Population Health

August 4, 2021

New UW collaboratory to support equitable and just climate action

Image of four individuals walking alongside a creekAn interdisciplinary group of University of Washington researchers has teamed with Front and Centered to create an innovative Collaboratory to promote just and equitable climate action.

The Collaboratory aims to respond to climate change impacts with attention to equitable mitigation and adaptation solutions. It will feature three linked platforms to achieve this goal through a community-informed and multidisciplinary approach.

Leading this effort is Jeremy J. Hess, professor of Emergency Medicine, Environmental & Occupational Health Sciences, and Global Health at the UW. Hess also serves as the director of the UW Center for Health and the Global Environment (CHanGE).

“I feel it is very important to highlight the health benefits of activities that reduce the likelihood of dangerous climate change,” Hess said. “If you incorporate those benefits into an analysis of the costs and benefits of mitigation, it demonstrates that these actions are often very good for people’s health and prevent downstream climate impacts.”

In addition to promoting climate action, the Collaboratory project operates to understand how climate change exacerbates existing inequities and address this issue.

“The communities that are already overburdened from pollution don’t necessarily reap the benefits of climate action in the same way,” Hess said. “You have to be very intentional about tracking the issue, assessing it and designing policies to make sure that the benefits are equitably distributed. We don’t have a lot of mechanisms for doing that, so that was the motivation for our project.”

The Collaboratory will be established between the UW and Front and Centered (F&C), the largest coalition of communities of color-led environmental justice organizations in the Pacific Northwest. The coalition is committed to equity and environmental and climate justice, making it a well-suited partner for this project.

“We are excited to deepen our relationship with Dr. Hess and the Center for Health and the Global Environment and the project team to promote just and equitable climate action in Washington State,” said Esther Min, environmental health lead at F&C and research consultant at the UW Department of Environmental & Occupation Health Sciences.

Working alongside Hess and Min is an interdisciplinary team of researchers from the UW and F&C.

Collaborators include Jason Vogel of the UW Climate Impacts Group (CIG); Julian Marshall and Bujin Bekbulat of the Department of Civil & Environmental Engineering; Sara Curran of the UW Center for Studies in Demography & Ecology, the Jackson School of International Studies and Department of Sociology; Kristie Ebi of the Departments of Environmental & Occupational Health Sciences and Global Health; Nicole Errett of the Department of Environmental & Occupational Health Sciences; Andrew Dannenberg of the Departments of Environmental & Occupational Health Sciences and Urban Design & Planning; Tania Busch Isaksen of the Department of Environmental & Occupational Health Sciences; Deric Gruen and Aurora Martin of Front and Centered; and Tim Sheehan of the Department of Environmental & Occupational Health Sciences.

“This work is extremely interdisciplinary because it cuts across many different areas,” Hess said. “There are a lot of different perspectives that are important to include in the work to service [the project’s] equity mission.”

This project is supported by a 2021 Population Health Initiative pilot research grant.

“We could not do this work without the funding and support from the Population Health Initiative,” Hess said. “The core funding was essential, and we are using it to support all of the activities our project [entails].”

The Collaboratory will feature three linked platforms to promote equitable and just climate action: community engagement, policy analysis, and web-based visualizations.

Community Engagement Platform

The researchers will solicit community feedback on priorities for climate action, emphasizing efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and climate change adaptation.

Community input will be obtained through key informant interviews and focus groups led by the researchers from F&C.

“This Collaboratory centers voices of frontline communities when co-creating knowledge and tools to understand and visualize the health impacts of climate change policies,” Min said.

Traditionally, academic research on climate action has largely excluded community stakeholders. Recognizing the necessity of including those directly impacted by climate change, the researchers intend to diligently incorporate community perspectives, priorities and feedback.

“We are working to short circuit those problems by the process of involving the key stakeholders,” Hess said. “We hope to create a process that is really driven by those communities that are most impacted, rather than the interests of academics steering the model.”

The researchers aim to consider the needs and goals of all the parties involved in this collaborative effort through a series of ongoing conversations with stakeholders and key community representatives throughout the project.

Policy Analysis Platform

From the information received through the community engagement platform, the project will translate community inputs into policy scenarios to use in health impact analyses (HIA).

HIA allows the researchers to evaluate the potential population health outcomes of various climate action policies and programs. This allows the research team to determine the efficacy of different climate action strategies and examine the proposed policies’ immediate and long-term health benefits.

For this platform, the researchers will synthesize F&C’s policy and advocacy activities and scenario-based HIA activities at CHanGE to develop a set of scenarios that the researchers will utilize to drive the modeling processes.

“We will then conduct an analysis of those scenarios, looking principally at air pollution emissions and impacts on various communities and groups and places,” Hess said.

This policy analysis will include the estimated health benefits of proposed climate action scenarios, utilizing the diverse field expertise of the multidisciplinary research group.

“We will work to create scenarios and then look at how the benefits are distributed,” Hess said. “For example, we can look at the impacts of reducing emissions, both geographically and demographically, and also look at the impacts on health within the region based on current demography.”

The goal is to provide information about the health equity impacts of various approaches to mitigation and adaptation to legislators and other stakeholders so this information can be taken into account when formulating policy.

Web-Based Visualization Platform

The researchers will then visualize the collected data from ongoing community engagement and policy analysis on an interactive map of Washington State.

“We will present this information on a map of Washington State that shows current conditions in terms of health disparities and emissions, and also show how different policies will reduce burdens in different communities in different ways,” Hess said.

Viewers will be able to manipulate the visualizations to experiment with how different policies impact different areas and groups.

“We hope to give users insight into how sensitives these impacts are to levels of ambition in specific places and around specific policies,” Hess said. “[As well as] provide policymakers with information about the health equity consequences of policies that are responsive to frontline community priorities and needs.”


The researchers intend for the Collaboratory to spur an approach for scenario-based management and policymaking related to environmental health and other sectors that impact climate action.

“What we’re developing is not only applicable to environmental health, [but also] potentially applicable to lots of different urgent policy priorities,” Hess said.

Further, the project holds the potential to address inequities surrounding climate action and environmental policies.

“Climate change and our response to it, both mitigation and adaptation, are fundamentally about equity,” Hess said. “These issues fit very neatly with the Population Health Initiative’s focus on environment and health equity and innovation. I sincerely hope that the University continues to invest in these areas and continues to expand its commitment to equity by [supporting] more robust climate action.”