Training On Environmental Justice For BME Communities

By Ewa Krzepisz

Emma Montlake reflects on a recent ELF training session for university students

In June ELF organised training on environmental issues for a group of non-law students at UCL. This grew out of an earlier UCL event focused on BME communities we had spoken at, “My Neighbourhood is killing me”.

Since then we have been supporting the student group to develop and deliver a student-led education programme for local schools on climate change, air quality and other issues of environmental justice for BME communities. The training was designed to give the students information for ready delivery into schools and ideas about measures that communities could take to address their own local environmental challenges.

Our first speaker was Judy Ling Wong, president of the Black Environment Network. Judy is an environmental pioneer, and has over the last 30 years done much to further the BME voice in environmental matters and opening up the countryside to ethnic communities. Setting the tone, she gave the philosophical context of the environmental movement. Judy spoke of rebuilding the relationship between humans and nature; that this battle will be won or lost in the cities, of the importance of greening our cities and of the small things that we can do to improve our local environment.

Our second speaker was Rose Grogan a barrister at 39 Essex Chambers, recently instructed by TfL in the Client Earth air quality case with an in-depth knowledge of air quality issues. There is a daily and annual limit of nitrogen dioxide pollution, set by EU directives and in 41 out of 43 of UK Air Quality Zones, the UK is in breach. It is a massive problem in our cities, health impacts only lately being properly recognised. The UK records the second highest number of the premature deaths in Europe and still the government prevaricates. If you want to know more, please read James Arrandale’s ELF blog.

We also discussed practical ways that people could investigate local air quality. Local authorities are obliged to take steps to try to mitigate poor air quality. Rose suggested the group could raise awareness on these local obligations, set up projects on monitoring local air quality and find out what local authorities are doing to address the problem.

Richard Wald, a barrister also of 39 Essex Chambers, spoke more generally about access to environmental justice and many of the issues associated with the Aarhus Convention, which the UK ratified in 2005. In particular he looked at how “prohibitively expensive” costs of court action have, in the past, been a barrier to access to justice and how changes to the court rules in February 2017, would turn back the progress of the last 5 years.

Lastly, Pete Crawford, Head of People and Wildlife at Sussex Wildlife Trust rounded up the afternoon with some frightening statistics on the disconnection between our children and the natural world. As we realise the intrinsic importance of nature, green spaces to our wellbeing and health, and as we bear witness to the massive decline in habitat and species as recently undated in the State of Nature Report, if we do not teach our children to love nature, they will not protect it. It is only through experiencing nature that such love will develop.

Following the training, student Samira Abdulla said, “I just wanted to thank you for such an amazing and intense workshop. We all appreciate your time and wisdom so much and have learnt a lot from it! I can barely begin to express my gratitude for all of your support”.