Environmental justice (EJ) has the following objectives:
- prevention of new environmental pollution
- clean-up of existing pollution according to the "originator principle" (who caused the pollution, has to clean-up and pay)
- fair socio-spatial distribution of unavoidable pollution (fair share)
- individuals/communities, which will be affected by the planned installations, shall decide by themselves, what they are willing to bear (ecological democracy)
- equal treatment of different social and ethnic groups in regard to the environment (fair treatment).
In the US, there is an increasing consideration of procedural and distributional justice in environmental matters. E.g., models for citizens´ participation, and socio-spatial assessment in planning and siting have been developed. Results are still ambivalent, as the initial social and environmental conditions have been usually very negative, problem awareness develops faster than solutions, and improvements are often offset by contradictory political or economic processes.
Environmental inequalities in social and geographical terms, and the awareness of this problem is not limited to the US. But in Germany, problems differ to a certain extent, and - more important - the systems of environmental and social regulation differ from other countries. Social justice is mainly dealt with by social policy, with a large spectrum of targets, actors and levels. For the German discussion, the concepts of sustainability, lack of negative social (Sozialverträglichkeit), environmental (Umweltverträglichkeit) and health impacts (Gesundheitsverträglichkeit) may be referred to EJ.
Politically, EJ may be referred to programs and activities in regard to
E.g., the APUG in Northrhine-Westfalia (APUG-NRW) has included EJ as a topic.
- environment and health: healthy cities, action-program environment & health (APUG), environmental impact assessment (EIA), health impact assessment (HIA), strategic environmental assessment (SEA)
- public health: inequities in health, poverty and health, children´s health
- and urban renewal: local agenda 21, socially acceptable city (Soziale Stadt), shrinking cities.
Some important features:
- often, the EJ topic is first "pushed" by environmental organisations, NGOs, or communes
- communes may consider starting their own EJ initiatives - without support from higher levels of government -, in direct cooperation with corporations (e.g., GNAs, good neighbourhood agreements)
- frequently, there are conflicts between government authorities, corporations, and science on one side, and communes, grass-root groups, NGOs on the other side
- in this context, government authorities and affiliated scientists may be suspected of "green-washing" local environmental problems
- content, scope, and maybe even results of EJ research are influenced by (public or private) funding of specific projects and institutes
- autonomous EJ research - with "lay epidemiology" approaches - by environmental organisations, local authorities, NGOs, etc. is severely limited by lack of funds and barriers to data and methods access; "goodwill" and cooperativeness of data-holding authorities are often insufficient.
The following concrete steps are discussed, but remain contentious:
- equal socio-spatial distribution of environmental burdens?
- upper limits for cumulated environmental burdens?
- minimal standards for environmental quality?
- basic right for a decent environment?
- sanctions for "disproportionate" use of the environment?
- specific liability of those persons/institutions that cause or benefit from the environmental damage?
In contrast, the following steps are no longer disputed:
- application of some existing environment and health policy measures to EJ, like environmental impact assessment (EIA) and strategic environmental assessment (SEA
- integration of EJ indicators into social, environmental, and health monitoring, and into planning
- protection of (e.g., vulnerable) minorities
- zoning for protected areas, polluted areas, etc.
- if prevention of environmental burden is not feasible, then compensation of affected persons or communes
- information, training, and extensive paricipation of affected persons or communes.
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