Incorporating fairness and justice in climate change action – assessing social impact and heat hazard using space data
22nd October 2021
Authored by 4EI and Sniffer
4EI provided satellite-derived heat data for a recent study performed by Climate Ready Clyde, for Glasgow City Region, which explored the present heat risk to deprived and densely populated communities and determined opportunities to mitigate risk level. The results of this analysis clearly showed a correlation between high density deprived (HDDP) postcodes and areas of high heat stress or vacant and derelict land (VDL).
As the impacts of climate change are continually heightened, with weather conditions becoming more irregular and extreme, from flooding to heatwaves, vulnerable groups at most risk need to be considered and protected.
Sniffer and Climate Ready Clyde have an acute awareness that deprived or impoverished communities within Glasgow City Region are already living the consequences of climate change in many ways. Not only is the city’s population growing rapidly in comparison to the average, but it is dominated by an aging population and has broad economic and social diversity. Given this ingrained deprivation, the risks of climate change promise to become even more apparent in the next few decades.
As part of its vision to build a more resilient Scotland and sustainable societies, Sniffer is committed to recognising the burdens facing vulnerable communities in Glasgow City Region and beyond. Through these efforts, they can better understand how their lived experience is impacted and accordingly advance efforts to protect them.
Similar challenges can be seen across the world, with heat risk becoming a rapidly prominent issue for populations in many regions. Initiatives such as the UN Race to Resilience showcase, a global campaign aimed to achieve resilience against climate shocks and stresses for 4 billion people by 2030, that this is a growing issue that needs to be addressed through a collaborative, worldwide effort.
And while Sniffer and Climate Ready Clyde’s localised efforts to combat climate change impacts address issues that are specific to one population, their Climate Adaptation Strategy and Action Plan for Glasgow City Region is mirrored in the essence of COP26, hosted by Glasgow in November 2021. Sniffer’s resilience strategy will serve as an excellent example for countries experiencing similar climate challenges on this global stage in November.
Why vulnerable groups are at a heightened risk & the impacts
Climate change is an issue that doesn’t often seem like an immediate or quantifiable threat. Increasing heat in particular is a pertinent issue – with the effects of heatwaves not appearing as suddenly and dramatically as people might expect. Unlike flooding events for example, increasing temperatures is often seen as a silent and stealthy killer. For this reason, the need for climate adaptation can be easily overlooked.
However, for many these impacts are felt regularly and deeply. Ultimately, there is a large proportion of people who are not equipped to adjust to the outcomes of changing temperatures and weather conditions and will resultantly see significant detriments in their everyday lived experiences.
Those who are economically deprived or in certain social circumstances may be living in already untenable environments. Subpar living conditions, such as poor ventilation or fuel poverty, can cause increased risk of health impacts.
Equally, many people don’t have the opportunity or the means to adapt to the changing environment. Whether that’s by future-proofing their home against flooding, using more fuel for heating in the winter, or physically and mentally recovering after a weather event. Many marginalised people are living in privately owned housing, private landlords will often lack the motivation or desire to make improvements to their rented properties. These brackets of people are not only more exposed to climate-related impacts, but they also often don’t have access to resources to help tackle the risk.
Incorporating justice and fairness in our approach
Climate change impacts are a citizen-wide issue with the people of Glasgow City Region, and other high-risk cities, at the heart of the issue. In most cases, people who have contributed the least to these conditions are the people experiencing the greatest impacts. Sniffer believe therefore that to effectively address these problems, people must understand the human lived experience and put this perspective at the forefront. Understanding and application of ‘legitimate knowledge’ needs to be expanded to include people’s lived experiences.
Through open communication with the community of Glasgow City Region, Catherine Pearce, Innovation Manager at Sniffer, explains how organisations can champion justice and fairness when creating climate strategies, and in doing so, can improve people’s quality of life as well as their climate resilience.
Understand the problem
Primarily, talking to the community helps us better recognise how people are being impacted daily, from their own perspective and understanding their lived experience. This offers greater insight – both on an acute and a broad level – of how we can help to build their resilience and safeguard the people at risk from the rising impacts of climate change.
Avoiding further inequalities
It’s equally important to ensure that any measures taken don’t further exacerbate existing inequalities. For example, inadvertently accentuating further discrimination, increasing socio-economic disadvantage, failing to take account of language or cultural barriers, or introducing flood risk mitigation to one community which risks diverting the issue to another area. Allowing community experience to shape and inform climate resilience strategies is therefore vital for creating sustainable and fair measures.
Communities that have been historically marginalised may be reluctant to utilise official resources. Sniffer acts as an unbiased source of support and information that actively reaches out to the community. Bringing those who have been affected into the conversation offers people more autonomy and a sense of agency.
Resilience requires integrated action
As a citizen-wide issue, climate change and heat risk require a citizen-wide response. There is not one solution that can effectively tackle this widespread and diverse issue, and not one organisation that can deliver it. Actors and organisations across the board need to act and strategize in collaboration to realise a more resilient future.
While there is a great amount that still needs done, initiatives and organisations across the UK are taking steps to address the relationship between vulnerability and heat risk.
- Climate Ready Clyde and 4EI: Climate Ready Clyde used 4EI’s satellite-derived data displaying correlation between vulnerable communities and areas of high heat risk, alongside the identification of derelict areas, to identify opportunities to introduce green spaces. Sniffer and 4EI worked closely to incorporate this data into the Glasgow City Region’s final Adaptation Strategy and Action Plan.
- Climate Ready Clyde: Reports have been carried out to outline the social and human impact of climate change to support just and inclusive adaption strategies.
- 4EI: 4EI’s Heat Hazard Index offers elevated levels of insight into urban context and the risk and the impact of heat on communities which can be used to inform decision-making. The results of a recent heat risk report, additionally show how 4EI’s data can be used to inform retrofit planning and implementation and the location of decarbonised energy networks, an issue which has been tackled in unison with fuel poverty across Europe.
- SEPA: The Scottish Environment Protection Agency are explicitly considering social and economic vulnerability within their flood risk assessments.
- Local Authorities: Climate Ready Clyde are working with local authorities to ensure the right services, support and information are provided to people living in flood prone areas and at risk of heat impacts, in a direct and accessible way.
Tackling heat risk at a global scale
Glasgow City Region is an example of how social factors, such as wealth divides and rising populations, can affect individual risk – but this relationship is true in many different countries. Some of the regions where dense urban populations are at the greatest risk from extreme heat include;
– Gulf Cooperation Countries (including Saudi Arabia, UAE)
– South Asia (India, Pakistan and Bangladesh)
– South East Asia (eg Singapore)
– Eastern and southern Mediterranean
It was shown that cities most at risk are those with a combination of high air temperature, high dependence on fossil fuels, air conditioning and private transportation by car and subsequently high levels of air pollution.
Clearly, heat risk, especially towards vulnerable and deprived communities, is a planet-wide concern. With COP26 closely approaching, under the aim of bringing together global actors to “accelerate action towards the goals of the Paris Agreement and the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change”, it marks a critical time for countries to confront the challenges surrounding heat risk and social justice.
Sniffer and 4EI are motivated to grasp this opportunity to accelerate our collective response to building widespread climate resilience that lasts as our future forms.
Find out more about Sniffer’s work building a more resilient Scotland on their website, and read more industry insights from 4EI here.