In our recent event, Climate Change and Human Rights for the Third Sector, we discussed inequality issues when tackling climate change. In this blog, we will share reflections on how the crisis can be tackled justly and the work being done around this. The workshop was hosted by Third Sector Human Rights and Equalities (THRE) with the climate team at GCVS and speakers from Environmental Rights Centre Scotland (ERCS), the Ethnic Minority Environmental Network (EMEN) and Sniffer.
The political landscapes and guidelines around climate change are often stormy. How do organisations set useful, attainable goals when goalposts are shifted and government targets keep changing?
At GCVS, we believe you are on the right track when you are grounded in your own efforts, doing the most you can to save energy, and respecting and preserving the planet’s resources. Focus on the physical side of it, and learn what you can do, both as an organisation and in collaboration. We advise groups to start with an environmental policy tailored practically to suit their needs and situation. This plan becomes a personalised tool to cut carbon emissions, save energy and lower bills. Read more in our article: How can an Environmental Policy & Plan benefit you?
Consider THRE’s suggestion to use the PANEL principles (Participation, Accountability, Non-discrimination, Empowerment and Legality) to embed human rights into your climate work. Set goals you can actually attain with your policy, but always bear in mind who is involved: does everyone involved have a say? Do you have a process to resolve your policy causing problems or harm to others? Will it affect some demographics more than others? In the same way that you need to be able to review and change your policy as new opportunities arise, you must make sure you do not disadvantage people with your actions.
We gained insights from experts at the event into new ways of understanding and responding to the nature and climate crises. The research and work they discussed included Scotland’s upcoming Human Rights Bill, environmental racism and a routemap to adapt to the current effects of climate change.
Voices that protect people and planet
Environmental Rights Centre for Scotland’s vision is of a Scotland where the right to a healthy environment is fully realised for every single person. Rights officer Cornell Hanxomphou discussed how environmental problems are worse and do more damage to already disadvantaged people. Air, water, and noise pollution; lack of good environmental quality and green space; and health inequality are all much worse in areas housing people on low income. Children, older people, and those with disabilities and other health conditions are affected more.
Furthermore, vulnerable people are less able to participate in local decision-making and are less aware of their rights. The Aarhus Convention states that the right to a healthy environment must be accessible. Currently, Scotland charges for tribunals. With a paywall in place for human rights enforcement, objections are not raised and do not affect planning, legislation, or other processes. This worsens nature and climate emergency and exposes people in Scotland to industrial pollution, raw sewage, deadly air pollution, and more without any means of redress.
Scotland’s Human Rights Bill was recently open for consultation. This Bill aims to incorporate economic, social, cultural and environmental rights into Scots law. We hope it will become a viable tool to engage public participation and provide access to justice and remedies for every single citizen. However, as ERCS explained, if anyone cannot access their rights, those rights would only exist in principle – the ‘accountability’ in THRE’s PANEL process. ERCS has called for a dedicated environmental court for Scotland with sheriffs and other key staff trained to protect people’s rights and our natural heritage.
ERCS works to make people aware of and exercise their environmental rights. They offer free advice to individuals, community groups and organisations on environmental and related planning law.
Read more at ercs.scot.
How minoritised ethnic groups are affected by climate change
People who are already worse off are hit more by the effects of climate change. Living in a deprived area often includes increased flood risk, with houses and sewage systems that are not built to cope with increased rainfall. Some minorities are more likely to live in deprived areas, leading to greater vulnerability to climate change.
Climate change issues are not solely about where we are on the thermometer. There’s also pollution that affects people’s health, like the fine particulate emissions from car smoke and tyres, which we now know that most respiratory and heart conditions are partly due to. This binds into the topic of how ethnic-minority groups are affected by climate change, as presented to our session by Aekus Kamboj, who facilitates the Ethnic-Minority Environmental Network and is an Environmental officer at CEMVO Scotland.
“Long-term exposure to air pollution has been associated with cardiovascular disease. Cardiovascular disease is higher among people from Black and South Asian groups,” as Aekus pointed out. This is among several other health issues related to air pollution. Environmental racism is defined as “The systemic racism faced by ethnic minority people where they are disproportionately burdened by the impacts of climate change,” she explained.
EMEN links ethnic minority communities to climate action, including local and national projects. Through them, BaME groups can act on the climate crisis, and ethnic minority voices are included in the wider action in Scotland.
Read more on theemennetwork.com
Community Climate Adaptation Routemap
Sniffer is a Scotland-wide climate adaptation charity. It aims to help Scotland transform towards a flourishing and fairer future for all in a changing climate – especially the heat waves and flooding currently harming us. Iryna Zamuruieva, Climate Resilience Manager, led participants at the event through key aspects of their Community Climate Adaptation Routemap.
This free tool takes organisations through:
- Stage 1: Beginning to prepare
- Stage 2: Understanding how climate change affects your community or organisation
- Stage 3: Appropriate action
Their routemap includes guidance on taking care of the ecosystems around us. Restoring them supports richer biodiversity, which protects us from flooding, rising sea levels, and storms – especially through native plants, which prevent soil erosion, and through trees, which cool the areas around them.
Iryna underlined that communities are different from each other and that the tool lets you tailor your action to your own context:
“There’s no one “next step” that would suit all – please use this routemap in ways that make sense for your community, remix it, make different paths through it, use it to set off on your own path.”
Read more and access the routemap at sniffer.org.uk
Material from the event
Recordings of the opening remarks by Councillor Martha Wardrop and presentations by ERCS, EMEN, and Sniffer are accessible on THRE’s YouTube channel via this link.
Our climate team runs regular workshops on topics related to climate change and the environment. We help third sector groups in Glasgow take climate action and can help groups create toolkits for internal climate work, linking them up to wider policy work. We base our focus on four key areas:
- Energy use for community facilities or services
- Travel and transport
- Food and water
- Consumption and waste