Environmental Justice

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Socio-spatial environmental policy in the City of Berlin

The quality of life and the environment in the neighbourhoods of the capital city are very different. Health-related environmental impacts such as traffic noise, air pollutants, insufficient availability of green spaces and bioclimatic impacts are concentrated in many parts of Berlin – particularly in the high-density inner-city area. At the same time, many areas have a large number of social problems and are disproportionately affected by multiple burdens. These topics are discussed in Germany under the term “environmental justice” and, against the background of climate change, they are also becoming increasingly important.

Environmental protection and social justice are closely linked and, above all, affect the metropolitan areas. In Germany, people with low income and low education level are often exposed to higher health impacts due to environmental problems than people who are better off socially. They often live on highly trafficked roads and are particularly frequently affected by noise and air pollution. This is shown, for example, by the evaluations of the representative environmental surveys of the German Environment Agency (Umweltbundesamt – UBA). The uneven distribution of environmental pollution and resources and the health consequences are the focus of the new range of topics under environmental justice, which is aimed at preventing and removing the socio-spatial concentration of health-related environmental impacts and on ensuring socio-spatially just access to environmental resources. In this way, the goal of environmental justice is to avoid and to remove environmentally-related health impairments and to establish the best possible environmentally related health opportunities.

Health-compatible environmental conditions are a requirement for the life of future generations; nonetheless, corresponding consideration of environmental quality in spatial and planning contexts is marginal. Urban space and neighbourhood-based studies looking into the fair distribution of environmental pollution in the interests of a sound, inter-agency environmental justice approach based on social and environmental statistics are not yet available throughout Germany. In view of its large growth in population, the City of Berlin faces immense challenges. The urban development policy must be realigned and intermeshed with Berlin’s environmental and climate protection policy. Social and ecological aspects must be balanced far more than has been the case to date. The quality of life in the neighbourhoods is very different, because environmental pollution and noise impacts are unevenly distributed in many parts of the capital.

As the first metropolitan area in Germany to do so, the City of Berlin has drawn up the Berlin Environmental Justice Concept, in order to strengthen administrative action based on social space in some parts of the capital and to provide the fundamentals for reframing the environmental policy. The focus is on working up a socio-spatial orientated environmental pollution analysis as the basis for integrated strategies and measures at the interface between urban development, urban planning, the environment and health.

This is the basis for integrated in order to push forward ecological redevelopment and to create healthy living and housing conditions for all. Berlin’s health-orientated environmental justice approach thus becomes a facet of social justice, in order to make disadvantaged areas in the capital city-friendly .

The concept of Environmental justice in the City of Berlin

As a guiding principle, environmental justice is aimed at preventing and removing the concentration of health-related environmental pollution in social spaces and at ensuring socio-spatially fair access to environmental resources.

The topic “environmental justice in the City of Berlin” lies on the interface of urban development, environment, health and social policy and concerns itself with the type, extent and consequences of unequal spatial distribution of environmental pollution and resources and the reasons for them. It is based on localised environmental pollution analysis (Berlin environmental justice map), which links the significant analyses and results of the environmental justice studies and merges them on one level.

The illustrated actual analysis of ‘Berlin today’ provides a general overview of the environmental quality in the capital’s neighbourhoods. The scientific analyses are based on the 447 planning spaces in the capital city Berlin defined on the basis of the living environment (“lebensweltlich orientierten Planungsräume – LOR) and which are binding for the work of the planning departments. The work began by examining the unequal distribution of environmental pollution with regard to noise, air pollution, bioclimatic burden, provision of green spaces, urban structure, land use and several clinical syndromes and intersecting it with social and other health statistics statements.

In the further implementation, practical instruments and legal construction and environmental procedures are to be developed at ministerial and district level, in order to align the environmental policy in the capital locally and in a way that focuses on residents.

The Berlin environmental justice method

The Berlin environmental justice concept (“Berliner Umweltgerechtigkeitskonzeption” – IBUk) is an orientation framework for a concept for action, which takes into account environmental, health and social aspects in order to establish greater environmental justice in the capital’s neighbourhoods. This is based on the 1st basic report on environmental justice (“Basic report on environmental justice – fundamentals for the socio-spatial environmental policy”). The analyses provide local statements on the living and environmental quality in the capital city’s neighbourhoods and enable a transparent and easily understood general overview of health-related environmental pollution in the capital’s neighbourhoods.

The Berlin environmental justice monitoring

As the first city in Germany, Berlin developed the fundamentals for inter-agency environmental justice monitoring, with core and supplementary indicators, in order to identify the capital’s neighbourhoods with multiple impacts.

Core indicators

  • Noise exposure: Noise is considered to be one of the most important forms of environmental pollution with significant effects on human health as well as on living and environmental quality.
  • Air pollutants: Air is contaminated by harmful pollutants produced by traffic, industry, power plants and private households. Air pollutants result, for example, in diseases of the respiratory tracts and cardio-vascular system.
  • Bioclimatic burden: Large cities are urban heat islands. The thermal burden (bioclimate) is the sum of all climate factors that affect humans and other organisms and influence their health and well-being. In particular heat, cold, humidity and wind conditions.
  • Provision of green and open spaces: Green and open spaces have an important function for inner-city quality of life. Movement, stress reduction and recreation are central motives for use of parks and green spaces. At the same time, these areas have important compensatory functions, particularly with a view to health-impacting environmental conditions.
  • Social problems: In Berlin the spatial distribution of socially disadvantaged residents is highly constant. The social problems are represented by the status index (which monitors social urban development). The monitoring provides local statements on changes in the socio-structural and socio-spatial development in the different areas of the city and shows the highest problem densities.
Complementary indicators
  • Data and evaluations of various aspects of health, urban structure and social issues provide more in-depth knowledge of the specific situation in the capital’s neighbourhoods, for example: Complementary Indicator 1: Socio-spatial Distribution of the Building Structure.