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Government needs to treat the climate crisis as a racist crisis

Simmone Ahiaku

Simmone Ahiaku

Simmone Ahiaku

2 min read

Climate justice and racial justice cannot be treated as separate issues

Black British communities know state violence all too well. From inequities in policing and healthcare to discrimination in education and employment, it is clear racism is woven into Black lives in Britain. We cannot escape it, not even in our environment.   

Studies have shown that people of colour in urban areas in London are more likely to live in areas with toxic air. A study produced for Mayor of London Sadiq Khan in 2016 showed 15.3 per cent of Black people in London were exposed to air pollution, despite only making up 13.5 per cent of London’s population. In 2013 a young Black girl named Ella Adoo-Kissi-Debrah died as a consequence of air pollution. She lived next to one of the busiest roads in London, where air pollution levels consistently exceeded lawful European Union limits.

Three years on from Ella Adoo-Kissi-Debrah’s death, Black Lives Matter UK blocked an airway at London City Airport in protest against the airport’s expansion, which would deepen the climate crisis and worsen air pollution. Yet the government’s response to this protest was more focussed on clamping down on activists than combatting pollution. 

Studies have shown that people of colour in urban areas in London are more likely to live in areas with toxic air.

The UN Human Rights Committee warned in 2018 that pollution is one of the “most serious and pressing threats” to the right to life and if the government doesn’t do more to tackle it more Black people, living in London boroughs like Lambeth, Lewisham and Southwark will face similar fates.

The climate crisis is a racist crisis and the government needs to treat it as such. Importantly, climate justice and racial justice cannot be treated as separate issues. Climate justice thus far appears accessible only to a privileged few in Britain. Until the government tackles the climate crisis as a racist crisis, we will continue to treat climate injustice as a stand-alone issue rather than one that calls for total societal transformation.

Simmone Ahiaku has contributed to environmental, social and cultural work across the UK

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