Environmental Justice

Collage Umweltgerechtigkeit

The environmentally friendly city – Environmental Justice Atlas update 2021/2022

In interdepartmental collaboration and with support from the Office for Statistics, in July 2022, the updated Environmental Justice Atlas came out for Berlin. Because of a few changes in methodology, it has only limited comparability with the original report of 2019, but does show one thing: an agglomeration of potentially harmful environmental burdens particularly affects people of low social status index. What’s more: environmental justice is not just a topic in the dense inner city; peripheral areas are also heavily affected by multiple burdens.

What is environmental justice?

The quality of life and the environment vary widely in different districts of the capital city. In many parts of Berlin – particularly in the dense inner city – concentrations of health-affecting environmental burdens arise, such as traffic noise, air pollutants, insufficient green spaces and bioclimatic burdens. Many areas have both high levels of social problems and an above-average number of environmental burdens. These topics are discussed in Berlin under the umbrella term of environmental justice and are gaining importance, especially against the backdrop of climate change.

Environmental protection and social justice are linked together at the deepest level and above all affect metropolitan areas. People on low incomes and with low educational attainment in Germany are often more exposed to environmental problems than those who are in a better financial situation. They often live on high-traffic roads and are affected by noise and air pollution. Environmental justice follows the goal of avoiding and eliminating environmental health consequences and creating the best possible opportunities for environmental health.

The Berlin Environmental Justice Atlas

In order to identify the districts subject to multiple burdens in the capital, five core indicators were analysed for the interdepartmental environmental justice atlas.

Core indicators

  • Core indicator – noise pollution:
    Noise is one of the most significant environmental burdens and has serious effects on human health, the quality of life and the environment.
  • Core indicator – air pollution:
    The air is polluted by harmful substances produced by transport, industry, power plants and private households. Air pollution can lead to respiratory and cardiovascular disease.
  • Core indicator – bioclimatic burden:
    Big cities are heat islands. The thermal load (bioclimate) is the total of all climate factors affecting humans and other organisms that may influence their health and wellbeing. This includes, in particular, heat, cold, humidity and wind.
  • Core indicator – green and open spaces:
    Green and open spaces have a vital function for quality of life in the inner city. Movement, stress reduction and relaxation are central motivations for the use of parks and green spaces. At the same time, these areas have important compensatory functions, above all with regard to environmental conditions that might be harmful to health.
  • Core indicator – social deprivation:
    In Berlin, there is a high degree of constancy in the spatial distribution of socially disadvantaged inhabitants. Social problems are reflected in the Status Index (monitoring social urban development). This monitoring process delivers granular statements on changes in social structures and the development of social space in the city’s districts, showing where there is the highest density of problems.

Environmental justice in the State of Berlin

As a guideline, environmental justice intends to avoid and dismantle concentrations of health-affecting environmental burdens in the social space and ensuring equal access across society to environmental resources.

The topic of “Environmental justice in the State of Berlin” lies at the interface between urban development, environmental, health and social policy and addresses the type, extent and consequences of the unequal spatial distribution of environmental burdens and resources, while determining their causes. The basis for this is the granular environmental burden analysis linking essential analyses and results of the environmental justice investigations, presenting them at a unified, specialist level. The Berlin Environmental Justice Map allows a general overview of environmental quality in the districts of the capital. The basis for the scientific analyses are the 542 living environment-oriented planning spaces (German acronym: LOR), binding in nature for the work of planning departments, in the capital city of Berlin.

Environmental justice as a basis for administrative action oriented by the social space

To strengthen the social space-oriented administrative action in the districts of the capital and lay the basis for a new direction in environmental policy, in 2019, the State of Berlin became the first metropolitan area to develop an environmental justice concept. In the foreground is an environmental burden analysis oriented by social spaces serving as the basis for integrated strategies and measures at the interfaces of the fields of urban development, the environment and health. This is the basis for integrated strategies to drive forward ecological conversion works and create healthy residential conditions for all. The health-oriented Berlin environmental justice approach this becomes a facet of social justice, increasing the urban sustainability of disadvantaged areas of the capital.

The report on environmental justice is unfortunately only available in German.