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Celebrating Latino Leadership on Climate Change

Solar panel installer in Los Angeles, California. Photo courtesy GRID Alternatives.

This week, the world is coming together in San Francisco for the Global Climate Action Summit (GCAS) to show that, despite actions taken by the Trump administration to undo environmental progress, the world remains committed to meaningful progress toward climate action.

GCAS is bringing together national, international, and local businesses, investors, scientists, students, nonprofits, and others, to—as the organizers put it—”Take Ambition to the Next Level.” This coming together of all sectors of society is precisely what is needed to tackle this crisis, and recognizing and celebrating the importance of diverse voices and leadership in achieving the best results is critical.

Too many people–especially those living in areas that are predominantly low-income or communities of color—suffer the worst impacts of climate change. In the U.S., half of all Latinos live in a county that frequently violates pollution standards, and rising temperatures are making air pollution worse. Rising seas and devastating floods are threatening communities across the U.S. and Latin America. South Florida, which I consider home along with millions of other Hispanic Americans, is not only frequently threatened by wetter, more damaging storms, it is literally paying the price to protect property by installing pumping systems to remove rising waters from regularly flooded streets.

A year ago, hurricanes struck heavily Latino areas of Texas, Florida, and Puerto Rico. Hurricane Maria killed thousands of people in Puerto Rico and left residents without power or clean water for months and cost billions of dollars in damage. I visited Puerto Rico and was shocked at the level of destruction the storm left in its wake. I was equally heartened by the strength and resilience of the Puerto Rican people, who showed a renewed determination to fight climate change by rebuilding Puerto Rico as a clean energy beacon.

Facing this reality, alongside a strong cultural ecological ethic and a sense of global family connectedness, makes it clear why Latinos believe climate change is happening and want climate action now. Through the years, polling has confirmed this: Natural Resources Defense Council found that 9 in 10 Latinos want climate action, and the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication reported that Latinos are more convinced global warming is happening and are worried about its impacts. As a whole, the nation’s 56 million Latinos are more supportive of climate change policies and are willing to get involved politically.

Despite this deep concern, Latinos have not traditionally been well-represented in the environmental movement. Even so, Latinos around the globe are playing a critical role in the fight against climate change and have championed landmark policies and efforts throughout California, the U.S., and the world. Former United Nations climate chief Christiana Figueres brought 195 countries together in the historic Paris agreement. Leadership in the California legislature by Latino elected officials has led to some of the state’s most ambitious climate policies to date, including the most recent precedent-setting slate of clean energy policies and landmark renewable energy goal to achieve 60 percent by 2030 and 100 percent by 2045.

In communities across the U.S. from Chicago to California’s Central Valley, and in Latin America, from Mexico to Chile, Latino leadership has risen to the forefront and is growing by the minute. While Latinos and communities of color here in the U.S. are facing a barrage of attacks and heightened discrimination, our spirit and determination to create a healthier, better future cannot be stopped.

Latinos are ready to lead. I was inspired by the role Latinos played during the climate talks in Paris with heads of state, mayors, business executives, and climate-justice advocates from the U.S. and Latin America proudly demonstrating their enduring commitment and work calling for an ambitious global agreement.

As the world comes together again in San Francisco, Latino leadership will again be recognized and celebrated. Latinos from all walks of life and across the socioeconomic spectrum strongly support policies to move us away from polluting fossil fuels and toward a future of wind and solar power, energy efficiency, and stronger, more resilient communities.

Here in the U.S. and across Latin America we remain committed to fight climate change and must remain engaged and involved. It is time to celebrate what we’ve accomplished and set ambitious goals for our future.

Adrianna Quintero is a director at the Energy Foundation. Adrianna works to establish, strengthen, and steward Energy Foundation funders in service  of the public interest by helping to build a strong, clean energy economy