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Opinion: Environment Took a Backseat in 2003

2003 wasn’t a good year for the environment. Apart from a few minor victories, ecological concerns were largely overridden by political matters deemed more pressing.

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Europe suffered one of its worst heat waves in 2003, reducing rivers to mere trickles.

Nowhere are the global problems of environmental protection as apparent as in the field of climate change.

While Tuvalu becomes the first island state to slowly but steadily sink into the waters on one side of the Pacific Ocean, on the other, the U.S. happily continues consuming gigantic amounts of energy. The current Washington administration isn’t really interested in the consequences --protecting the climate costs the Americans too much money, is the laconic explanation.

"The American Way of Life" -- four-wheel drives guzzling vast amounts of gasoline, inefficient coal-fired power stations and badly insulated houses -- doesn’t seem to be possible without a waste of energy. So then -- goes the logic -- it’s better to block the Kyoto Protocol in close agreement with Russia, the other, former superpower.

Germany still lagging in green matters

But even environment role model Germany has a negative report card to show for last year. Admittedly, the government and opposition have agreed to take the first step towards disentangling themselves from deadlocked reform talks. They want to dismantle subsidies -- it’s a praiseworthy and long overdue move.

But shouldn’t they have for a moment spared a thought for the environment? Airlines are still flying completely tax-free through Germany and around the whole world, while the considerably more environment-friendly railway has to pay sales tax and even environment tax. The observer is forced to rub his eyes in disbelief: This is supposed to be Social Democratic-Green traffic policy?

And then, of all things, Wolfgang Clement, an economic minister of a Social Democratic-Green government, launches a campaign against wind energy and a law meant to implement renewable energies. And despite his plea to abolish subsidies, Clement has no problem bankrolling the German coal industry with more than €3 million in subsidies year after year.

Climate warnings ignored

At the same time, the majority of climate researchers are in agreement that even if we want to control global warming within reasonably tolerable limits, the emission of greenhouse gases must be reduced by at least half in the next 50 years. In that context every euro worth of subsidies for obsolete energy sources such as coal, is one euro too much.

It’s not just in the field of climate change that the warnings of scientists are utterly ignored. European marine researchers have for years been calling for a fishing ban on codfish. They warn that cod stocks would otherwise be completely depleted in a few years. But despite the alarm, EU fisheries ministers have practically left fishing quotas unchanged.

Partial victories for the environment

In spite of the doom and gloom, there is some positive environment news coming from Brussels.

For instance, in the future, it will be possible to divert a larger sum of agricultural subsidies to pay for ecologically-compatible and animal-friendly farms. It may be modest, but the move will still mark an important first step in the right direction.

There’s some good news for the world’s oceans too. Risky single-hull tankers will soon be banned, eleven states in the Pacific have declared a massive biological reserve for whales, Norway is protecting its little-researched cold water coral reefs and has given up oil drilling around the paradise-like ecologically-fragile Lofoten archipelago.

Long way to go

But these partial victories can’t draw attention away from the fact that the past year wasn't a good one for the environment.

At a time when terror, war and economic crisis dominate the news, environment protection is too often forced to take a backseat. But what’s still important -- and evidently can’t be stressed enough -- is that we must take urgent action if we want to preserve planet Earth for future generations.

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  • Date 02.01.2004
  • Author Johannes Beck (sp)
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  • Permalink http://p.dw.com/p/4W1o
  • Date 02.01.2004
  • Author Johannes Beck (sp)
  • Print Print this page
  • Permalink http://p.dw.com/p/4W1o