Green or just? Social impacts of environmental policies

Cities are at the centre of hopes for solutions to severe environmental problems. They are seen as places with high innovation potential as the sites where climate protection policies, energy efficiency strategies, sustainable mobility concepts and the like are developed and implemented. Recently, concerns about the social impacts of environmental policies have been increasingly addressed by the academic debate. A technology driven smart growth perspective is characterized as part of a post-political, post-democratic mode of governance where decisions are left to an elite of professionals and political leaders fostering green growth while neglecting matters of inequalities, justice, democratic procedures and participation.

To give examples: The political promotion of electric vehicles focuses on replacing the combustion engine vehicles by a carbon-neutral alternative but does not address the issues of urban land taken up by private cars, safety, accessibility and, not least, affordability. Transitions to sustainable energy production or more energy efficient homes are believed to stabilize or even reduce the energy bills of households. While the costs are often distributed widely, e.g. through taxation, the question is who benefits from such measures? What if energetic retrofit schemes enforce upgrading and displacement and the energy fit homes are no longer affordable to those who would need most to reduce energy costs? Who develops the visions of smart or green cities and who is represented in them? Who is the audience of smart or green city innovations? And: How to make sure that urban regeneration by nature-based solutions as promoted EU-wide does not push forward the construction of green/smart housing leading to new “green inequalities” and ecological gentrification?

Katrin Grossmann, University of Applied Sciences Erfurt

Annegret Haase, Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research – UFZ Leipzig