Environmental justice – Environment, health and social conditions
Health burdens as a consequence of environmental problems are unevenly distributed in Germany. Social and environmental epidemiological studies conducted in Germany in recent years suggest that social status is a determining factor for whether and to what extent children, adolescents and adults are exposed to environmental pollutants. Socio-economic factors like education and income as well as factors such as migration background and social environment affect living conditions, lifestyles, available resources and the associated risks to human health. Most studies find that people with low social status tend to be more exposed to environmental pressures. In particular, they are more likely to be affected by traffic-related health stressors like noise and air pollution, and they have less access to urban green areas, i.e. they have less opportunity for physical activity and recreation. There are some pollutants, however, to which socially advantaged people are more exposed, as shown by data from the Federal Environment Agency’s German Environmental Survey, for example.
Fields of action for research, policy and practice
One main goal pursued by UBA and other actors in the context of “environmental justice” is the development and implementation of action strategies designed to create healthy environmental and living conditions for everyone. Environmental justice as a goal requires cross-departmental, integrated action lines as well as joint action by different policy fields and a wide range of actors. One key field of action is the entire body of planning procedures and instruments used by towns and municipalities to maintain or improve living and environmental conditions. The promotion of environmental justice increases the need for integrated concepts which combine urban, transport and environmental planning while taking the social dimension sufficiently into account. This mainly concerns in particular urban land use planning, clean air planning, noise abatement and noise action planning, transport planning and climate protection, and planning in the area of health promotion and disease prevention. Socio-spatial orientation in the interests of environmental justice is a suitable, cross-departmental approach to integrated planning that focuses on the conditions at micro level and makes joint spatial actions possible. The actors here include not least the local residents, who should be more fully involved in (re)shaping their immediate residential environment. Low-threshold and intergenerational participation procedures as early as the planning phase are successful in reaching residents and winning their support for this process.
Due to the growing social polarisation in Germany, environmental justice will become increasingly important – especially against the backdrop of climate change. In inner city areas where high levels of environmental stress and social problems are often concentrated, the negative health effects of climate change – for example from heat waves – will increase. Environmental policy-makers and their cooperating partners will increasingly focus on reducing relevant pressures in particularly affected residential areas and supporting the creation of healthy and sustainable living environments.