Impact Stories

Launching the Climate Accelerator:

Bridging Equity and Resilience in Public Health

Impact Story | April 23, 2024
Los Angeles, CA (Public Health Alliance of Southern California) -

We’re thrilled to announce our new Regional Health Equity Accelerator series, a step forward for public health practice.

Building on the success of our initial Contracting & Procurement Accelerator—a program that sparked collective change in how local health departments in Southern California incorporate equity into their operations—we are now focusing on a pressing and vital initiative: our Climate Equity Accelerator.

 “The formal structure of the Accelerator work group has created MOVEMENT. If our team hadn’t participated, none of this would have happened. That’s the benefit of having a structure.”  -Inaugural Contracting & Procurement Accelerator Member

Climate Equity Accelerator: A Holistic Approach for Resilient Communities

 Climate change, the greatest public health crisis of our time, calls for swift, multifaceted solutions. Communities are confronting the harsh realities of climate change now, not in the distant future. The surge in emergencies like extreme heat, wildfires, and worsening air pollution is taking a toll. These conditions exacerbate underlying health issues like asthma and strike at the economic heart of communities through lost wages and more. Yet, climate strategies often overlook the potential to promote health equity and racial justice by not incorporating a social drivers of health framework. 

Recognizing the significant contributions already made by our local health jurisdiction (LHJ) members in enhancing community resilience against climate threats, we are excited to introduce the 3-year Climate Equity Accelerator. This new initiative will provide eight of our coalition member LHJs with additional resources and support to deepen and expand their impactful work through an equity lens.

Our approach spans:  
● Assessment
● Capacity Building
●Policy & Systems Change
● Collaboration & Coalition Building
● Sustainability & Funding
The Goal? Setting and upholding a new standard for building climate resilience in the public health sector!

"Recognizing that many health departments are at a crossroads, uncertain of how to embark on integrating climate resilience and health equity, our Climate Resilience Accelerator is a game changer. Over three transformative years, we offer a structured pathway to operationalize these concepts into actionable long-term strategies. It's about more than just adaptation; it's a commitment to redefining public health's role in the climate crisis, ensuring every action is infused with equity and purpose."  said Heaven Teferra, MA, Climate & Policy Associate at the Public Health Alliance of Southern California.

Proven Impact: A Look Back at Our First Contracting & Procurement Accelerator  

Community-based organizations (CBOs) play a crucial role in in addressing health equity. However all too often, CBOs experience both persistent underfunding and bureaucratic challenges limiting their ability to adequately safeguard the communities they serve. In fact, between October 2020 and January 2021, an Alliance survey revealed, despite interest, most CBOs surveyed had never successfully secured contracts with local health departments. For many CBOs, local health department contracting and procurement processes pose a significant obstacle to securing and utilizing the funds needed to advance their work. Similarly, for many LHJs, their own department contracting and procurement processes present challenges to forging new partnerships and advancing their shared goal of health equity.

Motivated by this discovery, in 2023, our Health Equity & Justice Team created the Equity Accelerator framework. In just a year's time, we united nine local health jurisdictions with the shared goals of increasing the diversity of CBO partners, reducing administrative burdens in contracting and reporting, investing in community partnerships through targeted engagement strategies, and advancing equity through community investment. We formed Equity Change Teams consisting of Executive Leadership, Health Equity Program Managers, Contracting and Procurement Officers, and other key stakeholders to dismantle systemic barriers. This approach streamlined processes and championed equity within procedures, laying a foundation for the Climate Resilience Accelerator.

Discover Our Impact: Full Report Available Here

 “Love hearing how other LHJs are breaking down walls in a way that works and gets us to better outcomes” -Inaugural Contracting &Procurement Accelerator Member

Climate Change and Public Health: California's Most Pressing Issue

In California, the effects of climate change on public health are not a distant threat but a current reality.

Health Equity Implications of Escalating Temperatures Include:

●  Wildfires Intensify: By 2050, U.S. wildfire seasons are projected to intensify, occurring 2–4 times per decade with smoke—rich in carbon monoxide, benzene, and PM2.5—posing heightened risks to those with health conditions, outdoor workers, and underserved communities.

● Coastal Crisis: With 85% of Californians in coastal areas facing up to 66 inches of sea level rise by 2100, the most vulnerable—lacking resources and living in low-income communities with limited infrastructure—face disproportionate risks of flooding, water contamination, and displacement. These risks are exacerbated by disaster relief efforts that often overlook deep-rooted social inequalities.

● Historically marginalized communities often face higher exposure to air pollutants due to proximity to industrial facilities, highways, and other sources of pollution.

Example of Climate Inequity: When Heatwaves Highlight Historical Divides:

In California, the stark realities of climate inequity come to life as heat-related emergency room visits soared by 35% between 2005 and 2015, disproportionately affecting Black, Latinx, and Asian American communities. These communities, when grappling with extreme heatwaves, face an exacerbated threat due to the urban heat island effect—where asphalt, pavement, and building materials absorb and re-emit the sun's heat. This effect is intensified in neighborhoods predominantly inhabited by low-income Black families, where the absence of natural green spaces, increased air pollution, and inadequate housing insulation transforms what could be a manageable inconvenience in wealthier areas into a life-threatening crisis. Such disparities underscore a glaring example of how climate change and environmental racism intersect, making the most historically divested in or under-resourced communities bear the harshest impacts.

The Climate Equity Accelerator’s first session showcased these realities. Through pragmatic collaboration and targeted innovation, we’re poised to reshape public health strategies for a climate-resilient future.

Integrating Public Health, Climate Change, and Equity

The intrinsic link between public health, climate change, and health equity is the foundation of our approach. Climate change exacerbates health disparities, highlighting the urgency for integrated, equity-centered responses.  The Climate Accelerator embodies a collaborative model, supporting  local health departments, community groups, and environmental entities to develop holistic solutions that address these interrelated challenges.  As we move forward, it is crucial that our actions are guided by principles of inclusion and sustainability to ensure health equity for all communities affected by climate change. 

For partnership opportunities and to learn or engage in this vital work, please connect with Savannah North, our Director of Administration and Climate Initiatives. snorth@phi.org

Together, we stand at the threshold of an unprecedented opportunity to redefine the landscape of climate resilience and health equity.