Connecting Climate Change and Social Exclusion at the Neighbourhood Level: The UESI as a Solution to Fight Back

By Valériane Buslot
Social Connectedness Fellow 2018

On May 10th 2018, the Samuel Center for Social Connectedness (SCSC), Data-Driven Yale (DDY) and MTLGreen organised “Measuring What Matters: Pathways to Inclusive Climate Action.” The purpose of the event was to have a discussion on who is being excluded from climate change efforts and examine how measurement can play a greater role in fostering inclusive climate action. The event also served as the soft-launch for the Urban Environment and Social Inclusion index (UESI), developed by Data-Driven Yale and was presented to members of the public at l’Esplanade in Montréal. The index, which covers over 30 cities, leverages geospatial data to gain insights into how climate change, pollution and socioeconomic status are linked in cities around the world.

The link between climate change and social inclusion may seem unlikely, but they are intricately related. The World Health Organization (WHO) has predicted that there will be approximately 250 000 additional deaths per year between 2030 and 2050 due to causes directly related to climate change such as malnutrition, malaria, diarrhea and heat stress. Areas with poorer infrastructures and economies, such as in developing countries, are predicted to bear the burden more than developed countries as they have less financial capital to invest into mitigation and adaptation efforts. This may exacerbate the social exclusion of some people due to their vulnerability to the effects of climate change.

Photo by Malick Issa

Furthermore, national, provincial or regional policies do not always reflect local realities. People living in different neighbourhoods within a city do not experience life the same way. This is where the UESI comes in. Participants had the opportunity to test the beta version of the UESI and explore the relationship between environmental performance and social inequalities in ten cities around the world, including Montreal. Data is disaggregated at the neighbourhood level which allows users to examine how each neighbourhood is performing in the areas of air pollution, tree coverage and access to transportation, to name a few, and compare it with its population size and average household income.

Participants also had the opportunity to hear from diverse speakers working in the field of climate action:

  • Dr. Angel Hsu, Director, Data-Driven Yale; Assistant Professor, Yale-NUS College and Yale School of Forestry; Principal Investigator, Environmental Performance Index
  • Andy Revkin, Strategic Adviser for Science and Environmental Journalism, National Geographic
  • Bianca Mugyenyi, Co-Executive Director, The Leap 
  • Matthew Chapman, Campaign Coordinator, Climate Reality Project Canada
  • Shelby Angalik, Student, Brock University; Youth Climate Activist from Arviat, Nunavut 
  • Caroline Larivée, Scientific program director and Team leader, Vulnerabilities, impacts and adaptation, Ouranos

Dr. Angel Hsu and Andy Revkin, Photo by Malick Issa

Towards the end, participants, which ranged from researchers, activists, journalists, scientists and members of the Montreal community, presented potential applications for the UESI and other similar indices to increase local awareness and action. For instance, one of the observations during the event and a now researched pattern is the inequalities between the East and West sides of cities. High-income neighbourhoods tend to be located in the West part of the city where there is less air pollution. The East-ends of cities tend to house more low-income neighbourhoods which have higher concentrations of air pollution. Trends tend to vary a lot from one neighbourhood to another and from city to city. For policymakers, city officials, businesses and citizens, it is important to be aware of those local inequalities that drive social exclusion, and to be able to tackle these issues that risk further exacerbation by climate change at the neighbourhood level. Dr. Angel Hsu, Director of Data-Driven Yale stated that “data makes the invisible visible,” which underscores the importance of tools like the UESI in driving awareness and action at the city level.

In addition to the findings below, the participants provided crucial feedback on the structure of the index. This feedback is currently allowing the DDY team to further improve, refine and develop their index which in turn will result in supporting the following: 

  • For action and empowerment
    • Use the UESI to bring a more local perspective to the issue of environmental change and social inclusion. Local data empowers people to act locally in a way that larger-scale data cannot. By providing very local/precise/actionable insight this brings the issue closer to home. This emphasizes the idea of “Think local act global”.
    • Use the UESI to raise awareness among the general public, and especially among youth, by using the tool in schools.
    • For political campaigns to promote sustainable projects.
    • For climate action-driven organizations like C40 to create and support new and existing programs.
    • At an individual level to change environmental behaviours.
    • To help visualize and understand the effects of climate change and social inequality in neighbourhoods.
  • For policy change
    • Target UESI to be used by municipal governments for policy making. In particular, to identify priority issues that would otherwise be ignored or remain undiscovered.
    • This data could be useful for NGOs and advocacy groups that make proposals to government for policy making.
    • Local data can bring attention to and include marginalized locals that are otherwise left out of larger-scale aggregated data and subsequently out of policies.

The Urban Environmental and Social Inclusion Index makes it possible for everyday citizens to take action in their neighbourhoods to foster inclusive climate action, rather than wait for policies to be implemented. Follow The Samuel Center for Social Connectedness, Green MTL and Data-Driven Yale to keep up to date about future events and to learn more about actions you can take today to build inclusion and connectedness in your city.