Claudia Diezmartínez is a Ph.D. student in the Department of Earth & Environment and a trainee in the BU URBAN Program. Her research focuses on urban climate policy and climate justice. Originally from Mexico, Claudia received her B.S. from Tecnológico de Monterrey and her M.Phil. from University of Cambridge, UK.
On Tuesday, December 7th, 2021, 12-1pm ET, Claudia will participate in a panel discussion titled, “Justice in Urban Climate Plans: How and Where Cities Are Integrating Equity and Climate” and co-hosted by BU’s Initiative on Cities and Institute for Sustainable Energy. Learn more and register today!
BU URBAN Communications Assistant Grace Beery recently caught up with Claudia to learn about her research in advance of the panel discussion.
This interview has been condensed and edited.
Grace: Tell us a little bit about your research and what you’re working on right now.
Claudia: My research is on urban climate policy and climate justice. Essentially, I look at how cities respond to climate change, and how they’re connecting their climate change efforts with social justice. During the first year of my PhD I looked at how the 100 largest cities in the US have integrated justice into their climate action plans. I focused specifically on policies for mitigation, and I read all of the plans for those 100 cities. Only 58 had a plan. I looked at how cities are integrating justice into those plans, how they’re connecting their mitigation policies to justice, in which sectors they’re thinking about justice, and how they’re planning to implement those justice-oriented policies on the ground. Now, I’m starting to look not only at large cities, which are obviously the cities that get most of the attention, but am also looking at how small cities of less than 300,000 people are reacting to climate change, if they’re also thinking about justice, and whether those climate justice policies look different in smaller cities versus large cities.
When did you become interested in this topic for your research?
I did my undergrad in engineering for sustainable development, so in a way, I was looking at environmental problems and climate change for a few years. But I felt like I looked at those things from a very technical perspective, and very isolated from people. So I could calculate, like, how many solar panels we need in this city to reduce “X” amount of emissions, but then you look at what’s happening around the world and you’re thinking, “We have these technologies and we have all this knowledge about climate change, so why aren’t we doing these things? Why are we not installing these 500 panels that I calculated that we need to install?” So, I pursued a master’s degree in environmental policy at the University of Cambridge in the UK, and there I saw the side of environmental law and environmental economics, and have this broader perspective of how climate change is addressed not only from the technical or scientific perspective but also from the social perspective. That really helped me understand how the real world works in terms of environmental change and environmental policy. When I did my thesis for my masters, I looked at national policies for energy storage in Mexico, the US, and Germany, and I had a lot of fun doing that research, but I felt that, again, I was looking at these policies very separated from people. For my Ph.D., I wanted to very specifically conduct research that was connected to people, and to understand how climate justice and climate change policy works on the ground. I was inspired to include the climate justice part because, in Cambridge, I was part of an initiative called the Climate Law and Governance Initiative, and they sent me to a climate change conference in Bonn, Germany, where there was an event talking about climate justice specifically. Once I heard that word, I started reading more about climate justice, and I knew that I wanted to research how climate change is related to justice.
What kind of obstacles have you faced in your career to get to the point that you’re at right now?
I was very lucky that I was able to pursue my education outside of Mexico. I had a wonderful undergrad program in Mexico, but I had the opportunity to expand my perspectives by going to the UK and doing my masters degree there, and coming here to the US for my Ph.D., so I’ve been lucky to have a lot of perspectives and input from many people around the world that inspire my research and my interests. Since my research is focused on US cities and I’m not from the US, I think one of the challenges with starting my research was to really understand the policy context in the US by taking classes that talked about environmental policy in the US specifically.
What is one important thing you’ve learned about climate justice through your research?
A lot of people may know that climate change affects people in different ways. It’s the least developed countries or the most vulnerable countries that are going to be affected most by climate change, and within these countries, many people may know that it’s the most vulnerable populations that will be affected by climate change. Climate change affects people disproportionately, but what a lot of people don’t think about is that the climate policies that we are creating to address climate change can also have justice impacts. They can perpetuate structural racism, structural social justice issues, and they can end up affecting people with low income… So it’s not only climate change that is impacting vulnerable people, it’s also the climate policies that can end up affecting them as well. An example of that could be with city trees— every city is very proud to say that they plant “X” number of trees. But, not everyone thinks about where those parks and trees are located. Generally, they end up only benefiting higher income populations and white populations. Those who could actually benefit most from the services of trees don’t have access to them. I think that the realization that it’s not only climate change, but also how we respond to climate change, is important for justice.
How have you and your research benefited from the BU URBAN Program?
Learning more about the environmental health aspect of climate change. It is very easy to connect climate change to health, but it’s not something that everyone is thinking about intentionally or explicitly, so being aware of those links between climate, health, and justice is something that is very important for my research. Having those connections with professors and students in Environmental Health and in Biology enriches your experience as a Ph.D. student. I think it’s very easy for Ph.D. students to be very isolated in their department and never have a lot of interactions with faculty or students from other departments, and the BU URBAN Program really helps to make those connections across Biology, Earth & Environment, Environmental Health, and Statistics. The BU URBAN Program really pushes us to keep thinking about the impact of our research for cities and for communities on the ground, and for policymakers. Having that extra motivation or push to always make your research is applicable and impactful on the ground is great.