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Definitions of Environmental Justice and Environmental Inequalities

Environmental Justice is ‘No less than a decent environment for all, no more than our fair share of the Earth’s resources.’ (Friends of the Earth, Scotland).

Environmental justice is about ensuring three things:

  1. The right to a healthy environment: everyone should have a good quality of life, with a safe and healthy place to live, work and play and have enough resources for everyone, both now and in the future.
  2. No disproportionate negative impact of environmental policies, acts or omissions on minority or indigenous communities.
  3. Equal access to environmental information, participation, decision-making and justice. There should be equal protection and meaningful involvement of all members of society with respect to the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations and policies and the equitable distribution of environmental benefits.

The poorest and least powerful members of society face environmental injustice, such as health inequalities, poverty and exclusion. BME groups are still visibly under represented in environmental decision making. Sufferers have no capacity/ power to do anything to change their situation, with the cause of the injustice being a deliberate decision or omission by an outside agency. Community groups need to unite to discuss environmental pollution and health issues with local decision makers.

Environmental Inequality is a condition of unevenness in the sharing of environmental opportunities between different groups in society. It can also be described as ‘the unequal social distribution of environmental risks and hazards and access to environmental goods and services’. (Sustainable Development Research Network, 2004).

Measures of environmental inequalities are:

To determine an environmental inequality, questions can be asked to assess the unevenness of services such as- who experiences pollution, hazards and risks and who is distanced or protected from such impacts? Who is able to shape environmental decision-making and who is not?

The four key areas of environmental inequality are:

  1. Immediate locality or ‘front door’ issues such as litter, neighbourhood noise and the accessibility to and condition of open and green spaces.
  2. Wider service issues such as access to environmental services, local transport facilities, healthy food and fuel poverty.
  3. Planning, infrastructure and development issues such as air and water quality, environmental noise, road traffic accidents and flood risk.
  4. Multiple environmental deprivation, considering the ways in which environmental problems accumulate and have combined effects on an area and people’s health.

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