Climate Change's Unequal Impacts

A farm worker inspecting grapes on a vine.

Global warming will not affect everyone equally. As the Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment stated in its 2013 report, the adverse impacts of climate change are expected disproportionately to affect those who are socially and economically disadvantaged, including the urban poor, the elderly, children, traditional societies, agricultural workers and rural populations. Disproportionate impacts can occur where certain groups lack the social and economic resources necessary to relocate to avoid impacts, or to purchase the technology necessary to adapt to our changing climate. According to a 2009 report by California’s Climate Change Center, “[w]ithout 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.” The Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment is continually studying the human health impacts of climate change and updating its reports and research.

In California, the Attorney General and state agencies are committed to addressing climate change for the benefit of all residents. Reducing our global warming emissions will not only reduce the risk of dangerous climate change, but also will provide important co-benefits. For example, the California Air Resources Board estimates that implementing the Scoping Plan for AB 32, pdf, California's greenhouse gas reduction law, will result in considerable reductions of particulate matter (soot) and nitrogen oxide emissions, resulting in 780 fewer premature deaths, 11,000 fewer cases of asthma-related and other lower respiratory system problems, and economic savings of $4.4 million by 2020. In its First Update to the Scoping Plan, approved in May 2014, the California Air Resources Board continued to emphasize the health benefits of the measures being taken to reduce greenhouse gas emissions