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Government must take 'climate justice' approach to help disadvantaged communities, says report

22 January 2020

Flooding 600 X 400

Disadvantaged communities across the UK will continue to bear the brunt of climate change if steps are not taken to respond to the crisis through a ‘climate justice’ lens, warns a new report.

Five reasons for climate justice in spatial planning”, published by the Royal Town Planning Institute today [22 January 2019], argues that as climate change makes flooding, as seen in parts of Yorkshire and the Midlands during November 2019, more frequent and more severe, planners and policymakers must consider the social, economic, and institutional factors which can make disadvantage communities particularly vulnerable to such events.

It calls on planners and policymakers to change their approach to help prevent those least responsible for climate change suffering its gravest consequences.

Dr Daniel Slade, former research officer at the RTPI and author of the report, said: “The government must take a ‘climate justice’ approach if it wants to ensure that disadvantaged communities across the country benefit from the transition to a zero-carbon economy.

“Climate change represents an ethical challenge, as much as a scientific or technical one, which means policy makers must consider not only how and why levels of vulnerability to climate change vary but how their policies benefit or disadvantage particular groups.

“Well designed climate change policies developed through the lens of climate justice can reduce the equity concerns of climate change and address a range of social issues. For example the provision of green infrastructure is crucial to address overheating, flooding and soil erosion. It can also benefit mental health and physical fitness.

“Similarly, ensuring that communities have good access to public transport can reduce carbon emissions while also benefiting low-income communities who are particularly reliant on public transport.

“On the other hand, low-carbon ‘gentrification’ could occur if consideration was not given to residents’ ability to pay for, say, energy efficient retrofit programmes.”

The report highlights that, in England, deregulation, serious under-resourcing, an overwhelming national policy focus on housing and economic growth, as well as uncertainty around national planning policy have all profoundly affected the ability of local authorities to respond to climate change through planning.

Furthermore, research shows that local planning authorities in comparatively disadvantaged regions have borne the brunt of austerity. Kingston upon Hull, for example, suffers from some of the highest levels of ‘flood disadvantage’ in the UK[1], said Dr Slade.

“It is no coincidence, given the area’s local economic challenges, that development demand in the area is low and the local planning authorities in Yorkshire and the Humber have suffered disproportionately from austerity,” he added.

The report argues that a response to climate change that treats the issue as a predominantly technical challenge will not be sufficient.

Dr Slade concluded: “A fair and decisive response to climate change requires climate justice.  And climate justice requires effective, well-resourced, spatial planning. Even from a purely practical perspective , responses must adhere to principles of climate justice to be effective. This means they should be person-centred and have diversity, public interest, public engagement and equality as central concerns.”

[1] ‘Social vulnerability coincides with flooding hazard exposure to create disadvantage’ (Knox, 2019: 119).