Strengthening journalists’ understanding of the social context of environment and health inequalities

UNU-EHS/A Orate

Panellists from left to right: Koko Warner (UNFCCC), Matthias Braubach (ECEH), Caroline Petit (moderator, United Nations Regional Information Centre) and Zita Sebesvari (UNU-EHS)

Three United Nations agencies used the occasion of the Deutsche Welle Global Media Forum (GMF) in Bonn, Germany, to engage with journalists on different perspectives of inequalities in society. Their objective was to strengthen journalists’ understanding of the technical themes and challenges being presented, and of how to better investigate and communicate these. They also sought feedback on how the United Nations can better engage the media on these topics.

The annual GMF is the only international media conference that brings together decision-makers and influencers from the worlds of journalism, digital media, politics, business, civil society and academia. Every year, it offers a unique, interdisciplinary approach to tackling one of the defining challenges of our time; this year, the discussions and presentations focused on the theme of global inequalities.

Three United Nations agencies, 3 perspectives on social and environmental inequalities

Matthias Braubach, Technical Officer for Urban and Health Equity at the WHO European Centre for Environment and Health (ECEH), approached the topic of global inequalities from social, environmental and health perspectives. He emphasized that environmental inequalities have direct and indirect impacts on health and well-being.

Koko Warner, Manager of the Impacts, Vulnerabilities and Risks Subprogramme of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), provided insights on how global climate action works to build resilience.

Zita Sebesvari, Senior Scientist leading the Environmental Vulnerability and Ecosystem Services Section of United Nations University Institute for Environment and Human Security (UNU-EHS), shared her experience of working with communities in river deltas where risks and opportunities to respond are unequally distributed.

Health impacts of environmental inequalities

“The vast majority of environmental inequalities and their health impacts are suffered by marginalized and disadvantaged population groups that have the least resources to afford adequate living conditions or to protect themselves,” explained Matthias Braubach. “Environmental health inequalities are very often a symptom of social inequalities and unfair societal structures – these are the root causes to be addressed.”

Inequalities in exposure to environmental risks are evident in all Member States where data are available. For example, when compared with affluent households, low-income households may experience double or even triple the exposure to damp homes and indoor cold in some countries. Less wealthy households have significantly lower access to adequate water supply and sanitation. Low-income groups and those living in deprived areas also more frequently report noise and air pollution problems.

Furthermore, inequalities in environmental risk have a global component, as some countries are more exposed to environmental and climate risk; a local component, as environmental health risks and benefits are most often unequally distributed where they are experienced; and an intergenerational component, whereby future generations will inherit many of our problems.