There is a lack of environmental justice in the UK. People living in the poorest neighbourhoods tend to be worst hit by environmental damage – for example, pollution. 82% of the cancer-causing chemicals emitted from large factories in England are from factories in the most deprived wards. And people in poorest areas don’t get a fair share of environmental benefits either, such as access to parks and open spaces.
Fuel poverty is high and rising, and the Big Six energy company pricing systems penalise people who can’t afford to use much electricity or gas – tariffs are high for low levels of consumption, and lower for higher levels of energy use.
This is clearly nuts – except from the energy companies’ point of view, because it rewards people for buying more gas & electricity.
Flood risk and flood impacts can also be seen as environmental justice issues. There are relationships between patterns of social inequality in the UK and people’s exposure to flood risks. And the impact of flooding is related to patterns of social inequality too, as people on low incomes suffer additional problems because they’re short of money to insure against and deal with flood damage.
People can assert their right to environmental justice with regard to flood risks, flood impacts or any other environmental issues. To tackle social inequalities and claim our right to take part in decision making about flood alleviation and other policies that will reduce flood risks in their area and reduce the impact of flooding on them.
Climate change is strongly associated with environmental injustice. Those responsible for climate change expect people and countries who have barely contributed to it to bear the brunt of its consequences. Internationally, the countries that are most at risk from climate change are in the global south. With little fossil-fuel based industries and energy, they haven’t created the carbon emissions that are causing climate change. They are facing the consequences of actions in industrialised countries. Climate change policies within the UK likewise take little account of environmental justice.
Research from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation’s Climate change and social justice programme shows that carbon emissions are directly related to income – ie higher income households emit far more carbon emissions than lower income households. Asking both high and low income households to reduce emissions by the same amount is quite inequitable.
Various presentations at the 2006 Inequality and Sustainable Consumption Seminar at University of East Anglia made the point that social fairness requires low income/poor households to have more access to transport, housing and other socially necessary products and services that produce or embed carbon emissions – not less.
“Social justice and low carbon communities” by Sara Fuller and Harriet Bulkeley, Durham University, May 2012 reviews the justice aspects of current policies/programmes aimed at supporting low carbon communities in the UK. It says that it’s unclear how community-based approaches to making a socially just transition to a low carbon society can achieve this goal. To make a socially-just transition requires attention to climate justice at a local scale.
Two issues: how patterns of social inequality relate to environmental issues, and how various procedures create and maintain those inequalities
There are two main aspects to environmental justice:
- how patterns of social inequality relate to environmental issues – either environmental damage, or environmental benefits
- how the inequalities are produced and who’s responsible for them, how relevant decisions are being made and how government policies and programmes are carried out
So to sort environmental injustices, people need information, and access to decision making. Both tend to be in short supply for most members of the public. This is where the Aarhus Convention comes in.
Ending environmental injustice also means ending social injustice, since a lot of the basic social inequalities exist before environmental injustices make them worse.
Environmental and social justice news here…