 2006 (AB 32) in California. I argue here that anthropogenic climate change is an issue of great importance for human rights, public health, and socioeconomic equity because of its diverse consequences overall as well as its disproportionate impact on vulnerable and socially marginalized populations. It is clear that that anthropogenic climate change will affect industrial and agricultural sectors, as well as transportation, health, and energy infrastructure and these shifts hold significant health and economic consequences for diverse communities throughout California. Without proactive policies to address these equity concerns, climate change will likely reinforce and amplify current as well as future socioeconomic disparities leaving low-income, minority, and politically marginalized groups with fewer economic opportunities and more environmental and health burdens.

Chapter 3 explores the rapidly expanding scientific literature that describes black carbon (BC) emissions and their climatic and human health effects. In addition to scientific uncertainties due to differences in atmospheric models and how to sort out regional effects, inconsistencies in definitions, metric and measurement methods, data collection and characterization, system boundaries, and time horizons, have led to confusion about the importance of BC as a climate-forcing and health-damaging agent relative to other climate-altering and health-damaging pollutants.

The focus on metrics and measurement issues in Chapter 3 leads into Chapter 4 where I shift my gaze to the carbon-offset market and look at accountability components of the monitoring and evaluation (M&E) of cookstove carbon offset projects. While many studies focus on accountability mechanisms between social actors in the carbon-offset arena, there are no studies that have looked at M&E requirements as a source of accountability themselves. I contend that the Gold Standard Foundation (GSF), the primary certifying body of carbon credits on the voluntary market could develop metrics and M&E requirements to discipline evaluators and project developers into more responsible and accountable behavior. This in turn may produce M&E results with a higher standard of veracity to be reported to the certifying institutions and other stakeholders. I identify the existing accountability flaws in the GSF monitoring methodology and make recommendations to improve the M&E requirements. These improvements could further strengthen the authoritativeness of the GSF, make the accountability system more influential, and hopefully lead to more trusted carbon credits, more effective emission reductions, and greater sustainable development gains.

Main Content
Current View