Environmental Justice is a fairly recent movement which has developed particularly in the US and focuses on the concept of equality and fairness in the distribution of environmental harms and benefits and on the rights of affected communities to participate in decision-making regarding these distributions. The concept refers to the impacts of environmental harms on specific populations. Environmental harms are any impact on the environment as a result of human activity that has the effect of degrading the environment, whether temporarily or permanently, and may include things such as air, water and soil pollution, excess noise and illegally taking flora and fauna. We as humans have the right to live and work in areas free from environmental harms and it is argued that the presence of environmental harms have the potential for adverse side effects that do not affect all people equally.
The concept of Environmental Justice is still in its infancy within Australia and some scholars argue that when it is utilised it tends to be in a fairly loose way that fails to appreciate the rich context which was founded in the US. However, we are seeing more and more government agency’s adopting the concept of Environmental Justice and this is evident in the Victorian Environmental Protection Authority’s (EPA) enforcement framework which is underpinned by a vision of “a healthy environment that supports a liveable and prosperous Victoria… for all Victorians”. Furthermore, the Victorian EPA is currently considering how the concept might be developed and applied in a broader regulatory context. The Environment Defenders Office with support from numerous academics believe that there is value in talking about Environment Justice in Australia because using the Environmental Justice framework to advocate for the interconnected ideas of environmentalism, social justice and human rights might help us think and talk about each of these issues more clearly and prominently.
If you would like to read more on Environmental Justice within the Australian context please view the recent discussion paper published by the Environment Defenders Office which provides a thorough overview of Environmental Justice whilst drawing on three Australian case studies.