Climate change is one of the greatest challenges facing humanity today, and its impacts are already being felt around the world. In Wales, we are already seeing an increase in regional flooding, winds, drought, and temperature fluctuations that have direct effects on transport, agriculture, housing, business, and our lives in general.
We will all be affected by climate change. However, not all communities will be equally impacted. Globally, we can see that the countries that have done the least to contribute towards climate change are likely to suffer the worst impacts. Within countries, this is true, too – in Wales, those who are already marginalised and vulnerable are likely to be hit the hardest.
COVID-19 showed us that a crisis can make things worse for groups who are already struggling(1). Not only are marginalised or vulnerable groups more likely to be exposed to the negative effects of climate change – they have the least resources to respond, cope, and recover.
Picture: Storm surge at Colwyn Bay, Wales, December, 2013. Photo: Ashley Perkins, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
So, which groups in Wales are most likely to be affected by climate change?
Socio-economically deprived communities are more likely to live in areas that are vulnerable to flooding (2) and other extreme weather events, or in areas where air quality is already lower. Low-income households are less likely to have the money to afford insurance against flood damage or to make their homes more resilient (3).
As Sophie Howe, former Future Generations Commissioner for Wales, said: “The poorest and most marginalised populations are least responsible for climate change but are the most likely to be exposed to its negative effects and have the least resources to respond, cope and recover.” (3)
During heatwaves, those who live in urban areas will suffer more – temperatures can be several degrees higher than in rural areas due to the urban heat island effect, where heat is absorbed and trapped by buildings and roads.
Research from the University of Manchester and Friends of the Earth has found that people from racialised minority ethnic communities are four times more likely than white people to live in areas at high risk from heatwaves in the UK (4), with far less access to green space and trees, which can help to reduce temperatures.
Another group that is likely to be negatively impacted by climate change in Wales is disabled people and those will health conditions. This is because they are more likely to experience health problems that can be made worse by extreme weather events, such as heatwaves, storms, and floods (5).
Disabled people are also more likely to be socially isolated and live in areas that are poorly served by public transport. This can make it difficult for them to access essential services and resources during extreme weather events, such as food, water, and medical care.
People living in rural areas will also suffer, due to having lower access to resources and support systems that can help them cope with the impacts of climate change. This includes access to financial resources, emergency services, or other services that may help during difficult times.
Rural areas are also likely to rely a lot on farming for jobs and income: as the climate changes, farmers will face challenges related to crop yields, livestock productivity, and changing weather patterns. The Met Office recently calculated up to a 1o times increase in heat stress on dairy cattle and increased risk of potato blight in Wales by 2060 (6).
With rising sea levels and more frequent extreme weather events, communities living in coastal areas are at risk of flooding, erosion, and other related issues. Gwynedd council has already decided to abandon and relocate one coastal town – Fairbourne – by the 2050s (7).
These are not necessarily the only groups likely to be negative impacted by climate change. All inequalities are likely to be deepened, unless we are able to look ahead to these possible futures now and act to make sure that everyone will have equal access to help and resources.
We also need to take care not to disadvantage these groups further in the way that we try to tackle climate change.
For example, not everybody can afford to install solar panels or buy an electric car – or even to switch to more sustainable behaviours. The report Inequality in a Future Wales (3) looked at the ways in which aiming for Net Zero could cause further inequality if not managed carefully – for example, by requiring high upfront costs on people to retrofit or insulate their homes.
This means that any efforts to reduce carbon emissions, improve sustainability, tackle or adapt to climate change must be community-led and equitable. We believe that communities must be given the tools they need to take an active role in shaping and creating initiatives that work for everybody.
Egin aims to work with those groups who are likely to be the most impacted by climate change – giving them the chance to imagine and create communities that are fair and where everyone’s voice is heard. Change must come the ground up, not only be imposed from above. That’s why we match our groups with Peer Mentors – people who have real-life experience of setting up similar projects in other communities.
By working together and making sure we don’t exclude anyone from the conversation, we can do our best to make sure that our efforts to tackle climate change don’t deepen existing inequalities or leave anyone behind.
We are especially keen to hear from you if you are part of, or working with, one of the groups mentioned above – or if your community is looking to do something to tackle or adapt to climate change, or to live more sustainably and not sure where to get started. Read more about Egin and get in touch with us to see whether we can support you.
by Gwyneth Jones, Communications Manager at Egin
(1) The unequal impact of COVID-19: investigating the effect on people with certain protected characteristics, NHS Confederation: https://www.nhsconfed.org/publications/unequal-impact-covid-19-protected-characteristics
(2) Social deprivation and the likelihood of flooding: Environment Agency – https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/1072781/Social_deprivation_and_the_likelihood_of_flooding_-_report_2.1.pdf
(3) Inequality in a Future Wales: Areas for action in work, climate and demographic change, a report by the Future Generations Commissioner for Wales, Cardiff University and the NHS : https://www.futuregenerations.wales/wp-content/uploads/2021/11/FGCW_Equalities-Report_proof_08.pdf
(4) Who suffers most from heatwaves in the UK? Friends of the Earth: https://policy.friendsoftheearth.uk/insight/who-suffers-most-heatwaves-uk
(5) Disability and the Climate Crisis, CBM UK: https://www.cbmuk.org.uk/policy-practice/climate/
(6) Future climate risk to UK agriculture from compound events. Climate Risk Management: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2212096321000115
(7) The UK ‘climate refugees’ who won’t leave, BBC: https://www.bbc.com/future/article/20220506-the-uk-climate-refugees-who-wont-leave