Environmental Justice Berlin 2021/2022


Content-based approach

The Berlin approach to assessing environmental justice mainly relies on the analysis and aggregation of available data. It is designed as a two-stage process with five core indicators:

  • Noise burden
  • Air pollution
  • Thermal burden
  • Green space supply
  • Social disadvantage
and 3 multiple burden maps combining the individual assessments:
  • Multiple Burden Map – Environment
  • Multiple Burden Map – Environment and Social Disadvantage – and
  • Berlin Environmental Justice Map.

“Three particular challenges may be identified in the process of merging these data sources: the sectoral data differs in their survey methodology, in their spatial depth and in their periodicity. For the Environmental Atlas, urban development policy planning areas were chosen as the smallest unit of analysis from the system of living environment areas (LEA). The sectoral data was then converted accordingly. The heterogeneous data situation with regard to the survey methodology and spatial depth could thus be mitigated for the purposes of this analysis” (translated from SenUMVK 2022, p. 6).

In the first step of the analysis, the data on the three core indicators “air pollution”, “noise burden” and “thermal burden” was analysed and consistently assigned to the characteristics “high”, “medium” or “low” on an ordinal scale, according to the health risk. The other core indicators “green space supply” and “social disadvantage” were classified similarly in three levels, without a health-related weighting, however.

In a second step, the individual core indicator maps focusing on one theme each were merged to illustrate the distribution or overlap of the environmental burdens (“Integrated Multiple Burden Map – Environment”) as well as the environmental burdens including social vulnerability (“Integrated Multiple Burden Map – Environment and Social Disadvantage”). At planning area level, the two maps present a range starting from PLA without any core indicator exhibiting a high burden up to PLA with four- to fivefold burdens (cf. Fig. 2).

Fig. 2: Merging the core indicators to form the two multiple burden maps and the Berlin Environmental Justice Map (according to SenUMVK 2022)

  • p=. The Integrated Multiple Burden Map – Environment is superimposed on the four environmental indicators air pollution, noise burden, green space supply and thermal burden. It therefore reveals neighbourhoods experiencing particularly high environmental burdens.

  • p=. ▼

  • p=. The Integrated Multiple Burden Map – Environment and Social Disadvantage adds the social status of the people living in the planning areas to the map.

  • p=. ▼

  • p=. The Berlin Environmental Justice Map completes the map with information on the local population density and the status of the residential area.

The multiple burden factor was thus determined for each planning area by aggregating those core indicators that were assigned to category 3 (“low”/ “poor”/ “high”). The number and distribution of areas with multiple burdens as well as the burdens causing them are therefore straightforward and transparent.

The determination of the status based on the two-stage Berlin environmental justice monitoring system hence provides an overview of the environmental quality in the 542 planning areas of the city. In the future, this will also include comparisons to the analyses of previous years.

Core indicator noise burden

Noise refers to sound events which are perceived as disturbing and/ or detrimental to well-being and health due to their individual characteristics. Especially in urban areas, noise is a key factor affecting health. Depending on the extent, period and length of exposure, noise immission may cause direct or indirect health effects.

Tab. 1: Key noise effects (FOEN 2009)

  • Physiological impact

    Hearing loss
    Vegetative dysfunction
    Cardiovascular problems
    Cardiovascular symptoms
    Increased blood pressure
    Reduced depth of sleep

  • Psychological impact

    Stress, nervousness
    Disrupted communication
    Impaired performance
    Psychosomatic symptoms

  • Social noise impact

    Impaired communication
    Judgment of other people
    Reduced willingness to help
    Social segregation

  • Economic noise impact

    Rent and property prices
    Noise protection cost
    Health cost
    Production loss
    Spatial planning cost

The strategic noise maps for the metropolitan area of Berlin of the year 2017, compiled in accordance with the requirements of the 34th Federal Immission Protection Ordinance (BlmSchV), as well as European legal requirements formed the data basis for the information on noise pollution in the planning areas. According to Article 47c of the Federal Immission Protection Act (BImSchG), noise maps must be reviewed every five years and updated if necessary. All noise maps of the survey year 2017 are published on the Geoportal of the State of Berlin (search by keyword “strategic noise map”).

The overall noise map “Strategic Noise Map: Facade Level Total Noise L_N (Noise Index Night) 2017 (Environmental Atlas) was used to assess noise pollution in the context of the environmental justice approach. It presents the investigated traffic noise sources as totals (level addition) at night (from 22:00 to 06:00), going beyond the requirements of the Environmental Noise Directive. “For this purpose, the noise levels measured at each facade point at night and the corresponding population counts were referred to and summed up for the respective planning areas. With the help of the total population figure of a planning area, a (person-)weighted mean of the noise levels could thus be generated for each planning area.” (translated from SenUMVK 2022).

In order to assign the determined means for each planning area to the three assessment categories “low/ medium/ high burden”, a subdivision into quartiles was carried out. The ‘best’ 25% of the values were represented by all population- and planning area-related nighttime means of up to 41.8 dB(A), the ‘worst’ 25% exceeded the threshold of 44.5 dB(A) (cf. Fig. 3).

Fig. 3: Assessment categories (in quartiles) for the core indicator noise burden

Fig. 3: Assessment categories (in quartiles) for the core indicator noise burden

Core indicator air pollution

Both particulate matter (PM2.5) and nitrogen dioxide (NO2) are still considered health-relevant substances in the context of air pollution, despite the successful reduction of emissions (cf. Environmental Atlas Map 03.12.1 “Long-term Development of Air Quality”). They were therefore also included in the assessment here.

There was a strong focus on the pollutant NO2 during the analysis phase and the intersection with the planning areas, as NO2 is affected much more by local Berlin sources and as it may also be influenced locally.

“Since NO2 varies much more based on its location, a land use regression analysis was used here. The data of the meanwhile almost fifty NO2 measuring points was statistically interpolated on a regular 100-metre grid, also taking into account the building structure (Floor Space Index and Site Occupancy Index) and the traffic volume. This method reflects the geographical structure of the NO2 field very well” (translated from SenUMVK 2022).

From the NO2 data, area-weighted means were calculated for each planning area, following a similar approach to that of noise burden. These were then assigned to four equally sized quartiles. The decisive thresholds that define the pollution categories “low” and “high” were also set to 25 % and 75 % of the data (cf. Fig. 4).

Fig. 4: Assessment categories (in quartiles) for NO2 for the core indicator air pollution

Fig. 4: Assessment categories (in quartiles) for NO2 for the core indicator air pollution

Core indicator thermal burden

The analysis data of the 2015 Climate Model Berlin, which is available in a 10*10 m² grid, was used as the basis for evaluating “summer heat stress” as an influencing factor. Deviating from the methodology of 2008-2015 pilot project, the situation was assessed both during the day, at the time of the sun’s highest point (2pm) and at night (4am). This split was made with regard to human health, as the following criteria are particularly important in the assessment of the local bioclimatic situation:

  • degree of heat stress during the day,
  • potential for sufficient cooling at night, and
  • existence of recreational areas in close proximity.

“The bioclimatic index PET (Physiological Equivalent Temperature) is used to assess thermal comfort during the day. It is a scientific standard taking into account the most important meteorological factors that affect the body. It is measured in degrees Celsius (°C) and may be assigned to different levels of thermal stress.” (translated from SenUMVK 2022, p. 9).

To assess the situation at night, however, the modelled distribution of air temperature was used for technical reasons (at night, there is no solar radiation, which is an important component required for using PET).

The z-transformation statistical method was used as the main transformation approach to standardise the model data for PET and air temperature. This has the advantage of facilitating the comparison of values, determined by a variety of ‘measuring instruments’ (in this case evaluation parameters), which is adapted to the investigated area (Berlin). There is no absolute comparability, however, between these results and those of other regions, as the former refer to deviations from the local Berlin mean.

The assessment focused on blocks predominantly used for residential purposes. For the daytime assessment, however, blocks containing larger segments used for working (commerce, industry, public use, administration) as well as the public road area were also included (i.e. ‘spatial setting’). The blocks and block segments were selected based on the area types of the Environmental Atlas (Map 06.08 “Urban Structure, Area Types Differentiated, SenStadtWohn 2015).

Both times of assessment, day and night, as well as their spatial settings were transferred to a 4-level ordinal scale comprising the classes “very favourable”, “favourable”, “less favourable” and “unfavourable”.

The day and night assessments were merged based on a logical “if-then” relationship to consolidate any occurring combinations into an overall assessment. This process was carried out at the level of differentiated building blocks.

For the final aggregation to the planning area level, the affected blocks and their categories were added up on an area-averaged basis. They were then transferred to the three impact levels of the environmental justice approach using intervals.

Figure 5 illustrates this process with a diagram.

Fig. 5: “Thermal burden”, day and night, assessment process according to the Berlin environmental justice approach

Core indicator green and open space supply

The current version of the “Analysis for the availability of green space”, which is presented and described in detail in the Environmental Atlas Map 06.05 “Availability of Public, Near-residential Green Spaces 2020, forms the basis for analysis here.

Those analysis results could be integrated directly into the environmental justice approach.

“These block-specific levels of urgency were aggregated to the planning areas, taking into account the respective population size. The result is again a classification into three categories: ranging from “very good / good” and “medium” to “poor / very poor / not supplied”. The available green space and the population size were therefore decisive only; the quality of the green spaces was disregarded.” (translated from SenUMVK 2022)

Core indicator social disadvantage

The analysis was based on the results of the city-wide Social Urban Development Monitoring (MSS) here, which has been used to assess and provide information on the social situation of the population at the level of the planning areas since 1998. This is part of the framework of a continuous “urban monitoring system” that is updated every 2 years.

Both current and previous results of the MSS are available online in the Geoportal (only in German) of the State of Berlin.

The current results of 2021 were used for the environmental justice approach. They cover the observation period between 2019 and 2020.

The following three index indicators form the basis for the representations of status and dynamics (two-year development) and for the calculation of the status and dynamics index:

  • unemployment (according to SGB II (Social Code – Book II)),
  • transfer payments of the non-unemployed (according to SGB II and XII), and
  • child poverty (according to SGB II of under 15-year-olds) (SenSBW 2022).

“The Environmental Justice Atlas is based on the status index: the higher the proportions of unemployment, receipt of transfer payments and child poverty in the planning areas, the lower their status index. The dynamics of these areas are not taken into account. The categories “low” and “very low” were combined to reduce the number of result categories from four to three.
Planning areas with fewer than 300 inhabitants are excluded from the index calculation in order to avoid small-scale distortions (in the Social Urban Development Monitoring of 2021, this affected five planning areas)”. (translated from SenUMVK 2022, p. 10)

Consolidating the core indicators into multiple burden maps and the Berlin Environmental Justice Map

Environmental justice must be considered as a multidimensional topic; it requires an integrated analysis and a consolidated representation of different environmental burdens, but also of environmental resources in their socio-spatial distribution.

As a result of the two-stage environmental justice monitoring, the following (integrated) multiple burden maps were developed (cf. Fig. 2):

  1. “Integrated Multiple Burden Map – Environment”,
    it shows the four multiple burdens related to the environment (core indicators air, noise, thermal burden and green space supply)
  2. “Integrated Multiple Burden Map – Environment and Social Disadvantage”,
    it expands the first map by the fifth core indicator social disadvantage,
  3. “Berlin Environmental Justice Map 2021/ 2022”,
    in addition to the five core indicators, it also illustrates the degree to which the inhabitants are affected (number of inhabitants in the planning areas) and the status of the residential area.

The “Integrated Multiple Burden Map – Environment” is superimposed on and aggregates the four environmental core indicators per planning area. The core indicators, air pollution, noise burden, thermal burden and green space supply, are included in the evaluation as individual burdens if they are assigned to the worst of the three categories with regard to the burdens related to the planning area. This highlights those planning areas in particular that are subject to burdens based on multiple factors. Multiple environmental burdens may not only have an additive, but also a cumulative effect here.

In order to visualise where the burden of environmental factors coupled with social disadvantage is concentrated, the “Multiple Burden Map – Environment” was expanded to include the component of social disadvantage (“low status index”) (“Integrated Multiple Burden Map – Environment and Social Disadvantage”).

The approach taken thus far cannot take into account the individual exposure and vulnerability of the individual, for example physiological factors (such as genetic disposition, metabolism) and individual health behaviour. Therefore, “exposure may lead to differing health effects despite the same intensity. This depends on the vulnerability of the individual, which may modify the ‘exposure effect’”. (BZgA online 2022, only in German).

The “Berlin Environmental Justice Map 2021/ 2022”, which concludes the methodology of the Berlin environmental justice approach, overlays the environmental and social stress factors with the number of affected persons (areas with more than 10,000 inhabitants per square kilometre [km²]) and the identification of planning areas with predominantly simple residential character (more than 66% of the affected addresses). These identifications may also be used to prioritise within the highly burdened areas (threefold burdened and more) according to the urgency of action.

Spatial focus on inhabited areas

Berlin’s environmental justice approach focuses on areas where inhabitants live and spend time. Areas located outside residential areas, such as forests, large parks and recreational facilities, as well as areas used as workplaces, also play a key role in a city-wide context, but are omitted from the environmental justice maps. For this purpose, the map layer “largely uninhabited areas” is superimposed on the map overviews.

Relevance and limitations of the methodological approach:

Just like any other data, environmental data may have different backgrounds. This is particularly the case if the data originates from a variety of topics, especially with regard to the following points:

  • method of collection and analysis of individual data (measuring, modelling, estimating),
  • are there predetermined federal / EU-wide limits or is the data compared in relation to the investigated areas?
  • spatial resolution of the original data and spatial reference of the target statement;
  • the time interval between recurrent updates; and
  • methodological and other technical developments in the course of the update cycles.

These conditions already complicate the comparison of different versions of a single topic. Naturally, they would affect a comparison of different environmental, health and social topics linked by a common approach even more.

On the other hand, the great potential that a multifactorial comparison holds in terms of indications to counteract inequalities caused by environmental burdens and social disadvantage needs to be appreciated. The State of Berlin in its current “level of environmental justice” is the “target area”. A relative comparison of planning areas, based on a categorisation ranging from “good” to “poor”, appears to be a reasonable approach to provide data that may support (spatial) priorities for action strategies in Berlin.

Most likely, the methodology and procedure will need to be ‘gently’ developed further for future updates of the environmental justice approach, always with the goal of providing a transparent description of the methods used, to support the aspects of monitoring and evaluation of mitigating measures (see also SenUMVK 2022, Chapter “Umweltgerechtigkeit: Grenzen der Aussagekraft“ (Environmental justice: limitations of validity), p. 11, only in German).