Environmental Justice

Environmental justice means that environmental benefits and burdens have to be shared fairly. Environmental injustice occurs when those with political or economic power exploit the planet’s resources to the detriment of poorer communities or the average citizen. Alongside our work on environmental democracy and the enforcement of existing environmental legislation, the EEB works at both the grassroots and the policymaking level to address environmental injustice.

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Europe has historically been and remains responsible for a disproportionately high share of global environmental destruction and resource consumption. The amount of extraction needed to meet Europe’s high resource demand has a heavy toll on the environment and humans alike, with greater severity in the Global South. Europeans use vast amounts of land and water resources from other continents, contributing to soil degradation through the use of pesticides, and causing ever-increasing emissions through long transportation routes. Environmental injustices, therefore, take place at both local and global scales.

As a response to the rise in global temperatures, the EU is determined to reach a climate-neutral economy by 2050. Yet, the low-carbon technologies needed to achieve an energy transition come with a hidden cost. Around the world, raw material extraction has serious social and environmental impacts such as displacement, internal and external conflict – including threats and killings of land defenders and social leaders – eroded livelihoods, contaminated air, soil and water, lack of access to arable land and fresh water, and severe health impacts. This is the reason why tackling Europe’s current excessive ecological footprint is paramount. Breaking free from the dependency of fossil fuels is vital — but the energy transition must truly have environmental and human rights at its core. We can’t simply replace a system that causes injustices with another that keeps causing harm.

To reach the goals set out by the Green Deal, the EU needs to play a leadership role in the global and inter-regional debates on the environment, sustainability, and human rights. While Europe has been at the forefront of creating environmental problems, it has also been at the forefront of finding solutions, even if it falls a long way short of genuine sustainability.

By joining forces with academics and activists in the field, in writing aspirational policy recommendations and networking with knowledgeable policy innovators inside and outside the EU, we aim to look beyond the current policy agenda and determine the contours of a paradigm shift.

In general, we promote the idea of achieving a fair share of resource- and energy use both to tackle the climate and environmental problems facing the world and address social inequalities. We push decision-makers in institutions such as the EU and the UN to close the gap between over- and under-consumption. For this to be achieved in Europe, we need to decrease our material footprint by 80% by 2050.

The EEB believes that we need to move well away from business-as-usual and agree on an EU strategy that will bring about deep-seated changes in our economic and financial systems. This should include a new trading system that rejects deals such as the EU-Mercosur agreement between the EU and the South American Mercosur countries, which prioritise business interests over those of the population as a whole. Instead, it should reflect the climate and environmental challenges the world is facing, help to create local jobs, and offer an intelligent and rational answer to citizens.

While resistance is growing, space for civil society to address environmental injustice has been shrinking in the last years: human rights defenders and environmental justice activists opposing negative impacts on their right to land and natural resources are increasingly threatened and even killed. Growing restrictions for environmental movements are another reason for the EEB to promote environmental democracy in Europe and abroad.


3646 cases

reported to the Environmental Justice Atlas

227 activists

environmental activists killed in 2020 according to Global Witness

Library for Environmental Justice