The climate and ecological crises affects us all, but the impacts are not felt equally. Wider determinants of health such as housing, air pollution, the type of food available, transport options, local services, access to green space and education all have major impacts on our health, but they are unequally distributed.
People living in areas of high deprivation, marginalised groups such as refugees and asylum seekers, people with disabilities and those experiencing homelessness are more likely to experience health inequalities. In the UK, people from black and minority ethnic (BAME) communities are more likely to live in polluted areas, experience poverty and have poorer access to healthcare.
Different life experiences and opportunities lead to major, avoidable and unfair inequalities in health. For example, men living in the poorest areas of the UK die over 9 years earlier than men from the least deprived areas (7 years earlier in women).
The climate crisis can’t be addressed effectively without also tackling underlying socio-economic and racial inequalities. This means we need fairer public policies, anti-racism and action to address other forms of discrimination and exclusion.
Many of the causes of climate change disproportionately affect marginalised communities, contributing to higher rates of health problems like heart and lung diseases. For example:
- Higher levels of air pollution from burning fossil fuels,
- Energy inefficient homes that contribute to fuel poverty, wasted energy and bad health,
- Poorly planned cities and towns that make active travel (walking and cycling) unsafe or inaccessible
- Less access to green spaces, which can enable healthy outdoor exercise and are great for mental health.
- Overheating in built-up areas (often due to the urban heat island effect)
- Disadvantaged groups also have fewer resources to help them cope and adapt to our changing climate.
Globally, these inequalities are magnified – climate change is disproportionately impacting people in the global South, with rising temperatures and sea levels, more frequent natural disasters, and food insecurity causing serious harm already, and their impacts are often worsened by structural drivers of inequality, racism and other forms of discrimination, and the legacies of colonisalism.
- The climate crisis is a racist crisis: structural racism, inequality and climate change – a book chapter on environmental and climate justice, with a focus on race justice
- Climate Just – a free webtool from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation which shows who is vulnerable to climate change and fuel poverty in the UK and why, highlights neighbourhoods where climate disadvantage is highest and can help to inform action
- Intersectional Environmentalism – A platform for resources and actions for an inclusive environmental movement
- Race and Health resources – a hub for investigating how racism and discrimination affects health and interventions to improve
- The King’s Fund – evidence on health inequalities in the UK
- The Institute of Health Equity – collection of resources on health equity and the Social Determinants of Health