Environmental justice report highlights impact on vulnerable and marginalized communities

Minister for Community Development and Charities, Joe O’Brien, has launched a report titled Environmental Justice in Ireland: Key Dimensions of Environmental and Climate Injustice Experienced by Vulnerable and Marginalized Communities.

The study, by researchers from the Center for Climate and Society at Dublin City University, is the first of its kind to investigate key concepts and debates in environmental justice and their relationship to Ireland, as the data is available.

In addition to the report, Mr. O’Brien launched a new resource on environmental justice for schools and community organizations, developed by partners of the Community Law & Mediation (CLM) project and its Center for Environmental Justice at the using illustrations by artist Eoin Whelehan.

The report finds that there is a significant lack of information correlating environmental data with the spatial distribution of disadvantage or social exclusion. For example, the Environmental Protection Agency’s 2020 State of the Environment Report did not examine in detail the social impacts of environmental degradation and biodiversity loss.

The study also reports that low-income communities and marginalized groups perceive themselves to be largely excluded from environmental and planning decisions. Participants in a project workshop organized by CLM expressed frustration with consultation processes, where final decisions often dismissed their concerns. Court costs and the lack of civil legal aid are significant barriers to public participation in environmental decision-making.

The report examines the potential impact of rising energy costs, transport poverty, air pollution and flooding, and sets out key recommendations for improving environmental pollution monitoring and its correlation with measures of deprivation and vulnerability, as well as to strengthen access to environmental justice in Ireland. He recommends :

  • Improved data collection and information provision;
  • Improving access to environmental justice, ensuring civil legal aid is available to community and environmental groups;
  • Community engagement must be funded and supported;
  • A new legal framework for environmental rights should be explored in depth;
  • A national policy statement on environmental justice that should be applied by all public bodies in their decision-making functions is needed;
  • A mechanism should be developed to ensure that all climate and energy policy decisions are fully poverty-proof.

Launching the report, Mr O’Brien said: “The changes that society and our economy must make in response to climate change present both opportunities and risks. When we assess these opportunities and risks, we need to be particularly aware of the implications of change for the most vulnerable and marginalized. But if climate action is taken in an inclusive way, it can play an important role in tackling exclusion and disadvantage. Carbon tax revenues are a good example of this – where funds raised are used to support social housing renovation, people at risk of fuel poverty and help farmers use more climate-friendly practices”

The study’s lead author, Sadhbh O’Neill, from DCU, said: “This study has revealed that there are gaps in the way we monitor and respond to environmental injustice in Ireland. The research has only addressed some of the environmental burdens that directly impact low-income communities and marginalized groups. Further studies are needed and, in the future, additional census questions may be added to capture the environmental quality of where people live and work”.

Project Leader Dr Diarmuid Torney of DCU said: “We were delighted to partner with CLM on this important project. At DCU, we have a strong commitment to addressing disadvantage and promoting inclusion in education, as well as undertaking pioneering research on climate change and environmental policy. Our report highlights the urgent need for political action and further research to address critical environmental justice challenges. We were keen to hear and amplify the voices of marginalized and vulnerable communities themselves. Their views are included throughout the report.

Community Law & Mediation CEO Rose Wall said, “In our work with local communities, we have seen how climate change and other environmental harms disproportionately impact marginalized groups. We have also identified areas where public participation in environmental decision-making and access to justice are severely hampered by high legal fees and other barriers. The Housing, Planning and Development Bill 2020 will only make it harder for communities to have a say in shaping their local environment and ensuring environmental accountability. This will seriously undermine environmental oversight and democracy at a critical time when access to justice should be strengthened rather than restricted.

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