Environmental Justice Berlin 2021/2022


The term environmental justice refers to the type, extent and consequences of an unequal social distribution of environmental burdens and the underlying causes. It has been known for a long time and it is scientifically proven that a person’s social situation is a factor that determines their state of health and influences their life expectancy. The first comprehensive evaluation of Berlin received nationwide attention. Since then, the connection between ‘socio-economic status’ and ‘housing and living environment conditions’, that are detrimental or even hazardous to health, has become much more of a focus in both environmental and health policy, as have their causal relations.

The pressure to act is increasing also for Berlin, due to far-reaching additional challenges. On the one hand, these are the result of the global effects of climate change that are becoming ever more noticeable. On the other hand, their causes also lie locally in challenges such as the requirement for more housing and the increased densification as a result thereof, especially in the inner city. An integrated approach of recording and assessing health-related environmental burdens combined with indicators that describe the social situation of the population is increasingly adopted by many municipalities and federal states. “It has not yet reached the point, however, where one can say that the environmental justice approach has been anchored securely at the federal and state levels” (translated from Difu 2022).

In order to establish a basis required for the further targeted development of action strategies in environmental and health policy, the State of Berlin has now extended the initial evaluation mentioned above with the latest available data. This serves both as a first update and the beginning of a monitoring system that is to be updated continually in the future.

During the updating process, it was necessary to build on established methods, on the one hand, and to take into account innovations in the field and adapt the methodology to current requirements, on the other. While these important measures complicate the comparison with the existing assessments from the years 2008-2015, they do, however, lay the foundation for much more frequent updates planned for the future, for the purposes of continuous monitoring.

The descriptions used here are largely based on the report of the Senate Department for the Environment, Urban Mobility, Consumer Protection and Climate Action (SenUMVK 2022) published as part of the Update 2021/2022, the perusal of which is recommended for a deeper understanding of the topic.

The concept of environmental justice, as Berlin defines it, addresses the following questions:

  • Which topics related to the environment are relevant to health and should be integrated in the context of Berlin’s environmental justice approach?
  • How can information, data and analysis results from the departments of Environment, Health, Urban Development, Urban Planning, and Social Affairs be aggregated to the level of the 542 planning areas (PLA)? How can they be combined to form an informative spatial and planning level?
  • Which planning areas with health-relevant multiple burdens also have a high density of social problems? Which areas with multiple burdens also exhibit at least a ‘predominantly simple residential area’ and/or a high population density?
  • May general statements or recommendations for action be derived for cross-departmental spatial planning and administrative action? May practical instruments be developed on the basis of the small-scale analyses of environmental burdens to complement the Berlin planning system?

The methodology of the Berlin environmental justice approach was developed further and adapted to environmental policy innovations as part of the first update. It shall complement the established urban monitoring systems in the State of Berlin with in-depth information in the future. Further, it shall provide a basis for defining fields of action.

As an instrument updated periodically, it will document the development of environmental justice in Berlin. By using this tool continually, any changes in the distribution of the burdens and their sources may be documented. Additionally, the impact of instruments and measures that have already been put in place may be evaluated.