These web pages are intended to provide a resource for those interested in environmental justice and inequality, particularly from a UK perspective. Whilst environmental justice has a comparatively long history of academic research, political campaigning and policy recognition in the US, extending back to the 1980s, on this side of the Atlantic we have seen such issues begin to figure in environmental debates only the since the late 1990s. Globally this is part of a wider trend through which the discourse and framework of environmental justice is being applied in a growing diversity of settings and contexts around the world. The key reading section of this web site attempts to reflect this increasingly international character of environmental justice campaigning and research.
The web pages provide information about our research projects and publications, as well as resources that can help introduce anyone interested in finding out more generally about environmental justice. We also host the web pages and resources for the Environmental Inequalities seminar series run in the UK in 2006-7.
About Environmental Justice
The concept of ‘environmental justice’, as initially understood, emerged in the 1980s through the work of grassroots activists in the USA. These groups focused around resisting the siting of polluting factories and waste sites in predominantly black and hispanic neighbourhoods and on the land of indigenous people. Accusations of environmental racism and discriminatory practices in facility siting, regulation, enforcement and decision making have been key components of the claims and discourses of EJ activists in the US. There are some excellent accounts of the US experience (see key readings) and many resources to explore on the web. For example:
In contrast, relatively little attention was given to environmental justice on this side of the Atlantic until the late 1990s. In the UK, attempts to introduce social justice issues into domestic environmental politics were low profile through the 80s and early 90s. Environmental justice had not reached the mainstream political agenda and had not impinged on the practice of environmental institutions and regulatory bodies. Grassroots environmental justice politics had not emerged in as strong and concerted a form and little research into the social distribution of environmental bads or goods had taken place.
A report by Friends of the Earth in 1999, represented the first time that a mainstream environmental group in the UK had directly addressed the social dimensions of exposure to environmental risks. The report showed that 662 of the sites coming within the Integrated Pollution Control (IPC) system in England and Wales are located in areas with household income of less that £15,000, whilst only 5 are in areas where average household income is above £30,000. This provided initial evidence of a far from equitable distribution of important sources of pollution.
Subsequent studies (including those we have carried out for the Environment Agency and Sniffer) are suggesting that significant inequalities, for example, in proximity to risky and polluting installations, exposure to air pollution, derelict land and coastal flood risk do exist in the UK. A rapid research and evidence review carried out the Sustainable Development Research Network for DEFRA (see project and downloads pages) attempted to compile the existing evidence base on environmental inequalities in the UK across 21 different topic areas. The report concluded that there is mounting evidence that
- Environmental injustice is real and substantive problem within the UK
- Problems of environmental injustice afflict many of our most deprived communities and socially excluded groups
- Both poor local environmental quality and differential access to environmental goods and services have a detrimental effect on the quality of life experienced by members of those communities and groups
- In some cases not only are deprived and excluded communities disproportionately exposed to an environmental risk, they are also disproportionately vulnerable to its effects
- Whilst more needs to be know about both the causes and impacts of environmental injustice, research is also needed to support the development and effective implementation of policy measures to address and ameliorate the impacts of environmental injustice.
Whilst the US experience of environmental justice has in part stimulated attention to risk and equity in the UK other drivers have also been important. These include 1) the strong social emphasis given to sustainable development agendas by the Labour government focusing attention on the relationship between environmental equity and social exclusion 2) the evolving strategies of environmental pressure groups such as Friends of the Earth which have developed environmental justice as a major campaigning theme and 3) the 1998 Aarhus pan European convention on the environment, and associated principles of access to environmental information, public participation in decisions affecting the environment, and access to environmental justice.
A broad environmental justice agenda has therefore emerged in the UK, encompassing distributive and procedural justice, international and intra-national risk distributions, intra and intergenerational issues and social themes of age, gender, class and ethnicity. For some examples of the concerns and activities of different groups and bodies around environmental justice and inequality in the UK see:
Capacity Global a london based EJ non governmental organization
Friends of the Earth Scotland campaign for environmental justice
Page last updated: 19 November 2007