Climate Justice: The Role of the Built Environment

Climate Justice: The Role of the Built Environment

Questions of justice are embedded in every aspect of climate change. Ongoing and future anthropogenic climate change will exacerbate inequities worldwide.

Guest editors: Anna Mavrogianni and Sonja Klinsky

Climate change will function as a ‘risk modifier’ in the built environment, exacerbating inequalities and inequities associated with indoor environmental exposures, such as excess indoor temperatures, indoor air pollution, contaminated water, allergens and mould. This special issue provides a range of approaches for understanding the manifestations of climate injustrice in the building environment. It identifies specific processes, decisions and actions that can be taken to reduce these injustices.


This special issue explores the concept and relevance of climate justice in relation to the built environment. How do responsibilities and decisions intersect with human wellbeing in a changing climate? Specific processes, decisions and actions are identified to reduce these injustices and to reduce current gaps both in knowledge and practices. Several perspectives are examined for integrating concerns about climate justice into research and decision-making about the built environment. Four underlying questions are addressed:

  • What is climate justice and why is it a significant issue?
  • Why is the built environment important in addressing climate injustice, and why is climate justice essential for the built environment community to consider?
  • What processes can be used to reduce inequities and injustices in the built environment?
  • What roles might the academic community, governmental entities, and practitioners in construction, design and real estate, have in facilitating deeper integration of climate justice?  

The papers in this special issue show a process of change is needed to:

  • Reframe, reposition and extend current built environment research to engage with wider issues of justice,
  • Build the evidence base for the identification and mitigation of inequities in climate risk exposures, vulnerabilities, and effective and equitable adaptation pathways and
  • Define responsibilities for different actors and appropriate forms of governance.

 

Table of contents

Climate justice and the built environment [editorial]
S. Klinsky and A. Mavrogianni

Climate justice: air quality and transitions from solid fuel heating
M. Baborska-Narozny, M. Szulgowska, M.Mokrecka, A. Chmielewska, N. Fidorow-Kaprawy, E. Stefanowicz, K. Piechurski & M. Laska

Retrofit poverty: socioeconomic spatial disparities in retrofit subsidies uptake
N. Willand, T. Moore, R. Horne & S.Robertson

Mitigation and adaptation in multifamily housing: overheating and climate justice
C. Schünemann, A. Olfert, D. Schiela, K. Gruhler, & R. Ortlepp

Thermally resilient communities: creating a socio-technical collaborative response to extreme temperatures
Z. Hamstead, P. Coseo, S. AlKhaled, E.F. Boamah, D.M. Hondula, A. Middel, & N. Rajkovich

Just community transitions? social inequity, vulnerability, and unintended consequences
S. Axon & J. Morrissey

Planetary health justice: feminist approaches to building in rural Kenya
M. Patrick, G. Grewal, W. Chelagat & G. Shannon

Urban modelling framework for climate resilient decisions in low-resource neighbourhoods
U. Passe, M. C. Dorneich, C. Krejci, D. Malekpour, B. Marmur, L. Shenk, J. Stonewall, J. Thompson & Y. Zhou

Beyond theory: climate justice in practice [commentary]
E.D. Mondainé and M. Lee


Abstracts

Climate justice and the built environment [editorial]

S Klinsky & A Mavrogianni

Climate justice is explained and explored in relation to how decisions about the built environment in the climate context intersect with human wellbeing. Key features in the built environment are identified that impact upon climate injustice. Specific processes, decisions and actions are identified to reduce these injustices and to reduce current gaps both in knowledge and practices. A conceptual and practical context is provided for integrating concerns about climate justice into research and decision-making about the built environment by addressing four underlying questions: 1. What is climate justice and why is it a significant issue? 2. Why is the built environment important in addressing climate injustice, and why is climate justice essential for the built environment community to consider? 3. What processes can be used to reduce inequities and injustices in the built environment? 4. What roles might the academic community, governmental entities, and practitioners in construction, design and real estate, have in facilitating deeper integration of climate justice? A capabilities approach is proposed to systematically uncover and address underlying patterns of injustice. A multi-valent approach involving distributive, procedural and recognition justice can be harnessed to constitute a justice framework. A process of change is needed to: (i) reframe, reposition and extend current built environment research to engage with wider issues of justice, (ii) build and make accessible the evidence base for the identification and mitigation of inequities in climate risk exposures, vulnerabilities, and effective and equitable adaptation pathways and (iii) define responsibilities for different actors.

Climate justice: air quality and transitions from solid-fuel heating

M Baborska-Narozny, M Szulgowska-Zgrzywa, M Mokrzecka, A Chmielewska, N Fidorow-Kaprawy, E Stefanowicz, K Piechurski & M Laska

Of all the European Union’s member states, Poland has the most acute ambient air pollution problem. An urgent transition from solid-fuel heating (e.g. coal and wood) in the housing sector is required to improve air quality in the country. National regulations still allow the sale of solid fuels for heating, but some municipalities impose local resolutions with binding deadlines for solid-fuel bans. A real-world study covering 422 apartments in heritage tenements in Wrocław is presented. A link between domestic solid-fuel usage and tenure type is identified: solid fuels prevail in social housing. The transition to other forms of heating will adversely affect the inhabitants already vulnerable to fuel poverty. Solid fuel proves to be the least preferred heating option and is linked to substandard living conditions. Fuel poverty vulnerability for low-income households is established based on cost analysis for different heating options, thermal retrofit strategies, internal temperatures and apartment sizes. The results indicate that climate injustice is likely to occur for the poorest inhabitants due to their inability to afford increased costs. Policy implications to address this injustice are needed to ensure the transition from solid-fuel heating will avoid new vulnerabilities.

Policy relevance: Domestic solid-fuel combustion for heating purposes is linked to poor air quality in urban areas in Poland. Heritage tenements are the most technically deprived building stock and their inhabitants are already vulnerable to fuel poverty. To improve air quality and respond to climate change, solid fuels need to be substituted with less polluting but more expensive heating options. Potential climate injustice (harm) is likely to occur if the poorest inhabitants cannot afford to heat their homes due to a ban on solid fuels. The change of heating needs to be combined with additional support (thermal retrofit and appropriate pricing of alternative fuels). Air quality-driven polices focused on solid-fuel eradication should not ignore fuel poverty already experienced mainly by social housing residents using expensive electric heating on a standard tariff. Fuel poverty has a gender aspect related to the gender pay gap that needs addressing.

Retrofit poverty: socioeconomic spatial disparities in retrofit subsidies uptake

N Willand, T Moore, R Horne & S Robertson

Framed in the concept of distributional justice, retrofit poverty may be understood as the inequality of opportunity to improve the energy performance of the home. Retrofitting existing homes may have substantial carbon-mitigation and cost-saving potential. Retrofit subsidies may increase energy improvement activities, raise awareness and lever market offers. However, there is concern about inequitable outcomes. This quantitative study used publicly available data sets to explore the socioeconomic and spatial distribution of the outputs of a market-based, white certificate programme for residential energy-efficiency improvements in the state of Victoria, Australia, between 2009 and 2017. Certificates signified avoided carbon emissions as a proxy for energy cost savings. Regression analyses combined data of certificate generation with socioeconomic indices, dwelling numbers and tenure characteristics at the postcode level. Areas with lower economic resources and higher shares of rented dwellings were statistically significantly associated with lower certificate generation intensity. As low-income households and renters feature highly in metrics of energy stress, the uneven distribution of benefits suggests that a utilitarian distributive subsidy approach may be regressive and (re)produce energy inequalities. A better understanding of the contexts, compositions and mechanisms that characterise retrofits is needed to develop socially equalising and effective policy tools.

Policy relevance: This paper addresses the distributive justice implications of residential energy-efficiency subsidies in Victoria, Australia. The relationships between white certificate generation intensities and variables that have been associated with energy hardship revealed inequities in the distribution of benefits. Lower outcomes in subsidy benefits in areas with low economic resources and high percentages of rented properties suggest that non-targeted financial incentives may be regressive and (re)produce energy inequalities. However, the data also suggest that the subsidy programme may have triggered a social normalisation of residential retrofit activities. Revealing retrofit scheme participation as a multidimensional issue with monetary, social and structural indicators, the study highlights that policies addressing the social impacts of low-carbon transitions must look to retrofit opportunity (dis)advantage. A restorative justice approach points to tailored retrofit-enabling schemes targeted at enhancing capabilities of vulnerable households, which may include targets for financially disadvantaged groups and setting minimum rental housing standards.

Mitigation and adaptation in multifamily housing: overheating and climate justice

C Schünemann, A Olfert, D Schiela, K Gruhler & R Ortlepp

Can thermal retrofit measures also enhance summer heat resilience and climate justice? Two common building types of multifamily dwellings in Central Europe are investigated: the ‘Gründerzeithaus’ and post-war large-panel construction along with their different inhabitant demographics. Thermal simulations and demographic surveys were undertaken for dwellings in both building types to evaluate the effectiveness of retrofit measures in reducing winter heat demand and to understand the impacts on summer overheating. Results indicate that standard retrofitting measures can reduce the overheating risks. The high summer temperatures on the top floor can be significantly lowered to values comparable with the ground floor. The remaining overheating in highly exposed rooms is reduced by additional selective adaptation measures. Adaptation requires more than technical interventions. Demographic surveys conducted for both building types show that different social groups are affected. The economics of retrofit requires policy clarity to avoid placing additional burdens on economically disadvantaged people. Inhabitants’ active involvement in night-time ventilation are vital for avoiding overheating. Appropriate affordances and a clear guidance for manual window opening/closing can reduce overheating. However, inhabitants who are unable to act (e.g. the elderly, immobile or those with chronic diseases) will be increasingly vulnerable and disadvantaged by increased exposure to overheating.

Practice relevance: The existing approaches for reducing heating demand and their impacts on overheating are examined for two common building types in Central Europe: the Gründerzeithaus and post-war large-panel multifamily housing. The evidence of physical effects and social interdependencies provides a basis both for decision-makers to select suitable measures, and for inhabitants to apply appropriate behavioural practices. Thermal retrofitting strategies for reducing winter heating demand can lead to enhanced resilience to hot summer weather, but also entail inhabitants’ active involvement. Additional technical measures are needed to ensure reduced levels of overheating. Inhabitants’ practices have a significant influence on resilience and the reduction of overheating. Therefore, technical interventions must be accompanied by clear strategies to empower inhabitants to control internal temperatures using natural ventilation. Elderly or ill inhabitants may not be able to perform these practices and, therefore, remain vulnerable. Increased rents caused by retrofits may displace socially disadvantaged inhabitants.

Thermally resilient communities: creating a socio-technical collaborative response to extreme temperatures

Z Hamstead, P Coseo,S AlKhaled, E Frimpong Boamah, D M Hondula, A Middel & N Rajkovich

Extreme temperatures claim more lives than any other weather-related event, posing escalating socio-technical and governance challenges that few urban communities have addressed in a systematic, coordinated and comprehensive way. Scholars have only recently begun to investigate the granular scales at which distributions of thermal risk are produced, people’s individual subjective thermal experiences and environmental justice dimensions of the hazard. Advances in research pave the way for concomitant improvements in management and policies, but bridges are needed to connect the thermal vulnerability knowledge base with place-based protective practices that are climatically, politically and culturally appropriate. The research presented in this paper uses actor–network theory (ANT) to describe the planning phase framework of a socio-technical collaborative for managing thermal extremes. The Thermally Resilient Communities Collaborative (TRCC) is a framework for planning and test-bed design phases of a thermal management system. Drawing lessons from two case studies, the framework examines how socio-cognitive spaces for collaboration change with technical and policy disruptions, and provides a way to design experiments that test how technical and governance interventions can enable collective action around urban thermal management.

Practice relevance: Thermal extremes claim more lives than all other weather events and pose an escalating socio-technical challenge. Often the problem is exacerbated by lack of clarity about organizational responsibilities and coordination between local governmental departments or agencies. The TRCC framework can be used to understand current practices, identify data gaps and create opportunities to engage in cross-sectoral management. This approach engages actors in identifying built environments and societal practices that create hazardous indoor and outdoor thermal conditions, develops effective ways to convey microclimate information and peoples’ subjective thermal experiences to responders and prevention planners, and elevates experiences of marginalized communities. The TRCC describes how governance networks are harnessed to solve collective action problems by integrating new data, technology, and governance capacities. Two case studies indicate how this process was used to create capacities to protect vulnerable people from the impacts of extreme temperatures in two US cities: Tempe, Arizona, and Buffalo, New York.

Just energy transitions? social inequities, vulnerabilities, and unintended consequences

S Axon & J Morrissey

The transitions literature has framed energy transitions as a process involving material and social consequences. Such radical changes can also be viewed as constituting discursive dimensions, involving debate, idea exchange and value positioning. The implementation of a biomass energy system in residential buildings in a socio-economically deprived community near Liverpool, UK is investigated for its acceptance by, and impacts on, the community.A mixed-methods approach involving questionnaire, focus group, and interview data reveal how practical, on-the-ground energy transitions are understood at the community level. Given the changes to how residents pay for their energy in the study community, from prepayment meters to pay-as-you-use methods, considerations of ‘efficiency’ are debated and framed on the cost of energy rather than from an environmental performance perspective. Although the intention of low-carbon energy transitions in low-income communities is to deliver economic and environmental benefits, many unintended social consequences arose from top-down decision-making choices and implementation mechanisms. These processes exacerbate economic inequalities and inequities. Justice implications arising from this study have clear repercussions for future implementation of similar, and additional, sustainability interventions that attempt to address climate change in the built environment.

Practice relevance: The successful implementation of a decentralised energy system requires more than a technological approach. This case study emphasises the need for extensive community engagement when undertaking local energy transitions. In particular, attention needs to be given to how vulnerable people are affected by pricing and given clear information on how to use the new system. Policy recommendations include: the choice of energy technologies should not disrupt vulnerable residents’ daily routines and ability to pay; the provision of substantial pre-, during, and post-installation community engagement is needed to improve familiarity with new energy systems; and adequate opportunities for listening and responding to residents’ concerns prior, during, and after the installation of low-carbon energy systems.

Planetary health justice: feminist approaches to building in rural Kenya

M Patrick, G Grewal, W Chelagat & G Shannon

The planetary health concept describes the relations between health and climate. The inequities that connect these two domains are experienced most by low-resource and vulnerable populations, e.g. the impact of drought on subsistence livelihoods and associated mental health issues. Climate justice and health justice are framed through capabilities and integrated with ecofeminist approaches. Spatial justice is introduced as the ability to conceptualise how these interconnected injustices are mediated through environments. The integration of these theories can provide a justice-based planetary health approach that could overcome several barriers. Design and spatial practice offer processes and tools to understand the complexity of planetary health across scales, systems and relations; and to generate design solutions that promote equity and justice. Practical examples of Global South design projects are presented that connect health and climate. The example of a maternal health project in rural Kenya shows how a conceptual design framework for a justice-based planetary health can contribute to the planetary health.

Practice relevance: Global challenges of inequity are increasingly understood as complex and interconnected. The planetary health movement conceptualises a holistic view of the world incorporating an ecofeminist perspective. Addressing these challenges requires the ability to conceptualise interconnected injustices in climate and health and practical approaches, where participatory design processes can be useful. A conceptual framework can be used to design integrated solutions to planetary health injustices, relevant for built environment and development practitioners. The processes, tools and components of practice from the Global South are explored, which can be used to promote equity within the built environment.

Urban modelling framework for climate resilient decisions in low-resource neighbourhoods

U. Passe, M. C. Dorneich, C. Krejci, D. Malekpour, B. Marmur, L. Shenk, J. Stonewall, J. Thompson & Y. Zhou

Climate predictions indicate a strong likelihood of more frequent, intense heat events. Resource-vulnerable, low-income neighbourhood populations are likely to be strongly impacted by future climate change, especially with respect to an energy burden. In order to identify existing and new vulnerabilities to climate change, local authorities need to understand the dynamics of extreme heat events at the neighbourhood level, particularly to identify those people who are adversely affected. A new comprehensive framework is presented that integrates human and biophysical data: occupancy/behaviour, building energy use, future climate scenarios and near-building microclimate projections. The framework is used to create an urban energy model for a low-resource neighbourhood in Des Moines, Iowa, US. Data were integrated into urban modelling interface (umi) software simulations, based on detailed surveys of residents’ practices, their buildings and near-building microclimates (tree canopy effects, etc.). The simulations predict annual and seasonal building energy use in response to different climate scenarios. Preliminary results, based on 50 simulation runs with different variable combinations, indicate the importance of using locally derived building occupant schedules and point toward increased summer cooling demand and increased vulnerability for parts of the population.

Practice relevance: To support planning responses to increased heat, local authorities need to ascertain which neighbourhoods will be negatively impacted in order to develop appropriate strategies. Localised data can provide good insights into the impacts of human decisions and climate variability in low-resource, vulnerable urban neighbourhoods. A new detailed modelling framework synthesises data on occupant–building interactions with present and future urban climate characteristics. This identifies the areas most vulnerable to extreme heat using future climate projections and community demographics. Cities can use this framework to support decisions and climate-adaptation responses, especially for low-resource neighbourhoods. Fine-grained and locally collected data influence the outcome of combined urban energy simulations that integrate human–building interactions and occupancy schedules as well as microclimate characteristics influenced by nearby vegetation.

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