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Bid to address environmental challenges faced by disadvantaged communities
Rose Wall of CLM

11 Feb 2021 / environment Print

Climate action can be unfair to marginalised – CLM

A new Centre for Environmental Justice was launched this morning (11 February) by Mary Robinson, Adjunct Professor for Climate Justice at Trinity College Dublin.

The centre is being opened by charity Community Law and Mediation (CLM), based in Coolock, Dublin 5, in response to challenges faced by disadvantaged communities, which stem directly from environmental issues, such as flooding and pollution.

CLM chief executive Rose Wall said that it was important to be alert to potential unfairness to marginalised groups in climate-action measures.

Vulnerable

The goal is to ensure that the voices of the most vulnerable are heard on environmental issues. The centre will work to ensure that climate change and environmental harm do not result in greater social injustice or increased inequality.

A key focus of the Centre for Environmental Justice will be on capacity-building in the community, through collaborations with the Irish Local Development Network, An Taisce, and other organisations.

The centre will also seek to advance legislative and policy change through strategic casework and law-reform submissions.

A free legal-advice clinic for individual and community queries will offer appointments that can be booked by contacting 01 847 7804.

Human crisis

Chief executive Rose Wall said: “The climate crisis is not just an environmental one – it is a health crisis, a housing crisis, a jobs’ crisis, a debt crisis and, ultimately, a human crisis – a crisis that is not being, and will not be, borne equally by all.

She added that environmental justice ensures that marginalised groups are not disproportionately impacted by climate change or other environmental harms, and that the State’s response is informed by the principles of inclusivity and fairness. 

Climate change interacts with issues experienced by disadvantaged communities in the shape of energy poverty, housing, employment, and health, Wall added.

Flooding

“We are already working with communities affected by issues linked to environmental justice, including flooding, health concerns related to poor air quality, and poor housing conditions,” she said.

Rose Wall added that those who are most disadvantaged or marginalised have:

  • The fewest choices about where and how they live,
  • Fewer resources to cope with pollution or the challenges of climate change, and
  • Less visibility in the shaping of policy responses.

CLM has seen how climate change and other environmental factors directly impact people’s housing (due to flooding) or health (dirty air), Wall said.

Unfairness

“We are also alert to the potential unfairness of climate-action measures on marginalised groups, whether that is, for example, through job loss or energy poverty,” she said.

In setting up this centre, we recognise that we must act now to protect our environment and our communities from climate change, and this effort must be done in a way that does not exacerbate existing inequalities. 

Environmental expert joins CLM

Environmental justice solicitor Rebecca Keatinge has joined the CLM legal team.

The Centre for Environmental Justice will provide legal advice on environmental justice issues through a regular legal advice clinic, starting on 16 February.

It will also provide training and information resources on environmental justice to organisations, including a pilot training programme for local development companies around the country.

The centre will also push ahead with law-reform work in this area, including monitoring the progress of the Climate Bill and working with An Taisce. 

The centre will also, when necessary, use litigation to create effective responses to environmental problems, particularly when there is currently no legal aid for organisations to take environmental cases to court.

“Individual cases have the potential to influence important legislative and policy changes that will be key to addressing the core challenges at the intersection of climate change and social inequality in Ireland,” Rose Wall said.

Human rights

“From our work in other areas of social justice, we know how important it is to use the law as a means of protecting human rights and progressing equality.

“The ultimate goal of the Centre for Environmental Justice is to educate, engage and empower communities through the law to build a better, more equal society for all,” she said

Issues that CLM has already dealt with include:

  • Individuals and families living in coastal and flood-risk areas, whose homes are uninsurable, facing an increased risk of flooding every year due to changing weather patterns and projected sea-level rise,
  • Air pollution, which causes approximately 1,300 people to die prematurely every year due to poor air quality,
  • In all, 71% of landfill sites and waste incinerators in the country are located in areas that are below the national average of deprivation,
  • Energy poverty has been worsened by COVID, with those in social and private rented housing, those who are unemployed, one-parent families, and members of the Travelling Community at particular risk,
  • Despite the robust legal framework derived from the Aarhus Convention, which specifically protects the right to access justice in environmental matters, there is currently no legal aid available to environmental NGOs seeking to access the courts,
  • Proposed Climate Bill contains no definition of climate justice, no mention of just transition, and weak public-participation rules.

“COVID has shown, quite starkly, the idea of ‘same storm, different boats’, and how certain groups fare worse than others due to vulnerabilities such as poor health, precarious employment or homelessness,” Wall said.

“This will increasingly be the case in relation to the climate crisis, a challenge which is much less transient than COVID,” she added.

Rent freezes

Government rent freezes, eviction bans and other measures demonstrate what can be done to protect the most vulnerable, Rose Wall said.

Lessons can be drawn from this in how Ireland responds to the effects of climate change and other environmental burdens.

“Similarly, COVID has demonstrated that social solidarity and cohesion are critical to effective national action and achieving societal change,” Wall concluded.

Gazette Desk
Gazette.ie is the daily legal news site of the Law Society of Ireland