Headlines: May 21st, 2004

Politicians and environmental campaigners would win wider public support if they were more effective at linking environmental issues to poverty and ill health, according to a new report today. The Institute for Public Policy Research says rather than thinking there are votes in rare birds or pandas, environmentalists should be making the connection between poverty, pollution and the quality of local environments.The research says industrial sites are disproportionately located in deprived areas and children living in those areas are five times more likely to be killed by a car. The report shows lack of access to clean air and green spaces can often exacerbate respiratory diseases, like asthma, and other health problems such as obesity, for people living in deprived communities.

Julie Foley, ippr Senior Research Fellow, says that in developing countries, environmental issues are bound up with issues of poverty and distributive justice so they are almost indistinguishable. In this country the same dynamic is in play and the poorest communities are often most affected by environmental problems but the links have not been made effectively.

“For environmentalists, making the connection between environmental protection and distributive justice should underpin their understanding of sustainable development. It is the interaction between people and the environment that offers greater appeal and why there simply aren’t any votes in birds and pandas,” she says.
She is calling for the government to recognise that looking after and making better use of the local environment can help to improve public health, and says there should be greater integration of environmental and poverty concerns when developing local regeneration strategies.

The report considers the links between sustainable development and social justice across society – at the global, national and local levels. There are contributions from Graham Duxbury, of Groundwork UK, Paul Ekins and Simon Dresner, of the Policy Studies Institute, Tony Juniper, of Friends of the Earth and David Baldock of the Institute for European Environmental Policy, as well as from Julie Foley and Tony Grayling, of ippr.