Promoting access to nature for underserved communities can improve quality of life while bolstering biodiversity and fighting climate change, according to a new report from the Hispanic Access Foundation.
The study was released at the recent United Nations Conference on Climate Change and suggests 10 policy areas which could make a big difference.
Shanna Edberg, director of conservation programs for the Hispanic Access Foundation and co-author of the report, said it is not enough to simply protect nature. People's access to nature must be protected, especially for disinvested communities.
"When you look at it through the lens of access, you end up leveraging people's health and jobs and racial equity and mental and physical well-being," Edberg explained.
The report praised Indigenous stewardship and calls for more lands and waters to be returned to tribes or comanaged with local authorities. The authors want people to use more native plants in landscaping, and "green" the water infrastructure so more is absorbed into the aquifer through the soil rather than flowing into the sea.
The study also suggested planting more trees and improving parks in urban neighborhoods.
Pedro Hernandez, public lands advocate for the organization Green Latinos and another co-author of the report, said low-income communities of color are part of the ecosystem, and they deserve protection and public investment.
"Conservation projects would include more access to healthy green areas, or retrofit existing green areas to better suit the needs of the ecosystem," Hernandez pointed out. "For example, with more native plants or more urban canopies to address climate issues."
The report also looked at the benefits of improving public access to the coast, restoring wetlands, and cleaning up old oil and gas extraction sites.