Amidst the era of climate change impacts, the intricate link between biodiversity and community resilience takes center stage. At COP28, there is a profound understanding of the vital role nature plays in providing the necessities of life, including but not limited to clean water, clean air, and healthy foods.
In a session hosted at America is All in Pavilion, The Bezos Earth Fund and ICLEI USA organized a discussion focused on the critical interdependence between humanity and the environment. Leading cities and community-based organizations dedicated to safeguarding biodiversity while ensuring equitable access to nature came together to share their insights.
Angie Fyfe, ICLEI USA Executive Director, opened the session by sharing, “Inequitable access to nature can really prevent all people from fairly benefiting from nature’s benefits.”
The Intersection of Nature, Public Health, and Climate Change
Dr. Cecilia Martinez, Chief of Environmental and Climate Justice at the Bezos Earth Fund, highlighted a concerning fact during the session: 99% of the global population breathes air surpassing recommended guidelines, with low and middle-income countries facing the highest exposure. The link between air quality and the health of the natural world and Earth’s climate is significant, given that sources of air pollution contribute to greenhouse gas emissions.
The Greening America’s Cities initiative highlights the importance of climate financing to address the impacts of climate change. Dr. Cecilia Martinez shared, “Climate change solutions cannot be divorced from equity and justice, so we have started with these investments in five communities across the country and will be supporting the development of future green spaces.”
How Cities Are Ensuring Access to Nature
In a united commitment to fostering equitable access to nature, several mayors have embraced the 10-minute pledge, an initiative ensuring that community members can easily walk to and enjoy nearby natural spaces. Among them, Mayor Mei of Fremont, California, underscores the profound significance of this endeavor, emphasizing, “Giving people access to recreation has never been more important than these last couple of years. It’s about physical health. It’s about mental health.”
Fremont, California, is actively involving youth with the Fierce Club, promoting sustainable farming at Ardenwood Historic Farms, and revising the Master Park Plan. With a total of 63 parks, including seven at regional parks, Fremont is home to the only urban camp area in the Bay Area, featuring campgrounds for both RVs and campers.
Boise, Idaho, under Mayor McLean, is investing $30 million in the America the Beautiful Challenge, by 2030 to enhance open spaces and ensure safe access to parks, especially for children. The City is committed to preserving 30% of natural areas by transforming parts of existing parks, aligning these initiatives with climate goals, including doubling the tree canopy by 2030.
Mayor McLean of Boise, Idaho, stressed the importance of fostering community connections, noting that it cultivates a richer sense of community and builds social capital. This, in turn, the Mayor said, “Keeps your city safe now and into the future.”
Community-Based Organizations’ Critical Role in Improving Access to Green Spaces
Sandra H. Smithers, Executive Director of New Castle Prevention Coalition, highlighted the nonprofit’s impactful work in addressing historical challenges with access to green spaces. Originating from segregated housing for African American World War Two veterans, the community faced disinvestment and neglected parks. The Bezos Earth Fund grant was a game-changer, allowing them to revitalize spaces, create employment opportunities, and empower individuals to establish a horticulture-focused company.
Anton Seals Jr, Lead Steward of Grow Greater Englewood, shared insights on the nonprofit’s evolution from creating farming spaces in an all-black community to combating food deserts and fostering public health in Englewood, Chicago. Their impactful initiatives, such as the Englewood Nature Trail, integrate black farmers, regenerative agriculture, and community networks to enhance climate resilience. Anton emphasized the importance of challenging disconnected language, advocating for beautiful spaces, and resisting commodification within their community for a more resilient future.
The Role of Philanthropy in Nature-Based Solutions
The federal investment in nature-based solutions sparks shared ambitions among cities and community organizations, relying on robust partnerships and philanthropy. Cities emphasize investing in the younger generation through advocacy training and directing philanthropic resources to nonprofits, recognizing the vital role of grassroots entities in effective implementation. Community-based organizations (CBOs) echo this, urging philanthropy to prioritize frontline communities and fostering co-governance with government entities. The call to fund holistically resonates with Sandra H. Smithers’ insight: “The community must be represented at the table where goals are being set,” highlighting philanthropy’s collaborative and inclusive role in nature-based solutions.
*This blog was written based on The Bezos Fund & ICLEI USA’s COP28 session “Greening America’s Cities: Opening Equitable Access to Nature ” for All At the America Is All In Pavillion. You can watch the livestream here.