U.S. Ocean Justice Strategy Will Integrate Principles of Equity and Environmental Justice in Federal Ocean Activities

DUBAI – During the United Nations’ Conference of Parties (COP28) today, the Biden-Harris Administration unveiled the first-ever U.S. Ocean Justice Strategy to advance environmental justice for communities that rely on the ocean and Great Lakes for economic, cultural, spiritual, recreational, and food security purposes. For the first time, the federal government is outlining how it will integrate principles of equity and environmental justice in federal ocean activities, including conservation, management of marine resources, and infrastructure projects.

The Biden-Harris Administration believes that people of all races, backgrounds, incomes, abilities, Tribal affiliations, and zip codes should have equitable access to the benefits provided by the ocean. The U.S. Ocean Justice Strategy, called for in the Administration’s Ocean Climate Action Plan, reflects President Biden’s strong commitment to environmental justice for all, including the people of the ocean, coasts, and Great Lakes.

While speaking at a COP28 youth forum, White House Council for Environmental Quality (CEQ) Chair Brenda Mallory announced the new strategy and reinforced the Administration’s commitment to environmental justice, “The ocean is a life source for us all, but because of historic injustices and underinvestment some communities are hit harder by devastating climate change impacts. The Biden-Harris Administration’s new Ocean Justice Strategy will help to address historic inequities, improve the well-being of people in communities connected to the ocean, and safeguard a healthy ocean for everyone.”

“President Biden has made it a priority to address the climate crisis for all Americans,” said Arati Prabhakar, Assistant to the President for Science and Technology and Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology. “This Strategy clearly sets out our values as the climate changes. When we conduct research, collect data, and make decisions about the ocean, we must engage with communities whose lives are intertwined with the ocean and the Great Lakes.”

The Strategy is motivated by the recognition that many communities—including those who live near the ocean, that depend on marine resources, or that are part of the ocean economy—face unique circumstances that exacerbate existing challenges. Some communities are disproportionately burdened by the negative outcomes of human activities in and around the ocean, such as coastal flooding, climate change, pollution, and overfishing. These circumstances prevent many communities from sharing equitably in the benefits the ocean provides.

The Strategy outlines overarching goals, principles, and practices that the federal government can adopt in order to provide long-term, sustainable benefits for people, communities, and the environment. These goals include:

  1. Embed Ocean Justice in Federal Activities by providing opportunities for meaningful community engagement, better incorporating equity into funding processes and budget development, embedding ocean justice into federal practices, and improving interagency coordination;
  2. Develop a Diverse, Equitable, Inclusive, and Accessible Federal Ocean Workforce by growing federal staffing capacity, increasing recruitment within the federal ocean workforce and leadership pipeline, and recruiting and retaining students and early-career professionals; and
  3. Enhance Ocean Justice Through Education, Data, and Knowledge by expanding and improving ocean education and workforce development, considering and applying Indigenous Knowledge throughout federal research and development, applying an ocean justice lens to ocean research and ways of knowing, and expanding the federal tools used in characterizing social and environmental justice patterns to encompass ocean justice indicators.

The Biden-Harris Administration’s vision for ocean justice was developed with input from public comments received through a Request for Information published in the Federal Register, government-to-government consultation with Tribal Nations, roundtables with U.S. Territories and Native Hawaiian organizations, and a 2023 virtual Ocean Justice Summit. The full U.S. Ocean Justice Strategy is available here.

President Biden believes that all Americans deserve to live in healthy, thriving communities, but too many people lack access to safe places to live, work, play, grow, and learn. During his first week in office, President Biden signed the Tackling the Climate Crisis at Home and Abroad Executive Order, launching the most ambitious environmental justice agenda ever undertaken by the federal government. As part of that effort, the Biden-Harris Administration released the Ocean Climate Action Plan to mobilize federal agencies and civil society to take effective and innovative ocean climate action, acknowledging that there is no path to a healthy and livable climate without the ocean. The plan outlines new actions on the Administration’s ocean-climate priorities, including efforts to advance climate solutions, promote environmental justice, support healthy communities, and ensure a robust and sustainable ocean economy.

The Ocean Justice Strategy also furthers President Biden’s Revitalizing Our Nation’s Commitment to Environmental Justice for All Executive Order and the Administration’s whole-of-government effort to confront longstanding environmental injustices and inequities.

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