Since 1991, the National Hispanic Leadership Agenda has developed a strong track record of taking on the complex societal challenges that confront our community. From economic justice to immigration reform to health equity, when the coalition puts its weight behind a unified agenda, we see the debate shift and the halls of power reverberate.
Now, the 40-member group of civil rights and policy organizations is stepping up for the next great challenge: climate change. Every four years, the NHLA releases a national agenda that guides advocacy and policy-making for its hundreds of members and followers.
In a historic decision, their 2016 agenda features a commitment to tackle the root causes of global warming, invest in communities vulnerable to climate impacts and meaningfully engage Latinos in the development, implementation and enforcement of environmental policy.
I am delighted, though not surprised, by this demonstration of the depth of Latino commitment to the environment. In poll after poll, we see that Latinos come out stronger than any other ethnic group in their determination to curb carbon pollution, protect air and water, empower the EPA and transition to a low-carbon economy.
We get it, not the least because Latinos are among the most heavily impacted by the fierce hurricanes, heavier smog and other extreme weather that are the hallmarks of a changing climate.
As we’ve seen with hurricanes Katrina and Sandy, communities already grappling with poverty and chronic conditions can be devastated by weather events that register as unpleasant inconveniences for their more affluent neighbors. Taking action on climate change means acknowledging a host of environmental injustices, and thinking holistically about how to strengthen communities in the long term.
The NHLA agenda is another bellwether of growing national awareness that climate change is profoundly interconnected with the other crucial issues we care about.
How can we ensure food security if we continuously cycle through devastating drought? How can we stay economically competitive if we lag behind other developed nations in developing and deploying low-carbon technology? How can we fight for health equity without accounting for thousands of premature deaths due to air pollution-related asthma attacks, respiratory ailments, heart attacks, and strokes?
Over the next four years, look for Latino leaders becoming increasingly vocal in defense of bedrock environmental laws like the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act and National Environmental Policy Act, all of which form the foundation of a low-carbon economy that will protect our health as we continue growing the economy.
We are increasingly cognizant that a successful 21st century economy is built on renewable power and energy efficiency, and that Latinos are integral players in this transition at all levels of the workforce. As we look toward a changing of the guard in 2016, the political mandate for environmental responsibility couldn’t be clearer.
The timing of the NHLA’s announcement is not a coincidence. 2015 was the hottest year globally on record. Worse, 14 of the 15 hottest years globally have occurred since 2000. We’ve seen searing drought, record wildfires, devastating floods; just a taste of the future if we let climate change advance unabated.
Last year, we also saw the first-ever universal, binding climate deal come out of the UN Summit in Paris, a crucial opportunity to slow the momentum of global warming before it is too late. Without the luxury of time, we need the leverage of good leadership.
That is why I’m glad to see the NHLA put climate change on the table as a challenge we must meet and overcome. Our children are counting on it.
Bill Richardson is former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, former Secretary of Energy, founder of the Richardson Center for Global Engagement and an honorary Voces Verdes board member.
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