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Environment

Is Germany green enough?

Abandoning fossil fuels is proving difficult. Germany is a role model around the world thanks to its switch to renewable energy. Now, green experts are calling on the country to do its global green duty.

Once a year, the spotlight shines on seven influential professors from various disciplines in Germany, who come together to offer their expertise in environmental justice, energy and climate protection, urban development and recycling systems. And the German government pays attention to what the expert committee has to say.

The idea to create such a green expert group stems back to the late 1960s and then German Chancellor Willy Brandt. At the time, smoke spewed from chimneys in Germany's heavily industrialized Ruhr area and untreated industrial sludge contaminated rivers, resulting in the largest mass death of fish in the Rhine since the Second World War.

All of this caused Brandt to reflect on the massive environmental damage caused by industrial growth. In a 1969 government statement, he spoke of environmental protection for the first time. The politician, who was the leader of the Social Democratic Party (SPD), called for protective measures against noise pollution, air pollution due to exhaust fumes, water pollution and insecticides.

A coal plant (Photo: Picture Alliance, AP, M. Meissner)

Smoking chimney stacks should soon be a thing of the past

45 years of environmental expertise

Two years later, in 1971, the German Advisory Council on the Environment (SRU) came into being. Until today, the independent body is advising the German government in ecological matters and publishes an annual report with their findings.

This year, the scientists want to give an impetus for an ecological transformation towards more sustainability, environmental justice and a better quality of life. To that end, the committee - under the chairmanship of German scientist Martin Faulstich - is focusing on the United Nations' latest environmental agenda.

In September, the UN adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which includes 17 goals to end poverty and hunger, promote health and well-being and guarantee access to education. According to the UN agenda, part of this "transformation of the world" is providing everyone with affordable, dependable, sustainably generated and modern energy. The agenda also says sustainable economic development should be pushed and resilient infrastructure built.

The document also focuses on the international community's duty to take immediate action to combat climate change and its impacts. In December 2015, at the Paris Climate Conference, the United Nations (UN) agreed to limit the rise of the global average temperature to maximum 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit). To achieve this goal, global emissions would have to fall to zero by 2050 at the very latest.

Prof. Martin Faulstich, chairmen of the German Advisory Council on the Environment

Prof. Martin Faulstich is the chairman of the German Advisory Council on the Environment

According to the UN, ocean and terrestrial ecosystems have to be protected or restored and forests sustainably managed while desertification, soil degradation and biodiversity loss have to be stopped.

Climate protection challenges

That all sounds great on paper but how can those goals actually be achieved? With the world's economy focused on expansion, environmentally deleterious ways of doing business still dominate, such as intensive livestock farming, exploitation of raw materials and the use of fossil fuels.

And according to climate researchers, rising sea levels, floods, loss of species, drought, crop failures, famines and desertification are the consequences of this global mistreatment of the earth and its resources.

"The ecological challenges in the EU and Germany are so large that they can no longer simply be addressed using the remedial and even the technically-oriented, preventive environmental protection measures of the past," reads the introduction of the SRU report. The committee calls for a better protection of biodiversity from pesticides, more wild spaces and has solution approaches how to reduce land consumption.

Germany's role in the transformation

The authors also highlight the chance for Germany to pioneer a sustainable restructuring of the economy and industry. They say due to its international connections, it has a responsibility to do so.

A German fisherman on the Elbe (Photo: Picture alliance/ ZB)

Big fish from a clean river - freshly caught pikeperch from the Elbe River

According to the report, Germany enjoys a global reputation as a green leader but all too often falls back on the natural resources of other countries. Still, thanks to its economic power, innovative systems and broad public support for an active environmental policy, Germany is in an excellent position to become a pioneer of the global transformation, the authors say.

The report adds that Germany is playing a leading role when it comes to renewable energy. But the SRU sees a need for more action in implementing a green and sustainable agricultural sector. Unsustainable technologies such as lignite energy production should be phased out, the report says.

According to the SRU, a leading climate policy role could benefit Germany's export economy and drive the modernization of the national economy.

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