Headline: Sustainability in Brandenburg

From the energy transition to water protection: Brandenburg is facing major sustainability challenges. As a Potsdam institute, RIFS is actively involved in sustainability work in Brandenburg.


With a population of just 2.5 million people inhabiting an area of 29,476 square kilometres, the state of Brandenburg is one of the least populated states in Germany. Brandenburg is also the state with the largest total area of water in Germany and is significantly rural in character: roughly 45 percent of its land area is used for agriculture, with around 5,300 farming enterprises operated in the state in 2016. Other major economic sectors are the steel, automotive and chemical industries, as well as the energy sector, media, and tourism.

Like many other states in Germany, Brandenburg faces a range of sustainability challenges including: the transformation of agricultural systems, the energy and traffic transitions, the pursuit of a just transition in the former coal district of Lusatia, adapting its cities and infrastructure to climate change, rural revitaliza-tion, the post-pandemic economic recovery, and the management and protection of water resources.

The energy transition and the phase-out of brown coal mining in Lusatia are the focus of particularly intense debate in Brandenburg as both will result in far-reaching social and structural change in the af-fected areas. Ensuring that these transformations are sustainable, democratic, and equitable is a chal-lenge for actors at all levels. Throughout its course this process will be influenced by diverse factors, including cooperative relationships and tensions within the economy and society at the regional level, national and international political frameworks, historical legacies and the pull of current trends.

Wind energy plays a significant role in Brandenburg, which is one of the three strongest wind energy states in the country. Ensuring that the expansion of wind energy infrastructure is both successfully and equitable will require intensive dialogue and transparency to secure broad public backing.

The establishment of a gigafactory in Brandenburg by American electric vehicle and clean energy com-pany Tesla cannot go unmentioned here as it has triggered heated debate among the citizens of Bran-denburg about economic growth and nature conservation as well as water and energy consumption. The fact that Tesla has opted to build its plant in Brandenburg is also an indication of the region’s appeal for post-fossil industries.

Brandenburg’s state government is actively engaging with these issues and adopted its first sustainability strategy in 2014. The strategy established five priorities for action: (i) Economy and employment in the Berlin-Brandenburg capital region, (ii) Liveable villages and cities, (iii) Brandenburg as a model region for the energy transition and climate adaptation, (iv) Sustainable financial policy, and (v) Education and sustainable development.

Four years later, in 2018, a progress report was published, revisiting these priorities for action and ex-amining implementation efforts. In 2019, the state sustainability strategy was updated. In particular, the strategy was aligned with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) adopted by the United Nations (UN) in 2015 so that developments in the state of Brandenburg can be compared with progress at the national and international levels. In addition, the implementation of the sustainability strategy was more precisely specified. In order to promote the involvement of civil society – a goal previously identified in the 2018 progress report – the Brandenburg Sustainability Platform was subsequently launched.

The coalition agreement that was officially concluded in November 2019 commits the state government to a complete overhaul of the sustainability strategy. It also stipulated that a Sustainability Advisory Board be convened, which was subsequently appointed by Minister President Dietmar Woidke in February 2021. The board consists of six representatives from the fields of science, youth, and business. In its role as an advisory body, the board has been granted hearing and proposal rights. The board itself is supervised by the State Chancellery, signalling a strong commitment to sustainable development in Brandenburg and the future development of the sustainability strategy.

The project “Social Structural Change and Responsive Policy Advice in Lusatia”, funded by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF), accompanies the transformation process unfolding in this former mining district in Brandenburg. The interdisciplinary research group aims to identify the limits to and potentials for a cooperative approach to structural change. RIFS researchers identify development pathways together with affected actors and offer guidance to policymakers, administrative bodies, and civil society.

Based in Potsdam, RIFS is actively involved in efforts to foster sustainable development in Brandenburg. RIFS takes part in numerous events in the state capital with the aim of entering into dialogue with citizens and drawing attention to the work of the Institute. It also cooperates with various schools and citizen dialogues in Potsdam on a variety of topics addressed in its research activities.

In addition, RIFS provides expertise to support the work of the state government and conducts research on the sustainability challenges the state will face in the future.

The Brandenburg Sustainability Platform

The Brandenburg Sustainability Platform was founded in 2019 and is funded by the Ministry of Agricul-ture, Environment and Climate Protection (MLUK). The aim of the platform is to provide an active com-munication forum and a lively network for sustainability initiatives in the state. By bringing regional initia-tives together, the platform creates synergies that can be used to promote sustainable development in Brandenburg. The platform also provides a forum for practitioners to share their experiences and ena-bles initiatives to learn from each other.

As part of its work, the platform communicates the concerns and wishes of the public to key regional actors in politics, business and society and facilitates their consideration in the central processes for the future development of the state’s sustainability strategy. RIFS hosts the platform’s secretariat, which coordinates its day-to-day business, maintains the platform’s website and organizes innovative network-ing opportunities as well as supporting various working groups and the steering group. You can find out more about the platform here.

The heart of the platform is a 23-member steering group made up of representatives from local govern-ment, science, civil society, youth, and business. A steering group coordinates the work of the platform and sets its thematic priorities. The platform spans five thematic working groups that focus on critical future sustainability challenges facing the state of Brandenburg.

These working groups are:

  • Framework conditions for the transformation towards greater sustainability (with a particular fo-cus on water and adaptation to climate change).
  • Sustainable digitalization
  • Participation
  • Sustainable corporate governance in small and medium-sized enterprises
  • Sustainable communities

The working groups are open to all interested persons.

Initiatives can join the platform’s network on https://plattform-bb.de. Inquiries should be directed to the secretariat via nachhaltigkeitsplattform [at] iass-potsdam [dot] de (nachhaltigkeitsplattform[at]iass-potsdam[dot]de).

The Brandenburg Sustainability Advisory Board

The Advisory Board supports the state government in its efforts to update Brandenburg’s sustainability strategy, provides scientific expertise to policymakers and government agencies on issues around sus-tainable development and works closely with the Sustainability Platform to foster broad civil society par-ticipation. Ortwin Renn/RIFS chairs the panel of six experts. In its first phase (2021-2022), the Advisory Board will focus on two topics: a resilient post-pandemic recovery, focussing on digitalisation as well as life, learning and working in urban and rural areas, and the implementation of the energy transition in Brandenburg, with a particular focus on zero-carbon industrial processes. You can find out more about the Advisory Board here.

Social structural change in Lusatia

As the coal-mining industry winds down in Lusatia, the region is losing not just an important economic sector, but also a cornerstone of its identity. What does this loss mean for Lusatia? How can it be turned into an opportunity for sustainable living and working? And how can we pave the way to this goal? These questions lie at the heart of this RIFS project.

The team’s transformative research practice addresses three critical issues:

  • What forms of cooperation are conducive to democratic structural change in Lusatia and how can local knowledge be harnessed for this purpose?
  • How do national and international policy frameworks, for example in relation to climate protec-tion, influence this transformation process?
  • How can tensions between the economic and democratic spheres be addressed to promote a transformation that is both fair and sustainable?

Find out more about this research project here.