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Jo'burg World Summit on Environmental Justice

3 September 2002

World Summit risks excluding the poor from basic human rights

The UK Sustainable Development Commission is urging national leaders at the World Summit to afford the world's poorest people, in every country from the UK to South Africa, the right to a safe and healthy environment.

Going right to the wire, some delegations in Johannesburg are threatening to remove the reference to 'environmental justice' (linking poverty, environment and human rights) from the Summit's final implementation plan.

While the UK and the EU recognise the importance of a direct reference to environmental justice, the USA and G77 countries appear to be blocking its inclusion in the final text.

'Environmental justice is at the heart of sustainable development and it must be included in the final paper', says Maria Adebowale, a member of the Sustainable Development Commission and part of the UK delegation to the Summit.

'Research shows that environmental degradation has a disproportionate impact on the poor, both in the UK and abroad. Environmental concerns are not the exclusive right of the wealthy. Poorer people also have the right to a safe, clean and healthy

The Sustainable Development Commission is convinced that the Summit's final declaration must include an explicit reference to environmental justice as a concept, as well as recognising three crucial human rights:

- The right to access to information about environmental dangers;
- The right to access to the decision-making processes which affect one's
- The right to participate in such decision-making processes.

'The SDC agrees that environmental concerns should not be prioritised over economic development or fighting poverty. Rather, environmental, social and economic development must go hand in hand if we are to make real progress. This is at the heart of environmental justice: addressing environmental issues as a key step towards economic development and improving quality of life for all', says Adebowale.

Environmental justice is a universal concern across the world, and is no less important in 'developed' countries.

The links between poverty and poor environments are only too clear here in the UK:

- Of the 11,400 tonnes of carcinogenic chemicals emitted into the air from large UK factories in 1999, 82% was from factories located in the most
deprived 20% of local authority wards

- In the UK, children from poorer families are five times more likely to be knocked down by a vehicle than children from wealthier social groups

- An analysis of city centre areas clearly maps areas experiencing high levels of death from respiratory disease onto those with highest pollution, and the highest levels of poverty3

- 4.5m households live in fuel poverty in the UK, and 20% of population suffers from food poverty

- Residents of the poorest communities in the UK prioritise environmental problems such as air pollution, transport and graffiti alongside and over
some social concerns

- The most deprived communities in England have nearly four times the proportion of ethnic minority residents compared with the rest of England. Ethnic minority groups are more likely than the rest of the
population to live in poor areas, be unemployed, have low incomes, live in poor housing, have poor health, and be the victims of crime

The Sustainable Development Commission applauds Environment Minister Michael Meacher's pledge to make environmental justice a priority for the UK. Equally, Scotland's First Minister Jack McConnell's promise to put environmental justice at the heart of his policies is welcomed.

Speaking on the final day of the negotiations in Johannesburg, Adebowale concludes: 'It is now time for the British Prime Minister to make the same
commitment, and for the UK to lead the world towards a Johannesburg Declaration with environmental justice at its heart'.

Notes to editors:

1) Maria Adebowale is available for interview from Johannesburg. Please contact the SDC Press office to arrange an interview on 020 7944 4964.

Maria is the founding Director of the new non-governmental organisation, Capacity, working on community participation, poverty, environment and human right issues at local, national and international levels. She is a Commissioner of the UK Sustainable Development Commission and a member of the Advisory Committee on Consumer Products and the Environment. Maria has Masters in Public International Law and has a worked on UK, European and International environment and community programmes. She is a senior consultant at the Centre for Strategy and Communication, a trustee of the Black Environment Network, and a Visiting Fellow of South Bank University. Maria is the former Director of the Environmental Law Foundation and is the author of numerous articles on environment law, sustainable development issues and human rights.The Sustainable Development Commission (SDC) is the Government's independent sustainable development advisor, reporting to Tony Blair and the devolved administration leaders.


2) The Sustainable Development Commission's remit is to advocate sustainable development across all sectors in the UK, review progress towards it, and build consensus on the actions needed for further progress. SDC is currently working in the areas of climate change, energy policy, food, health and agriculture, and regeneration.

Sustainable development provides a framework for redirecting our economies to enable everyone to meet their basic needs and improve their quality of life, while ensuring that the natural resources upon which they depend are maintained and enhanced, both for their benefit and for that of future generations.

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