Climate-Neutral Berlin 2050

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Main actors

City Government, Private Sector, Community / Citizen Group, Public Utility

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Project area

Whole City/Administrative Region

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Ongoing since 2014/01

Berlin’s new energy and climate protection strategy, which will develop the capital into a climate-neutral and climate-adapted city by 2050, is an excellent example of integrated, sustainable urban development.

The heart of the strategy is the “Berlin Energy and Climate Protection Programme (BEK)”, which was agreed upon by the Federal State government in June 2016. Together with the Berlin Energy Transition Act that was enforced in April 2016, different spheres of life in the city will be addressed: energy supply, economy, buildings/urban development, transport, private households/consumption. The strategy has been created with the involvement of policy makers and the authorities to legally enshrine the climate protection objective of the city, i.e. the reduction of carbon dioxide emissions by 85% compared to 1990.

All relevant stakeholders in the city, as well as the citizens, have been involved in a transparent, participative process in the development of strategies and measures that shall lead Berlin to climate neutrality by 2050. With this strategy, Berlin will assume its responsibility as a growing metropolis by making an effective contribution to national and international climate protection and at the same time, act as a “showcase” for effective urban climate protection for other cities and metropolises in Germany and across the world. 

Sustainable Development Goals

Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all
Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable
Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts
Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels

Tehran Golden Adobe Award for Urban Management

This project was awarded the 'Tehran Golden Adobe Award for Urban Management' in 2016.

Berlin, Germany

Size and population development
The population registered for the municipality of Berlin in 2017 was 3,613,500, making it the second most populous city in the European Union. The larger metropolitan area has around 5 million people living in 1,347 square kilometres, giving it a population density of around 15,000 people per square kilometre—similar to Mexico City or Tokyo.

Population composition
It has been estimated that up to 30 percent of Berlin’ s population are of foreign origin. The foreigners originate from other parts of Europe—such as Serbia, Croatia, Poland, Russia, Spain, Bosnian, Bulgarian, and Italian—as well as from countries outside of Europe, such as Turkey, Palestine, Iran, Syria, Egypt and Ghana. The largest non-native population comes from Turkey; in the year of 2010, there were more than 100,000 Turkish registered as inhabitants of Berlin.

Main functions
Berlin is the capital and largest city of Germany, as well as one of the nation’s 16 states. It is situated approximately 112 miles (180 km) south of the Baltic Sea and lies in the wide glacial valley of the Spree River, which runs through the centre of the city. The city extends over an area of 891.7 square kilometres and stands at an average altitude of 34 meters above sea level. After the reunification of the two Berlins in 1990, Germany began a process to centralize the capital to Berlin (replacing Bonn, the former capital of West Germany). Since then, Berlin is the place where the German House of Representatives and the German Bundestag hold elections. However, it wasn’t until 2001 that the Bundestag and the government of Berlin were fully established under the same roof. Berlin is also a city of great cultural significance, which is evident if one considers the amount of historical landmarks that tie the city’s history to its multiple overlapping pasts. Some of the most important landmarks include the Holocaust memorial (inaugurated in 2003), remnants of the Berlin Wall (taken down on the 9th of November 1989), the Reichstag Building (which dates to 1884). As the capital of Germany, Europe’s most populous and economically powerful country, Berlin is also the centre of, culture, politics, media and science in the country and serves as a European hub for air and rail traffic.

Main industries / business
As the 4th largest economy of the world, Germany participates of a wide array of industries with a famous efficiency. In Berlin one may find strong state-owned enterprises, like the Deustche Bahn (the railway), which employs the largest amount of general population (more than 20,000 people). Other companies that thrive in Berlin are: the Deustche Post (DHL), the technology company Siemens, the automotive manufacturer BMW, and the telecommunications company Deutsche Telekom. Hence, one may assume that Berlin specializes in the secondary and tertiary sectors of economy. Tourism brings more than 135 million visitors to the city (which include day-time visitors as well as overnight ones). Apart from other student cities in Germany like Köln and Munich, Berlin houses some of the most well-reputed universities in the world: the Freire Universität Berlin and the Humboldt Universität zu Berlin, with more than 30,000 students each.

Sources for city budget
Berlin draws its budget for public expenditure largely from taxes, transfers received, fees, fines, and operating revenues. This money is federally approved and spent in such a way that it can also be used in the form of funding for companies, not only to comply with the provision of quality public services.

Political structure
Berlin serves both as a city with a local government and as capital of Germany. In regard to the latter, it houses the Bundesregierung (Federal government), the Bundestag (Federal parliament) and the Bundesrat (the States’ chamber of Parliament). Each of the 16 states of Germany has representation in Berlin. It is governed by the Berlin Senate which is comprised of 10 senators and the Governing Mayor. Also, the embassies of other countries from around the world are housed in the city. The 16 states (Laender) have a similar standing to the federal government in respect to most issues.

Administrative structure
Berlin is administrated by the Senate and its 12 districts or boroughs. The Senate is the city’s central administration, in charge of city planning, public policy, and regulation of public and private spheres. The district administrations decentralize some public functions, with reasonable difference between the various localities.

Global climate change is amongst the greatest challenges of the 21st century. Nowadays cities are home to approximately 50% of the world’s population and are responsible for 70% of greenhouse gas emissions. The contribution of large metropolises such as Berlin to the international efforts to combat climate change are therefore highly important. Although Berlin has been able to reduce its carbon dioxide emissions by a third since 1990, the trend in carbon dioxide emissions in Berlin has stagnated once more since the mid-2000s and even experienced a slight increase again. 

The new Berlin energy and climate protection policy pursues an integrated approach and is associated with a range of planned effects. The objective of climate neutrality is key, i.e. the reduction of carbon dioxide emissions by at least 85% by 2050, including interim objectives, therefore at least a 40% reduction by 2020 or at least a 60% reduction by 2030, both in comparison to 1990. Alongside the climate protection objectives, further effects concerning the local economy, as well as quality of life in the city, are expected to arise.

The central instrument of the strategy is the “Berlin Energy and Climate Protection Programme (BEK)” which acts as a “roadmap” to achieve climate neutrality. The BEK was agreed upon by the Federal State government in June 2016 and outlines over 100 measures in the fields of energy consumption, buildings/urban development, traffic, economy as well as private households/consumption.The BEK as well as the climate neutrality target are obligatory for the Berlin government under the Berlin Energy Transition Act (Energiewendegesetz) which came into force in April 2016. Two research projects, Climate-Neutral Berlin 2050 Feasibility Study (2014) and Draft for a Berlin Energy and Climate Protection Programme (2015) have created the scientific basis for the necessary strategies and measures that are now incorporated into the BEK. Measures and strategies to adapt to the consequences of climate change have been set out in a separate adaptation strategy.

Since climate protection is a cross-sectional task, the new strategy is made up of a number of individual measures that the BEK is required to coordinate. Together with the Berlin Energy Transition Act, the following measures are expected, amongst others:

  • Refurbishment plans and timetables for the energy-oriented refurbishment of public housing stock;
  • Plan of action for a CO2-neutral administration;
  • Solar city master plan which shall result in a huge development of renewable energy from solar radiation energy sources in the city;
  • More individual city projects as well as citizen involvement in the field of developing renewable sources of energy;
  • Withdrawal from black coal and brown coal as a result of appropriate climate protection agreements with Berlin's energy suppliers;
  • Measures to increase refurbishment rate of private buildings (including grant programmes and advisory services);
  • Measures to reduce the use of cars in favour of environmentally-friendly modes of transport, including investments in pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure, promoting e-bikes and sharing concepts, improving the services of public transport;
  • As well as measures to achieve a change in behaviour targeting energy savings in private households by providing advice, incentives and campaigns.
The role model function of the Berlin administration is a central theme throughout the strategy. With a range of measures in respect of public buildings, working methods, and involvement of the district level, the authorities shall lead by example in those fields.

Moreover, the BEK has been developed in a participative process. The specialist audience and general public had the opportunity to submit suggested measures and/or to comment on the measures proposed through different events and an online participation platform. The involvement of both citizens and experts shall be permanently established during the implementation of the BEK. 

The responsible Special Unit for Climate Protection and Energy operates with a separate budget. Between 2016 and 2020, funding of around €110 million has been proposed for the implementation of the BEK, in addition to further additional and federal state funding that could not yet be estimated at this present time. 

The Statistical Office for Berlin-Brandenburg is responsible for calculating the energy and carbon dioxide footprint of Berlin. To monitor the implementation of the BEK, a digital monitoring and information system has also been developed. This instrument is a new method in Berlin's energy and climate protection policy. Monitoring helps to check the effectiveness of the measures implemented and it serves as a basis for correction and management. So far, 200 activity-based indicators have been developed. Monitoring is being carried out by the Special Unit for Climate Protection and Energy, which is the unit responsible for implementing the BEK. 

To achieve the climate neutrality objective, efforts must be strengthened in all spheres of sustainable urban development. Carbon dioxide emissions will be saved in the first place, in particular by saving energy, moving away from fossil fuels and developing the use of renewable sources of energy. Berlin has already reduced its carbon dioxide emissions by a third in comparison to 1990. Investments in climate protection will have positive effects on the local economy and contribute to create jobs. 

Climate protection affects all areas of life in the city. As far as this was concerned, it was important to harmonise the different interests. Particularly in the area of climate change, there are always so-called "conflicts of aims" with other interests, such as social and economic factors. That is why these have been mapped out, and solutions to these problems shown.

The success of the transformation to a climate-neutral Berlin depends largely on the acceptance by the civil society. For that reason, the BEK has been developped with broad public participation. The setbacks and resistance were therefore relatively low. Partnerships with the  local economy are crucial as well. To name a few examples, this includes the so-called climate protection agreements with large companies, such as the large utility companies and the city housing associations. In addition, the implementation of the BEK will be supported by a Climate Protection Advisory Council (Klimaschutzrat) made up of representatives from business and science. 

The new strategy is founded on the experience that a societal transformation process, i.e. the expected huge saving in carbon dioxide emissions in the city, cannot work without a comprehensive strategy and transparency, as well as the involvement of city stakeholders and citizens. Projects in the past have often failed due to lack of involvement and thus acceptance. 

Berlin has been pursuing a climate protection policy since the 1990s. However, never before has there been such a central and integrated consideration of the issue, which is now reflected in the BEK. For the first time, there will be a comprehensive monitoring of the strategy’s implementation. An important element in this respect is also the role model function of the city administration, which shall have a spill-over effect at home and abroad. Thanks to its new strategic approach, the city is clearly emphasising its dedication to achieve its climate-neutrality objective. 

Special Unit for Climate Protection and Energy, Senate Department for Urban Development and the Environment. 

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Gesa Homann
Berlin, Germany

Gesa Homann

Individual | Policy officer

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