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New UC center focuses on relationship between climate change, social justice

Tracey Osborne is the founder and director of the University of California Center for Climate Justice, a new UC-wide initiative working to address the issues surrounding climate change. (Photo courtesy of Tracey Osborne. Photo illustration by Cat Nordstrom/Daily Bruin)

By Emily Kim

May 25, 2021 2:33 p.m.

The University of California Center for Climate Justice is a new UC-wide initiative that seeks to address the root causes of climate change with social justice and equity.

The center opened after a two-day virtual launch event April 22 and 23. The event featured various speakers, panels, artists and musical performances celebrating the environment and climate justice.

“I think it was a great way to launch a new initiative and to bring people together and to be a community around climate justice in this,” said John Foran, a sociology professor at UC Santa Barbara and panel moderator at the launch event.

Tracey Osborne, the center’s founder and director, said its mission is to harness the University’s power to build a climate justice ecosystem and social movement that solves the climate crisis through science, systems thinking and socio-ecological justice.

The center’s approach revolves around six pillars: just transitions from fossil-fuel-powered economies to renewable energy; Indigenous climate action, or recognizing the significant role played by Indigenous people in climate change mitigation; natural climate solutions; social, racial and environmental justice; community resilience and adaptation; and climate education, communication and engagement.

Osborne, who was offered the opportunity to lead the center through UC Merced, said the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, racial justice protests and wave of wildfires across California, Australia and the Amazon rainforest further inspired her work around climate justice – which links these social and ecological crises.

“Climate justice recognizes the disproportionate impacts of climate change on more marginalized people, on low-income communities and communities of color around the world,” Osborne said. “This is important because these are also the people and places that are least responsible for climate change.”

The center aims to realize its mission through four projects: convergence research, education, engagement with the community and the Climate Justice Certificate.

Osborne said convergence research derives knowledge from both academic and nonacademic partners – such as local climate justice organizers and Indigenous peoples – to allow many different people to participate in climate research.

Matthew St. Clair, director of sustainability at the UC Office of the President and a research collaborator at the center, said the center will inform future UC sustainability efforts in addition to building on current initiatives, such as the Bending the Curve project – an open online course that seeks to educate people on climate change science, economics and technology.

The center plans to build on the UC’s Bending the Curve initiative by developing the curriculum for the online course focused on climate justice and the center’s pillars.

Additionally, the center launched a program called the Climate Justice Science Shop, which aims to meet the research needs of nonacademic partners by enabling them to conduct their own climate research, Osborne said.

Osborne added that the center is also working on a project called the Climate Justice Certificate to develop an alternative to problematic carbon offsets, which often fail to address the main drivers of deforestation and drain Indigenous communities’ access to resources.

The center will receive $200,000 according to the UCOP budget for the 2021-2022 fiscal year to support its launch of research and educational activities, St. Clair said.

Looking forward, Foran said he believes the center is a huge step forward in the fight for climate justice.

“The establishment of the center is a way to scale up, to scale outward, our efforts,” Foran said. “I’m pretty confident that some great things – many of them beyond our imagination right now – are going to come out of it.”

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Emily Kim
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