Environmental inequalities are diverse, encompassing for example unequal exposure to rising sea levels, unequal effects of carbon taxes, unequal contributions to pollution or unequal access to environmental policy-making. The academic literature has explored these various challenges and contributed, along with civil society movements, to the adoption of specific policies in some countries. Looking mainly at the work of leading international think tanks, this brief reviews through this lens the state of current policy debates on the topic, and intends to propose a draft agenda for applied policy research on environmental inequalities, as well as some insights for policymakers.


  • "Environmental inequalities", or more precisely the political challenges behind this concept, are a concern for policymakers. This is largely due to the work of civil society movements and research over the past decades.
  • The policy discussion, as reflected in global think tank publications, tends to focus on energy and climate-related inequalities. One should wonder whether this focus is also a reality for policymakers, with less political attention and actions to fight environmental inequalities related to local pollution, biodiversity loss, etc.
  • Exposure inequalities are extensively discussed by think tanks concerning developing countries, and much less elsewhere. Policy makers in developed countries are not blind to exposure inequalities however: they are concerned by the unequal impacts of air pollution on health for example. But action still has to be undertaken to move beyond mapping and elaborating diagnostics.
  • Policy-effect as well as exposure inequalities are too often treated via short-term solutions (i.e. building dams to face rising sea levels, or cash transfer to counter carbon tax effects), whereas solutions that address the root causes of inequalities are also needed (redefining urban planning, or directing energy efficiency strategies towards specific people or territories).
  • Few countries have so far developed comprehensive strategies that encompass all types of environmental inequalities. They may however be useful to guide and increase action of all policy-making bodies. The development of policy exchange platforms between developing and developed countries on the topic of environmental inequalities, to share and discuss policy options, their limits and their effectiveness, can be an interesting way to go.
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