Environmental justice

COPAL aims to create an environmental future that is sustainable for frontline communities.

By engaging in movement education efforts, organizing students and other community members to take action on climate change, and advocating for policies that advance justice for people of color most affected by environmental catastrophe, COPAL is radically changing the discourse around climate justice. 

We created a unique framework in order to draw the connection between the climate crisis and forced migration from Central America to the United States. Specifically, Minnesota is seeing a rise in Central American immigrants arriving to the Twin Cities and Southern MN, and many recent immigrants cite danger from an environmental catastrophe as a major factor for leaving their country. Our climate framework seeks to explain the reasons why the climate crisis is pushing Central Americans out and what COPAL is doing to protect and empower immigrant communities.

Delegation Trip

The following information was gathered during COPAL’s delegation trip to Honduras and El Salvador in November 2019. The notes were later made into a research thesis authored by our intern, Alejandra Gallardo. To read the rest, click the button below:

Climate conditions have the potential to displace people. Between 2008 and 2013, an average of 27 million people were displaced each year by major natural disasters, plus “the risk of displacement is estimated to have more than doubled in four decades (since the 1970s).” However, cities don’t need to experience a Category 5 hurricane for people to become displaced. Many are impacted by slower and gradual changes in climate; “It is not difficult to imagine how land degradation, chronic droughts, and repeated crop failure will erode agricultural production and threaten livelihoods.” While it is difficult to isolate climate as a sole driver of migration, projections of intensified disasters and climate stressors will accelerate displacement rates.

Central America is especially susceptible to changes in precipitation: “The cumulative effects of warming and precipitation changes are integrated by watersheds to produce changes in intensity, duration, and frequency of both droughts and floods.” With warming temperatures, water basins are shrinking, leaving populations with limited to no access to drinking water. Climate projection models demonstrated a 20% reduction of inflows to major reservoirs in the Rio Lempa – the largest river system in Central America, including parts El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala – that could severely impact hydropower generated in the region, “as nearly half of all electricity generated in El Salvador has historically originated from hydropower, and most of that from the Rio Lempa.” The impacts of hydrological changes in Central America will negatively impact the capacity and quality of energy, water, and soil in this region, which will manifest in agricultural production, threatening food security for human populations.

Honduras has been impacted by political corruption, compromising the country’s health, economic vitality, and safety. Collaboration between the military, drug traffickers, and a corrupt social class concentrate wealth and power through extortion, nepotism, and tax evasion. The impact of this corruption costs Honduras over $263 million USD (about 12.5% of the country’s GDP) every year. With dominance over Honduran politics and economics, the country is able to authorize the activity of extractive transnational industries that override citizen land ownership and natural reserve protections, allowing the development of mining, hydroelectric, and plantation projects. “One way or another they’ll kill us,” says Juana of the Guapinol River community. “Not only Guapinol will be exploited, but also the protected areas upstream.” Naturally, communities organize to protect their rights, but then face criminalization that is regulated by private police and the military, resulting in violent and life-threatening conditions for Hondurans.


The trash incinerator in North Minneapolis is a key example of the type of environmental discrimination faced by people of color and immigrants when they reach the United States. The HERC (Hennepin Energy Recovery Center) trash incinerator releases pollutants that include dioxin, lead, and mercury. It is located downtown but close to low-income neighborhoods in North Minneapolis.

Laws in place allow the burning of trash to be considered green energy, but the health and community impacts are disastrous. The toxins emitted contribute to increased rates of miscarriages and cancer. On top of that, the incinerator releases CO2 at a rate 2.5x that of a coal power plant. If you want to learn more and/or want to take action, reach out and volunteer with us.

COPAL’s Legislative Proposal

HF 3753: MN Frontline Communities Protections Act

Cumulative impacts: Cumulative impacts means the exposures, public health or environmental effects from waste emissions and other pollution in an area. Impacts will take into account sensitive populations and socio-economic factors. (Cal EPA, 2012)

An important step towards environmental justice is to see how these pollutant-emitting facilities are affecting BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and people of color) and people of lower socio-economic backgrounds. To dismantle the climate crisis, good policy and any resulting legislation must center frontline communities and their liberation.

Without any protection towards the environment and the health of frontline communities of the state, the future of Minnesota’s economic, cultural, and environmental prosperity will be at stake.

For 2020, COPAL is building a climate committee to lead education and activism efforts. To get involved, please contact [email protected]