The Demands For Disability and Climate Justice - Our Political Landscape Is Failing Us

Tue,20 February 2024
Blog Climate change Equality & Rights
Disability Rights UK's Policy and Campaigns Officer, Dan White, speaks about the need for drastic measures to prevent climate catastrophe, and how they will never be effective if they don't centre the most marginalised. He goes into the current political landscape, with a failure on all sides to take Disability and climate justice seriously, and the actions we must be demanding.

There once was a time when the leader of the opposition, Keir Starmer, accused the then Prime Minister Boris Johnson to be “missing in action” on tackling the climate emergency. Johnson like many political leaders in the UK had shown himself to be indifferent to climate change. Indeed, once claiming that windfarms could not “pull the skin off a rice pudding.” 

His successors have also been scathing about the climate emergency. Liz Truss planned to overturn the moratorium on fracking, and now the incumbent PM, Rishi Sunak has announced a watering-down of the UK’s net zero policies. However, as Keir Starmer continues to surge ahead in the polling, we might have assumed that the man who claimed Johnson to be MIA would come good on his promised billion-pound climate package and steer the UK to a future of greener and cleaner ideals. This willingness to do the right thing on climate, to confront the issue and combat it in inclusive ways, was the plan we at Disability Rights UK wanted to hear. 

A better, cleaner, and healthier environment, if achieved in the right way, could hugely benefit Disabled people, probably more than any other group. All the evidence points to Disabled people experiencing the very worst effects of a changing climate, due to entrenched poverty, damp housing, inaccessible transport, high energy costs, and poor emergency planning. The facts are numerous and indisputable, we need disability inclusive environmental plans and solutions. We need to take the opportunities of reshaping society in response to climate change, to secure equality for Disabled citizens. Petition your MP to take action to ensure disability inclusive climate solutions.  

DR UK has been leading work on the issue of disability and climate change for two years. We partnered with New Philanthropy capital on a project called “Everyone's environment” This collaboration aims to amplify the voices of marginalised groups due to age, race and disability, getting views heard by policy makers, telling them the obvious truth that the continuing “one size fits all mantra” on environmental policy DOES. NOT. WORK. For future climate policy to work for all, all voices must be at the policy table, or the resulting implementation will only serve the few. 

This is where Keir Starmer joins the story again. Following much Government inaction and false starts, the Labour Leader appeared to understand that the future was coming towards us in a brutal and rapid manner, and admitted urgent work was needed. We saw an open door, an opportunity where we could sit and discuss desperately needed green policies for Disabled people, a chance to see real, brave green investment, through which our inclusive climate wishes could come true after years of shut doors. 

Indeed, the conversations had tentatively begun late last year when we met Kerry McCarthy: Shadow Minister for Climate Change who seemed to be the first and only politician amenable to the idea of speaking to marginalised communities and finding out more about how green policies could be properly inclusive. Great we thought, with a promised £28bn green investment and the beginning of a relationship with a possible minister in waiting, the future looked, well, greener and more inclusive. 

Hear the sigh yet? Last week, the Labour Party scaled back its green investment programme, becoming the party’s biggest policy U-turn since Starmer became party leader. Had Keir got the conservative-climate chills? Appears so. It feels like the opportunity for us to influence and collaborate further with a possible new government is not going to materialise. Where do we go and what happens now? Who knows?  

Labour did not set out detailed plans for exactly where all the £28billion would go, but broadly they did include boosting renewable energy generation, insulating homes; and improving transport infrastructure. All this would have helped Disabled people be greener, improved our social and physical environment and improved our health. An upgrade to public transport infrastructure, making it greener and above all more accessible would have seen Disabled people reduce our carbon footprints. An investment in insulating homes would have provided the much-needed warmth and energy saving measures the community is crying out for in an era of extreme fuel poverty. 

DR UK and NPC will continue to make the case for inclusive climate change solutions, with Disabled people and other marginalised groups at the table. We will push for making electric car charging points accessible, making emergency planning inclusive, ensuring housing becomes more accessible and energy efficient and that new forms of public transport meet the needs of Disabled passengers.