Germany serves as example of a sustainable economy | Environment| All topics from climate change to conservation | DW | 16.11.2011
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Environment

Germany serves as example of a sustainable economy

The world's seventh billion person was born recently and population is set to continue growing. A conference in Bonn addresses how a sustainable economy could help the growing world will cope with limited resources.

A person carrying two buckets of water from a lake

Nexus is focussing on meeting people's needs within ecological limits

There is nothing new to the idea that the world's population will have to find a way to deal with dwindling resources. In 1972, the Club of Rome issued a report on "The Limits to Growth," which explored how economics could coexist with a finite amount of raw materials.

Now, 40 years since that report, the debate continues at a three-day conference in Bonn.

The Nexus conference focuses on water, food and energy. It is expected to host some 500 politicians, economists, scientists and researchers from around the world.

"Chancellor Angela Merkel has signaled a very ambitious agenda for Rio and sees Germany as one of the main actors," UN Environment Program head Achim Steiner said, referring to next year's Rio + 20 meeting – the next major milestone meeting aimed at addressing sustainable development.

"I think Germany has long seen that supporting sustainable development on a global level is in its own interest," Steiner said.

Green growth

A man puts an energy-saving bulb in a light

Solar power delivers electricity to and LED lamp

Germany is also able to demonstrate to the world that sustainability does not necessarily need to come at the expense of economic growth.

"Experts would have laughed 10 years ago if someone told them that the world's second-largest exporter would be not only competitive but also economically more advanced than every other European country despite getting a fifth of its electricity from renewable sources," Steiner said.

"Now Germany is taking the next step by introducing one of the most ambitious industrial and economic programs to move to renewable energy and end the era or nuclear power," he added.

The array of energy-saving light bulbs and trash bins will serve as another reminder to the conference's attendees of the steps Germany has taken in terms of energy efficiency and recycling.

"We do not necessarily need to produce more energy, rather, we need to achieve the same prosperity with less energy," said Dirk Messner, director of the German Development Institute and deputy head of the German government's expert committee on the environment.

Political recommendations

A green, a yellow and a red trash container

Germany has made recycling a colorful - and profitable - affair

Thanks to a program instituted in 1990, the German economy saves some 3.5 billion euros ($4.7 billion) a year by recycling a total of 88 percent of paper, 87 percent of glass, 72 percent of metal and 67 percent of plastic, according to a study by the German Association for Waste Management.

But in the countries that are largely home to the world's 900 million people without access to clean drinking water, 1 billion without enough food and 1.5 billion without access to electricity, it's not the intricacies of recycling but getting access to resources taken for granted in Germany that will be on conference delegates' minds.

The Nexus conference is expected to outline political recommendations to be considered in June's Rio +20 summit.

"Germany is clearly among the pioneers for two reasons," Steiner said. "First, Germany has looked for the answers to questions about enabling an ecological or sustainable economy in a number of sectors. Second, German policies are very progressive when it comes to biodiversity, agriculture and energy."

Author: Helle Jeppesen / sms

Editor: Nathan Witkop

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