Belle Isle Marsh in the foreground, with Boston Logan Airport and the Boston skyline in the background.
Belle Isle Marsh Marshes like this one in East Boston are a critical natural climate solution and are also important for community access to green space. © Emma Gildesgame/The Nature Conservancy
Stories in Massachusetts

Equitably Funding Community-Led Climate Action

Elevating and empowering the communities most often impacted by climate change to fund and implement solutions on their terms.

Dianne Hills is the executive director of My Brother’s Table, a soup kitchen and service agency serving low-income residents in Lynn, on the North Shore of Massachusetts. Through her work, she has witnessed the disproportionate burden the residents of her city bear when it comes to climate impacts. Extreme heat has been especially harmful for the community.

“I’ve been a part of a group working on climate change adaptation and resilience, particularly around responding to extreme heat events in our community,” Hills says. “In Lynn, we have many people who are high risk for heat-related illnesses because of existing conditions. It doesn’t help that our city’s characteristics—sparse vegetation, heat-absorbing infrastructure and lack of access to air conditioning—put residents at additional risk.”

An aerial view of downtown Lynn with the ocean and Nahant beach and neighborhood in the background.
Community Climate Challenges The city of Lynn, Massachusetts, is the eighth-largest municipality in the state, and is one of many that contends with challenges like flooding and extreme heat. © Terageorge via Creative Commons

Communities and Climate Challenges

Hills' community isn’t the only one facing challenges from the effects of climate change. Recent years have brought people across Massachusetts and beyond face-to-face with the current and future realities, from heat stress and poor air quality to extreme weather and flooding. The impacts of these kinds of events are not felt equally by all. Areas with significant low-income communities, People of Color and recent immigrants often face more intense climate impacts. And, they don’t always have the resources available to manage them or recover after an event because of the lingering effects of historic redlining and modern-day systemic inequalities.

Residents of frontline communities like these are rarely included in conversations and decisions about the resources and solutions needed to address climate change impacts. Yet, they are the witnesses to what’s happening on the ground—their lived experiences and perspectives are critical. Since we must build a more resilient future for all, it is essential for communities to have authority over decisions that affect them.

Headshot of Jonathan Guzman in a blue suit jacket and yellow tie.
Jonathan Guzman External Affairs Manager for Groundworks Lawrence © Jason Barbosa

“When residents and community are a part of the decisions about their surroundings, it brings ownership and purpose,” says Jonathan Guzman, External Affairs Manager at Groundwork Lawrence, a nonprofit focused on building a healthy community in the city of Lawrence through engagement with all residents. “They feel empowered to improve quality of life and build healthier communities.”

Weaving Equity Into Climate Funding

It’s not just about developing equitable solutions and resources for climate adaptation—equity needs to be a part of how resources get allocated to implement solutions. Organizations like Groundwork Lawrence, My Brother’s Table and countless others who are embedded in addressing the challenges their communities face haven’t always been invited to or included in the critical convening of local leaders that shape the funding and tools for addressing the causes and impacts of climate change. The funding that is available is often hard for low-income communities to access and has restrictions or requirements that can make it harder for community-based organizations to meet their unique combination of needs, opportunities and challenges. 

A playground flooded with one to two feet of water at Tennean Beach in Dorchester, with warehouses in the background.
Challenges Exacerbated by Climate Change King tide flooding, or sunny day flooding, at Tennean Beach in the Dorchester neighborhood of Boston © Christian Merfeld

Given Massachusetts’ commitment to addressing climate change—with robust 2030 and 2050 targets, plans and policies—it is essential that equity is front and center throughout the process of developing and implementing solutions. In working alongside the state toward these climate goals, The Nature Conservancy, other environmental organizations and community-based organizations noticed the gap in state initiatives to effectively meet the climate funding needs of communities.

“Current funding and programs for climate mitigation and adaptation often reinforce structural racial and economic inequalities in the state,” says Emma Gildesgame, climate adaptation scientist for TNC in Massachusetts. “So, we partnered with community-based, equity-focused, grassroots organizations to learn from their first-hand experiences and knowledge and start working differently to get better results.”

Equitable Partnerships and Processes

Since 2019, a core team of conservation, environmental justice and community advocacy organizations—convened by TNC—has come together with the goal of securing additional funding for addressing the causes and impacts of climate change, with an intentional focus on underserved people of color and low-income people previously underserved by funding programs. In direct partnership with community organizations and residents, the core team assessed the existing funding gaps and identified opportunities to improve what’s already in place. 

A funding consultant also generated several proposed solutions for equitable and sustainable funding. The team then settled on a solution that places a fee on real estate property insurance, which would fund initiatives that provide benefits to communities and strengthen their health and well-being.

North Canal runs through a section of downtown Lawrence with large buildings on either side.
North Canal, Lawrence Groundworks Lawrence was one of the community-based organizations on the project core team. © Terageorge via Creative Commons

“It was critical for us to source solutions from communities, collaborating, co-creating and iterating on the process as we went,” says Steve Long, Director of Policy and Partnerships for TNC in Massachusetts. “We built those relationships with the help of an equity consultant—the Institute for Sustainable Communities—to develop an equitable process, build frameworks for power-sharing and making consensus-driven communal decisions, and learn to work at the pace of trust.”

“Our goal was to take a holistic, people-centered approach,” adds Gildesgame.

The core team developed a legislative proposal, as well as a series of actionable recommendations that bring the findings of this collaborative effort to a broad audience of policymakers from the state, nonprofits and others working on climate justice.

Three people sit at a table testifying for legislation to members of a Masscahusetts House Committee, sitting at al ong table. The screen behind them shows a Teams call where people joined virtually.
Advocating for the Legislation Members of the equitable and sustainable climate funding core team testify in support of the proposed bill in front of the Environment and Natural Resources Committee. © MassAudubon

Putting Ideas into Action Through Policy

The core team drafted the legislative proposal in partnership with state Senator Sal DiDomenico and Representatives Natalie Blais and Patricia Duffy. The draft bill was shared with community partners for additional review—they provided critical input on all elements of the proposed legislation, which included concerns about how the funding mechanism would be set up, funding distribution and accountability, ensuring collaboration with community through in-person engagements and representation at all levels of the process, sharing information on programs with communities once they’re in place and more.

The final bill—An Act establishing sustinable and equitable funding for climate change adaptation and mitigationwas filed with both the Massachusetts Senate and House of Representatives in February 2023 and was referred to the Environment and Natural Resources (ENR) Committee. The core team testified at a public hearing in May 2023 at which Dianne Hills was recognized by her representative, who co-chairs the ENR Committee. The core team spent the remainder of 2023 getting legal advice on the bill and focusing on fine-tuning it. The Committee decided not to move the bill forward during the 2023-2025 legislative session, which is common for high impact bills the first time they are introduced.

Through fall 2024, the focus is to build a broader constituency in support of the bill and return to the next legislative session in 2025 ready for advocacy. Advocates of the recommendations and legislation are still moving forward the findings and recommendations embodied in the bill to influence policy, projects and collaboration across Massachusetts and beyond.

The Proposed Legislation Would:

  • Generate long-term, sustainable revenue for climate adaptation and mitigation in Massachusetts through a small fee on real estate property and casualty insurance.
  • Establish the Climate and Community Resilience Trust Fund, dedicated to equitably supporting solutions for residents and communities.
  • Establish a board comprised primarily of environmental justice and community-based organizations to make decisions on how the money would be administered, as well as what priority strategies and actions would receive funding.
  • Focus support for community-identified planning and implementation of climate solutions, particularly in communities disproportionately burdened by environmental injustices.

Learn more in this factsheet about the bill.

Sharing Our Process

The core team also produced a final report to provide a roadmap for how others within and beyond government agencies can adopt and adapt more equitable, inclusive approaches to funding and financing programs related to climate mitigation and adaptation. It also provides an in-depth description of the team’s approach to collaboration with actionable insights for others hoping to adopt an equitable and inclusive processes, recognizing that it can still be iterated upon.

Together, all these elements will help scale the team’s work towards their vision for a more sustainable, equitable ecosystem for funding and implementing climate adaptation and mitigation.


Read the Final Report

Building Equitable and Sustainable Climate Change Funding for Massachusetts

Icon of three clustered people silhouttes with a leaf in the middle
Helping People 2030 Goal

Process Deep Dive

Equitable Decision-Making

Bringing community-based and environmental justice (EJ) partners to the table was a critical first step of this initiative, but a truly equitable process required the whole group to develop and agree to equitable processes to share power and center underrepresented voices.

Defining key terms, including equity, ensured that the team shared a common language and purpose. The core team, with support from equity consultants at the Institute for Sustainable Communities and with inspiration and language from environmental justice leaders in Massachusetts and beyond, agreed to a shared definition of equity:

Climate funding, including the process of identifying existing funding, funding allocation, program implementation and revenue generation mechanisms to fund climate mitigation, adaptation and resilience strategies, and solutions, shall utilize a people-centered approach that centers human health, social and economic well-being, prioritizing people who have been marginalized and divested communities, especially Black, Indigenous, Latinx and people of color; low-income low-wealth residents; and English isolated residents.

A series of “guardrails” established the non-negotiable elements of both the process and the outcomes of the project. These included a commitment to reject outcomes that exacerbate harm to BIPOC and EJ communities, upholding decision-making frameworks that protect and elevate the voices of underrepresented communities, and providing appropriate compensation for community members and organizations contributing to the project.

A series of “guidelines” provided an aspirational set of goals and desired outcomes that the team strives for and looks to maximize. These addressed both process and outcomes, including regarding transparency, giving small community-based organizations flexibility in grant administration and prioritizing intersectional approaches which reduce silos between program areas and support innovative solutions.