Exploring support for climate justice policies in the United States

Exploring support for climate justice policies in the United States

This research note received input and feedback from Lydia Avila of The Climate and Clean Energy Equity Fund, Liz Jacob and Sharon Lewis of the Connecticut Coalition for Environmental Justice, Rita Harris and Grace McRae of the Sierra Club, and Dr. Dorceta Taylor of the Yale School of the Environment. We are deeply grateful for their time and insights.

Climate change is unfair. Many of the people who are likely to face (and are already confronting) the harshest impacts of climate change are in communities that have endured historical injustices such as colonialism and the slave trade (Táíwò, 2022), as well as local injustices such as inadequate infrastructure investments and unequal exposure to pollution (EPA, 2021). These communities also tend to be predominately people of color and/or people with fewer financial resources. For example, U.S. neighborhoods that were subject to the racially discriminatory housing practice of redlining are now much hotter in the summer than their non-redlined neighbors in the same cities (Hoffman et al, 2020). Thus, climate justice is a critical dimension of climate change. Climate justice focuses on reducing these unequal harms, producing equitable benefits as part of climate solutions, and including affected communities as part of the decision-making process (IPCC, 2022).

Climate justice has been the subject of decades of work by organizations in the broader environmental justice field. The first Climate Justice Summit was held in 2000 at the 6th annual United Nations Conference of Parties climate negotiations (COP6), where developing countries voiced anger that they were bearing the heaviest burden of climate impacts, despite contributing little to the causes. In the United States, discourse about climate justice increased substantially after Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and has since become increasingly central to climate action (Schlosberg & Collins, 2014). The Climate Justice Alliance (CJA) was formed in 2013 to advocate for a just transition, i.e.,moving toward a low-carbon, regenerative economy that “leaves no one behind.” For example, a just transition might include retiring coal-fired power plants and retraining displaced workers for similarly-paying jobs. Influential environmental justice organizations such as West Harlem Environmental Action (WE ACT), UPROSE, Deep South Center for Environmental Justice, and national organizations such as the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), the Sierra Club, and The Climate and Clean Energy Equity Fund, have developed initiatives that include transitioning from the fossil fuel economy toward clean, renewable energy.

Climate justice has also become an important component of proposed climate legislation in the United States. However, relatively little research has focused on measuring the level of public support for these policy goals. Our Climate Change in the American Mind national surveys have collected data on public support for several climate justice-related policies currently under consideration by the Biden administration and Congress.

This analysis is based on existing survey data and is not a comprehensive study of public attitudes towards climate justice. Environmental and climate justice are broad concepts that incorporate many more national, state, and local-level policies and practices than are examined here. Most public opinion research on public support for environmental policies has not focused on justice dimensions, but a few other organizations (see Additional Resources) have also conducted research on support for some climate justice policies and concepts, and our own past work has explored climate change beliefs, attitudes and actions among communities of color in the United States. The current study contributes an overview of Americans’ support for several federal policies that are aligned with climate justice goals.


Here we report public support for policies in three key areas related to climate justice goals: an economic transition to clean, renewable energy sources; investment in frontline communities (i.e. communities who have been historically marginalized and also face disproportionate risk of harm from climate change); and climate-friendly job creation. These policies align with the climate justice principles of reducing unequal harms from climate change, and producing equitable benefits as part of climate solutions (IPCC, 2022), as well as major components of a just transition.

Renewable energy transition

Overall, seven in ten people in the U.S. (70%) support transitioning the U.S. economy (including electric utilities, transportation, buildings, and industry) from fossil fuels to 100% clean energy by 2050.

Bar charts of percentages of Americans who support transition to clean energy by 2050. Data source: https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1wIBrHemxtRmHpDW9llkc8ipmwHb9JcI6t8AA5bkZxsE/edit#gid=0

Investing in frontline communities

About two in three Americans (68%) support increasing funding to low-income communities and communities of color who are disproportionately harmed by air and water pollution.

 bar charts of percBar chart of percentage of Americans who support investment in communities disproportionately harmed by pollution. Data source: https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1wIBrHemxtRmHpDW9llkc8ipmwHb9JcI6t8AA5bkZxsE/edit#gid=2000199192

U.S. residents with fewer financial resources are disproportionately likely to live in homes with low energy efficiency, which means that these residents pay higher energy bills while receiving less protection from hot and cold temperatures (Reames, 2016). Our research has found that about eight in ten Americans (79%) support providing federal funding to make residential buildings in low-income communities more energy efficient.

Bar charts of percentages of Americans who support funding to improve energy efficiency in low-income residences. Data source: https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1wIBrHemxtRmHpDW9llkc8ipmwHb9JcI6t8AA5bkZxsE/edit#gid=522807308

Job creation

About six in ten people in the U.S. (61%) think increasing production of clean energy in the U.S. will produce more new jobs than will increasing fossil fuel production, while about four in ten (38%) think the opposite (that increasing fossil fuel production will create more jobs than will increasing clean energy production).

Bar charts of percentages of Americans who think clean energy will produce more good jobs than fossil fuels. Data source: https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1wIBrHemxtRmHpDW9llkc8ipmwHb9JcI6t8AA5bkZxsE/edit#gid=1560388722

Most Americans also support climate-friendly policies that have job-creation benefits. About eight in ten Americans support re-establishing the Civilian Conservation Corps, which would employ workers to protect natural ecosystems, plant trees in rural and urban areas, and restore the soil on farmlands (83%), creating a jobs program to hire unemployed oil and gas workers to safely close down abandoned oil and gas wells (81%), and creating a jobs program that would hire unemployed coal workers to safely close down old coal mines and restore the natural landscape (81%).

Bar charts of percentages of Americans who support policies to create climate-friendly jobs. Data source: https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1wIBrHemxtRmHpDW9llkc8ipmwHb9JcI6t8AA5bkZxsE/edit#gid=2092739541

Policy Support by Key Demographics

While a majority of nearly all major demographic groups supports these climate justice-related policies, support is consistently higher among Black respondents, Hispanic/Latino respondents, and respondents from all other non-white racial groups (i.e., Asian, American Indian, Alaska Native, Native Hawaiian and other Pacific Islander, as well as people who identify with two or more racial groups) compared with white, non-Hispanic/Latino respondents. Nevertheless, the differences in support among different race/ethnicity groups are relatively small, especially for policies to create climate-friendly jobs.

Split bar charts of percentages of Americans by race and ethnicity who support policies that promote climate justice. Data source: https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1rSE7usLfZpwuUXzCN4FsA4-ZcUnxPd0M6cNdp5S6NHs/edit#gid=1022800528

Support for these policies is high across all age groups. Younger Americans (ages 18-29 and 30-44) are more likely to agree that clean energy production is more likely than the fossil fuel industry to produce more good jobs in the United States.

Split bar charts of percentages of Americans by age group who support policies that promote climate justice. Data source: https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1el4Idc5y_vUnNKyjNeoPt4LO7UKwqGEsohIsZCSiZvQ/edit#gid=977598906

Additionally, a majority of Americans at all education levels support these policies.

Split bar charts of percentages of Americans by education level who support policies that promote climate justice. Data source: https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1NqsIaeU_G8A0cj0qFOEI0h38NDaSjQTUy9niVv9jNg4/edit#gid=1860574551

Democrats indicate higher levels of support than Republicans, but majorities of Republicans also support policies to create climate-friendly jobs and increase energy efficiency in buildings in low-income communities.

Split bar charts of percentages of Americans by political party who support policies that promote climate justice. Data source: https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1qHds2KuYREZFGPQC1msnofu6o2h4AhJ9LYbMAas5MoA/edit?usp=sharing


Overall, there is strong public support for a range of federal policies that foster climate justice and a just transition. The majority of Americans support clean energy and think it is more likely than the fossil fuel industry to provide good jobs. In particular, support for just transition policies related to climate-friendly job creation and energy efficiency is strong across demographic groups and political parties. Many activists working in the climate justice movement have observed this support anecdotally, and this study provides nationally representative data that confirms these observations.

However, broad public support is just one important condition for enacting climate justice policies in the United States and beyond. Coordinated political action is also critical to translate public support into political will for change. Potential for mobilization is especially high among communities of color, who have long played a critically important (and often under-appreciated) role in climate and environmental activism (Taylor, 1997; 1998; Merchant, 2003). Nonetheless, support for these policies is not limited to communities of color, and the high support across demographic groups suggests that there is a large and diverse base of support in the U.S. for building this political will.

Finally, this research is only a starting point. The purpose of this analysis was to highlight relevant areas of existing work, but future studies focused on climate justice should be designed in partnership with climate justice organizations. Such research could include a deeper exploration of public attitudes toward climate justice policies and practices. Future research might focus on specific audiences such as members of labor unions and workers of color; communities in specific geographic locations; in-depth analysis of underrepresented demographic groups such as Asian-American/Pacific Islanders and Native Americans/Alaska Natives; support for other relevant policies such as investments in extreme weather preparedness and resilience in frontline communities; and messaging that builds political support for these policies. These areas of  research can help organizations and communities identify strategies for turning climate justice policy support into political action. It can also empower communities who are most affected by climate change to organize and participate in developing solutions.


The findings presented in this report are based on data from 4 waves (n = 4,097 U.S. residents) of the bi-annual Climate Change in the American Mind survey — a nationally-representative analysis of public opinion on climate change in the United States conducted by the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication and the George Mason University Center for Climate Change Communication. Data were collected in December 2020 (n = 1,036), March 2021 (n = 1,037), September 2021 (n = 1,006), and April 2022 (n = 1,018). Questions with fewer than four waves of data are noted. Surveys were conducted using the Ipsos KnowledgePanel®, a representative online panel of U.S. adults (18+). All questionnaires were self-administered by respondents in a web-based environment.

The average margin of error for each wave of data is +/- 3 percentage points at the 95% confidence level. Percentage values are weighted to align with U.S. Census parameters. For tabulation purposes, percentage points are rounded to the nearest whole number.

Additional research resources:

Climate Nexus

  • 65% of registered voters in the U.S. say the government, when considering how to distribute infrastructure funding, should prioritize communities with the greatest need (i.e crumbling infrastructure or high rates of poverty, etc.), rather than distributing funding equally to all communities in a 2021 poll.
  • 55% of registered voters in the U.S. support the THRIVE Act, a Congressional plan to create jobs and cut fossil fuel emissions in half by 2030 by investing in infrastructure improvements, and where at least half of the money would be directed to communities of color, in a 2021 poll.

Data for Progress

  • Support of American Jobs Plan that will create jobs in clean energy and infrastructure. “Over two-thirds of voters (67 percent) …agree the American Jobs Plan should include these critical standards to advance equity and address systemic environmental injustices.”
    • 76% think it’s important to include proposals in American Jobs Plan that” help combat climate change and create clean energy economy that uplift workers and invests in disadvantaged communities”
  • Support for the Environmental Justice for All Act, the Climate Equity Act, and key policy components of each bill (August 2020 surveys)
  • Support for Green New Deal policies

Environmental Polling Consortium

  • Navigator. Support for Biden’s economic plan that includes investing in clean energy (66%-67%) and support for the plan to be passed given “Millions of good, high-paying jobs in clean energy like solar and wind will be created” is a good reason (over 70% for all demographic groups with the lowest of 56% of Republicans) .

Sierra Club

  • 70% of voters of color are more likely to support political candidates who expand resources to tackle climate disruption in a 2014 poll.
  • 82% of Latinos would like to see implementation of the Clean Power Plan (58% strongly) and 82% of Latinos would prefer that the U.S. invest more in clean, renewable energy sources over fossil fuels in a 2016 poll.

Third Way

  • Survey in partnership with WE ACT. 72% of Black and Latino/a/x voters in swing states (Nevada, Arizona, Texas, Georgia, Florida, and Pennsylvania) say that a clean energy transition can reduce bills and create jobs, and 80% say that the transition will create millions of well-paying jobs in underserved communities in a 2021 poll.
  • Focus groups. Focus groups with Black Americans living in Detroit, MI, Philadelphia, PA, and Greensboro, NC, in early 2020.


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