Climate Justice in the United Kingdom

Climate Justice in the United Kingdom


  • Air Pollution Affecting Black, Asian and Minority Communities in London
  • Elderly Populations Affected by Extreme Weather
  • Disadvantaged Coastal Communities Affected by Flooding



Air Pollution Affecting BAME Communities in London

Air pollution is the largest environmental risk to public health in the UK. The high levels of toxic air, mainly in the southern and eastern regions are due to the greater exposure to pollution sources from mainland Europe. The highest of all is in the urban areas of South and Inner London which is affecting BAME (Black, Asian, and Minority Ethnic) communities the most, who account for 44% of London’s population. They are most likely to come from a low-income background and therefore live in cheaper housing with high pollution rates such as near busy roads.

The main types of air pollutants affecting London’s population are the gas nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and particulate matter 2.5 (PM2.5). Road traffic, burning of fossil fuels and agricultural food production are the main sources of air pollution. NO2 affects both health and the environment as it is a respiratory irritant and a contributory factor in the production of acid rain. PM2.5 is a microscopic particle that is suspended in the air and can penetrate deep into your lungs and blood, causing asthma, respiratory and cardiovascular diseases.

The Air Quality Standards Regulations 2010 require that the annual mean concentrations of NO2 must not exceed 40 µg/m3 and 25 µg/m3 for PM2.5. Between 2013 and 2016, the annual average NO2 concentration was between 4.8-10.6 µg/m3 higher in areas where BAME Londoners were most likely to live. However, since 2016, the concentration of NO2 reduced by 20% and PM2.5 by 15% because of the mayor of London’s bold policies to tackle air pollution. In 2020, the average annual mean concentration of NO2 in urban areas decreased to 15.1 9 µg/m3 and for PM2.5 it decreased to 7.9 µg/m3.

Clean Air Strategy

In January 2019, the Environment Secretary Michael Gove launched the ‘Clean Air Strategy’. It focuses on reducing all the major pollutants at a national and local level, across all sectors of society. The main aims are to reduce emissions of PM2.5 by 46% by 2030 and NO2 by 73% by 2030. The actions of the strategy is to halve the number of people living in locations where concentrations of PM2.5 are above the World Health Organisations (WHO) guideline limit by 2025; ensure only the sale of clean domestic fuels and end the sale of conventional new diesel and petrol cars from 2040; support farmers to invest in infrastructure that will reduce ammonia emissions; and set up an air quality forecast and invest in more clean technology.

Between 2017 and 2025, the total cost to the National Health Service (NHS) on air pollution is projected to be £1.60 billion for PM2.5 and NO2 combined. The actions set out in this strategy are estimated to reduce the cost of air pollution by roughly £1 billion every year by 2020 and £2.5 billion every year from 2030.

London’s ULEZ

The Ultra-Low Emissions Zones (ULEZ) is an area of London where a fee is charged for driving the most polluting vehicles. It was introduced by London mayor Sadiq Khan in April 2019 in Central London. The £12.50 charge applies to vehicles that do not comply with the European emission standards, it is in effect 24 hours a day with the money raised being invested in the transport network and improving London’s air quality. It has been quite successful since its introduction, resulting in the number of the worst polluting vehicles to drop from 35,600 to 23,000 and a 20% reduction in emissions. In October 2021, the zone expanded to cover the much wider Inner London areas. In a month following the expansion, the number of non-compliant vehicles fell from 127,000 to 80,000. It has been described as one of the most radical anti-pollution policies in the World.

Clean Air Day Campaign

There are many campaigns that set out to reduce the impact of air pollution such as Clean Air Day which is the UK’s largest air pollution campaign. It is led by the environmental charity Global Action Plan, it brings together communities, schools, businesses and the health sector to improve public understanding on air pollution, build awareness on how air pollution affects our health and explain the actions we can take to tackle this issue.


Severe weather affecting the elderly population

Over the last few years, the UK has seen a surge in the number of heat waves in the summer and cold spells in the winter because of climate change. In 2020, we have had the wettest February on record and the third hottest day of 37.8°C. These extreme weather events are mostly affecting the elderly population as they are the ones most vulnerable to serious illnesses due to a weaker immune system and pre-existing health conditions. They tend to be more socially isolated, having lower mobility, living on a low income and living in fuel poverty.

Heat waves have been known to cause severe health effects such as dehydration and cold spells causing the worsening of symptoms of existing health problems such as repository illness and heart disease. Most importantly, they have been known to cause a high number of deaths in the elderly population as the largest proportion of the 2,000 deaths during the August 2003 heatwave occurred in people who were over 75. Cold weather is also estimated to have caused 28,300 excess winter deaths in 2019 to 2020. Extreme weather has also been known to increase the level of ozone and particulate pollution, thus creating more adverse health effects.  In the coming years this is only going to get worse as by 2070, winters will be between 1- 4.5°C warmer and 30% wetter and summers will be between 1-6°C warmer and 60% drier.

Cold Weather Plan

The Cold Weather Plan (CWP) has been published by the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) and NHS annually since 2011. The plan helps raise public awareness of the harm to health from the cold and provides guidance on how best to prepare and respond. The core elements of the plan include improving building design, increasing energy efficiency and tackling fuel poverty, introducing an alert system to provide advice and information for the public, partnering with voluntary and community sector organisations, supporting hospitals and GPs to make sure they focus on the most vulnerable and monitoring the CWP to ensure it is supported by the latest available evidence. This plan seems to be quite effective in helping the public better adapt to the changing climate therefore reducing the number of cold-related deaths.

Heatwave Plan

The Heatwave Plan has been published by the Department of Health and Social Care and NHS annually since 2004, following the European heatwave in 2003. It includes development of green infrastructure, introducing an alert system, producing a local heat-related health information plan for the public and providing an annual review of the plan. The heat-health watch alert system operates from June to September every year and is based on Met Office forecasts and data. The plan has been successful in reducing the number of heat-related deaths in the UK because of more awareness on how to best adapt.

Age UK

The Age UK charity is doing great work in making sure the elderly population do not suffer from the detrimental impacts of climate change. This is the UK’s largest charity for older people that provide services and support at a national and local level to the elderly population. The organisation provides information and advice on their website on how to best deal with the cold weather and heat waves. There is also a link to the Met office website, which is the UK’s national weather service, providing forecasts and weather warnings to the public.


Flooding affecting disadvantaged coastal communities

Climate change is causing more frequent intense storms in the UK e.g. storms Ciara and Dennis in February 2020 as well as rising sea levels, resulting in floods across the country. This is only going to increase in the future as the amount of rain from wet days has increased by 17% compared to levels from 1961-90 and the total rise in sea levels off the UK coast may exceed 1-2 metres by 2050. Winter precipitation is likely to increase on the northern and western coastlines, causing flooding whereas the east of England, with its low-lying and soft sediment coasts, will be more vulnerable to erosion. It is estimated that 5.2 million properties are exposed to some flood risk in the UK and the damage caused by flooding to buildings amounts to £1.4 billion per annum on average.

The effect of flooding is more likely to impact the most disadvantaged communities as they are more likely to live in poor quality housing, on flood plains in rural areas, or in densely crowded urban areas with poor water drainage. They are the ones who will be less able to recover due to a lack of financial security and insurance. Flooding can cause drowning, accidental deaths, injuries, contamination, loss of water and electricity supply and lead to the destruction of properties causing people to become homeless.

National Flood and Coastal Erosion Risk Management Strategy

The strategy published by the EA in July 2020 sets out aims to make the UK more resilient to flooding and coastal change from 2020-2100. The strategy’s core ambitions are using nature-based solutions to slow the flow of or store flood waters, long-term resilient infrastructure planning and ensuring that spending on flood and coastal resilience contributes to job creation and sustainable growth in local places. Also, the strategy calls for increased capacity building and continuing to transform digital warning and informing services to better reach people living in flood risk areas. If implemented correctly, the strategy has the potential in resulting in positive and practical changes to the way flooding and coastal change is managed in England. The EA will report annually on the progress authorities are making, with the next review planned for 2026.

Investment Plan

The government is also investing £5.2 billion in a new 6-year Flood and Coastal Defence Investment Programme from 2021-2027. It will fund around 2,000 new defence schemes to better protect 336,000 properties, reducing national flood risk by 11% by 2027 and helping to avoid £32 billion of wider economic damages. The investment plan was published by the EA and Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) in July 2021. The programme builds on the success of the first investment programme, which saw the government surpass its target of better protecting 300,000 homes by March 2021.

Environment Agency

The Environment Agency (EA) is the UK’s principal flood risk management operating authority. The EA manages flood risks from rivers and the sea and is responsible for increasing public awareness of flood risk, flood forecasting and warning as well as preparing emergency plans, responding when an event occurs and operating a 24-hour helpline on flooding.  The EA website provides useful advice on what to do before, after and during a flood, reporting a flood and signing up to receive flood warnings.

This Post was submitted by Climate Scorecard UK Country Manager Manpreet Aulakh


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