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Part 1 - What is environmental justice?

A basic background.

In 2002, the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg discussed the global issues of poverty and the environment. It reaffirmed the need to ensure quality of life for the most vulnerable in society. The 1987 Brundtland Report noted that Sustainable Development was the framework for an equitable share of the world's natural resources. Following this and the 1992 Rio “Earth Summit”, a number of international laws and United Nations programmes were implemented to address environmental protection and equity. See Unep and, more generally, Undp.

Environmental justice is in general about ensuring three things:

Global networks and international projects for environmental justice have been established.

Many environmental justice networks have closely linked environmental justice to disproportionate impacts that are directly and indirectly racist, eg. see this 2002 discussion paper on Poverty, Pollution and Environmental Racism

NGOs at the World Conference Against Racism (WCAR) in Durban submitted a declaration recognising environmental racism as a violation against human rights and stipulating a programme of international action (See this paper on Proposed Language on Environmental Racism). It called for governments “to establish, comply with and enforce international conventions, treaties, laws and polices that ensure the fundamental rights of all people to clean air, land, water, food and safe housing”.

Other international projects and networks include:

Pesticide Action Network

International environmental justice exchanges, eg. between South Africa and the United States

The Partnership for Principle 10 (PP10)

Earthjustice International Program 

United States

In the United States, there is a strong environmental justice movement. It was closely linked to the civil rights movement and predominantly led by grass root Black and Hispanic community groups. The galvanisation of Black and 'people of color' communities is illustrated in an interview with Professor Bob Bullard, one of the US's foremost environmental justice activists. Further examples are here.  

The American EJ movement has been effective in developing grass root community action across the US and creating federal and interstate networks such as the Community Coalition for Environmental Justice. 

As a result of the movement’s campaign success, “Executive Order 12898: Federal Actions to Address Environmental Justice in Minority Populations and Low-Income Populations” was established. It states “each Federal Agency shall make achieving environmental justice part of its mission by identifying and addressing as appropriate, disproportionately high and adverse human health or environmental effects of its programs, policies and activities on minority populations and low income populations”.

The campaign and the executive order have helped to influence and develop a number of national and federal programmes with government agencies and community groups. For example:

The US Environment Protection Agency has implemented a number of environmental justice policies and action plans. The EPA plans are made public and are monitored through progress reports for each federal EPA office.

Environmental justice has on the whole been accepted into mainstream policy development and is still an active community action campaign. Awards, training programmes, academic courses, research and funding have all been implemented to develop both government and community responses to environmental justice. For example:

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