California needs a people-focused and equity-driven approach to address extreme heat

New research aims to further inform the state’s heat planning, legislative and budget decisions

Extreme heat is one of the most damaging effects of climate change. It kills hundreds of Californians each year, worsens health conditions like heart disease and makes it harder for students to learn and workers to do their jobs.

California has recently taken unprecedented action to address heat:

  • Last fall, the state budget included the first dedicated allocation ($800 million) to address extreme heat.
  • Early this year, legislators introduced a package of proposed bills to protect Californians from rising temperatures.
  • And most recently, the state released the first official version of the Extreme Heat Action Plan that was initially drafted in January.

Our research is helping to inform these actions. For instance, Assembly Bill 2076 (Luz Rivas and Cristina Garcia), cites our statewide heat policy gap analysis in a call for several actions for a comprehensive, coordinated, and effective state and local government action on heat. 

Despite these recent steps, California lacks an accountable strategy to address heat driven by public health and equity goals. Building on our extensive heat research and engagement with advocates and policymakers, a new policy brief from the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation provides five specific recommendations for how to achieve such an approach through the state’s heat plan, legislation, and budget decisions:

  • Focus on public health, social equity and welfare as part of a heat management framework. Set measurable goals centered on improving Californians’ lives—particularly residents most affected by heat.
  • Track progress toward the goals laid out in the plan by setting checkpoints and evaluating the actions that have been taken. Learn from the actions taken early on, and use the lessons to guide future investments. 
  • Coordinate across many different government agencies to make sure everyone is working together toward common goals. Without a unified and well funded approach, heat management will continue to be piecemeal, and important actions may slip through the cracks.
  • Target strategies to protect vulnerable Californians where they are most exposed to extreme heat—for example, in homes and schools.
  • Increase technical and financial support for cities and communities to ensure local leaders have the tools they need to beat the heat.

This brief is the first in a series, advised by community leaders and advocates leading the way on heat, that will provide specific recommendations for key settings where Californians are most exposed to extreme heat. The briefs can guide legislators, other policymakers, and advocates working to improve heat management in California. For more of our work on extreme heat, visit our climate adaptation and resilience webpage.

In addition to policy briefs meant to guide state action, our researchers are also informing heat management strategies at the local and federal levels. For instance, Co-Director V. Kelly Turner authored several articles and op-eds with recommendations to help cities manage heat. Additionally, Associate Director Jisung Park testified at a United States Congressional Hearing to inform national environmental justice efforts. 

“Even if we are successful at cutting emissions swiftly, a significant amount of warming will still be baked into the climate system,” Park notes in his written testimony, emphasizing the need for adaptation efforts like heat management.