Exploring the social impacts of climate change
SD Scene publishes news and comment on sustainable development from across government, business and civil society. The views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect government policy.
The Joseph Rowntree Foundation has carried out a study exploring local approaches to climate change across the UK, with the aims of finding out how far social justice is being considered, and supporting socially just local responses by making policy and practice recommendations.
» Adapting to tomorrow’s climate in health and social care: guidance for health and social care organisations to coordinate action on adaptation in line with national policy objectives and their local situation
Though the impact of climate change is largely accepted at a political and public policy level, action on the ground often focuses on emergency responses to severe weather rather than developing adaptation responses to projected future climate change. The study concluded that:
“While climate change adaptation has risen up the national policy agenda, more needs to be done to implement socially just adaptation responses at the local level.”
Dr Hugh Ellis, Chief Planner at the Town and Country Planning Association (TCPA), explained the report’s relevance:
“Adaptation is as much about securing the welfare of our communities as it is about tackling climate change. Extreme weather events such as the floods and droughts experienced in the UK are set to increase.
“Local authorities have a responsibility to protect their people, property, and resources. The findings of this JRF report are extremely important in highlighting the need to consider people as well as places in our responses to tackling climate change.”
Understanding vulnerability to climate change
Socially just adaptation requires, first of all, an understanding of which groups are most vulnerable to the impact of climate change.
At the moment, social justice is not a priority in adaptation planning. Vulnerability to climate change tends to be interpreted in terms of geographical exposure or health – those living in areas at risk of flooding, or the impact of heatwaves on the elderly, for example – rather than the broader factors, such as income and social networks, which affect people’s ability to respond to and recover from extreme weather.
The importance of social justice in climate change adaptation is beginning to be recognised at national and local levels, but funding cuts have made local climate change responses generally less of a priority. Local authority case studies carried out in Highland, Islington and York found that in Islington, for example, cuts have been made to resources for adaptation. As the study noted:
“A recent Green Alliance report, based on a survey of local authorities, suggested that addressing climate change remains a priority for just 35 per cent of those that responded; it is likely that the proportion committed to socially just adaptation is much lower.”
Encouraging local action
National priorities for just adaptation can only be achieved through local action. More needs to be done to share information, encourage action, and enable effective delivery. Opportunities to optimise adaptation at this level include the increased focus on localism, the low carbon priority within Local Enterprise Partnerships, Local Nature Partnerships, neighbourhood planning, transfer of public health responsibilities to local authorities and funding mechanisms such as the Community Infrastructure Levy.
There is also a need to work collaboratively with agencies responsible for promoting social justice more widely. Current actions are often insignificant compared to the scale of the challenge, and vulnerable communities need to be identified early and involved in planning and delivery.
The National Adaptation Programme, due to be published by Defra in 2013, will provide an opportunity for the government to set out its expectations and clarify the roles and responsibilities of local authorities and other local actors.
- Socially Just Adaptation to Climate Change: summary and full report available to download
Do you have a comment on this page?
All comments are moderated: we will not publish irrelevant or inappropriate comments. Please note that we require your email to validate your message and will not publish it or use it for any other purpose.