Tackling climate change and reducing poverty are not mutually exclusive aims, according to a report released in the UK yesterday.
"For too long now, groups tackling poverty and protecting the environment have operated separately" begins the report ‘Tackling Climate Change, Reducing Poverty'. "The fact that climate change and poverty are connected, and must be tackled together, has not been sufficiently understood."
Poverty still affects the UK, with one in five people struggling to keep up with basic living costs. Climate change will affect these people first and hardest. With poorer housing, worse health and no insurance, they are more at risk from weather events and extremes of temperature. Since wealthy lifestyles account for a much larger percentage of CO2 emissions, but the poor suffer its effects considerably more, climate change is a matter of social justice as well as an environmental concern.
That's why it's important to prioritize actions that help fight climate change and reduce poverty at the same time, and the report gives plenty of examples. An obvious one is public transport. Car culture needs to be reined in through carbon taxing and so on, but it may mean that only the rich will be able to afford a car and the freedom that it represents. Investing in public transport would reduce the number of cars on the road and thus CO2 emissions, and would guarantee that those on lower incomes aren't denied the ability to travel in the process.
Household energy efficiency is another area where everybody wins. Insulation and energy saving light-bulbs reduce overall energy consumption, and save money on gas and electricity bills too. Household energy is particularly important, as one in six British households is classed as ‘fuel impoverished', including 23% of pensioners. Rising fuel prices are a major concern to these households, but they may lack the money to make improvements to their homes. Prioritizing efficiency avoids the difficult choice between reducing overall emissions by taxing energy use, and helping to solve the problem of energy poverty.
The London borough of Haringey took an innovative approach to this recently. By taking thermographic images of the area at night, they were able to pinpoint the houses that were losing the most heat, and target these with information about the various grants that were available to help householders insulate their homes.
The Bankside Open Spaces Trust models a further example. Based in central London in a high-density, low income area of housing, the trust worked with the community to create a Diversity Garden. Space has been set aside for growing vegetables and planting fruit trees, with additional space left for wildlife. Schools and community groups are able to grow vegetables in the garden, but more importantly, they learn the skills to grow their own food on whatever space they may have available, right down to window sills or tower block balconies. This provides community pride as well as healthier, cheaper food, and reduces food miles and CO2 emissions from industrial agriculture.
Finally, renewable energy presents twin opportunities to create jobs and develop skills. Germany has already done this, creating a quarter of a million jobs in renewable energy in recent years. Barack Obama has just promised to do the same in the US, announcing a plan to double alternative energy in three years and "put Americans to work" in the process. The UK is expected to announce a similar scheme very soon.
All these measures are UK based, or relevant primarily to the developed world. Climate justice is a bigger problem when viewed internationally, and a similar approach will be needed. The developed world will have to lead the way in reducing CO2 emissions, while ensuring that climate change targets do not prevent developing nations from combating poverty. Getting climate change and poverty groups to work together and find common ground will be vital as the world prepares for a replacement to Kyoto.
For more case studies and examples, download the Tackling Climate Change, Reducing Poverty report from neweconomics.org