Only for the rich? Low-carbon energy transition in the Vauban (Freiburg, Germany)

University essay from Lunds universitet/Internationella miljöinstitutet

Abstract: This thesis examines a local low-carbon energy transition in an urban context with regard to energy justice. It takes the Vauban district in Freiburg (Germany) as a case study which has been described as a successful case of energy transition and a model for sustainable urban development. From a theoretical point of view, energy justice encompasses a fair distribution of costs and benefits of an energy system (distributive justice) and a fair decision-making process (procedural justice). This study aims to increase knowledge about the degree of energy justice within the context of an effective energy transition. It hypothesises that the development of the transition has been framed not only by active citizen participation and policy issues, but also due to political affiliations and high income and educational levels. The research questions seek to answer to what extent the Vauban energy transition can be considered consistent with procedural and distributive justice. The methodology is composed by process tracing and descriptive statistics. Data was collected through a literature review, a survey and interviews. Findings reveal that the Vauban’s participative approach of citizen involvement showed a high level of consistency with aspects of procedural justice. However, the population of the district is found to have indeed a high level of education and a far above average income compared to the rest of the city. This aspect raises issues of fairness and equity, which are key elements within the distributive justice dimension. Underlying causal mechanisms can be traced back to a variety of national policies and developments that shaped the tense local housing market. Findings suggest that projects such as the Vauban influence the public opinion about energy transitions benefiting only the rich, increasing social segregation in Germany. It poses a threat to the success of the energy transition when social and environmental concerns are played off against each other. Further research is urgently needed on how to design policies and projects to counteract this development. The thesis provides knowledge for the ongoing debate in Germany about energy-related modernisation of districts and buildings in the context of gentrification and inequality.

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