All measures to reduce environmental health impacts, including regulatory measures, have potential redistributive effects.
To address environment and health concerns it is important to acknowledge the social and economic factors that act as major driving forces. Poverty is one of the main driving forces for unhealthy environmental conditions and a major determinant of health. The most severe environmental health problems affect countries and people who lack access to economic and other resources, and people who are affected by warfare or disasters. Those living in absolute poverty include a high proportion of children, women, refugees and other displaced persons. The environmental conditions of countries or regions where poverty is high, or which are suffering from the aftermath of war or civil unrest, require special attention. As long as poverty and economic inequity persist, the living conditions and environment and health status of millions of people will not improve.
Economic instruments such as an urban toll raise the price of driving and reduce traffic. They also produce fiscal revenue (mainly from the rich) that can be returned to the poor through fiscal reductions, more public transport, and social benefits.
Compensation targeted at low-income households is an efficient means of redistributing and rebalancing the cost effects of using economic instruments to address environmental problems. Examples include paying social benefits or lowering taxes with regressive effects (such as value-added tax on essential goods or social charges on low salaries). The revenue for such compensation can be provided through environmental taxation or the reduction of inappropriate subsidies. In turn, the burden of the impact on environmental health will be lowered, also freeing up fiscal revenues for social programmes.
The poor need to be empowered with the knowledge and minimal resources necessary to ameliorate their own situation in ways that are also environmentally sound and sustainable. The benefits of environmental science and management should not be reserved only for the well-to-do and educated, but should also be translated into forms accessible to all the world's population.
To reduce air pollution in cities, the regulatory measure of limiting access to urban centres to low-emission vehicles in fact excludes the poor who cannot buy up-to-date vehicles.