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Berlin climate referendum falls short

March 26, 2023

Berliners voted in a referendum on a proposal to make the German capital climate neutral 15 years earlier than planned. However, not enough voted 'yes' in order for it to pass.

The Green Party's Bettina Jarasch casts her vote in a referendum in Berlin
Berlin's environment and climate protection senator, Green Party parliamentary group leader Bettina Jarasch, came out in support of the proposed amendmentImage: Christophe Gateau/dpa/picture alliance

Not enough voters in Berlin supported a push to make the German capital carbon neutral by 2030, results from a referendum showed on Sunday. 

A small majority, 50.9% of voters, did support the motion. However, overall turnout was less than 50% and not enough people voted in favor of the motion for it to become law. 

To pass, it would have needed majority support, and the support of at least 25% of the eligible electorate. 

Roughly 442,000 people voted in favor and roughly 423,000 against; Berlin has just over 2.4 million eligible voters.

City officials had urged voters to reject the proposal, initially put forward by environmental groups in a public petition, arguing that it was unrealistic and unachievable. 

What was the proposal?

Had it been approved the proposal would have set the city's government a legally binding target to achieve climate neutrality in seven years.

Berlin, like Germany as a whole, currently aims for a 95% reduction in net carbon dioxide emissions by 2045, compared with 1990 levels.

Climate activists from the group called Klimaneustart Berlin (Climate Reset Berlin), who prompted the vote, believe the target is too far in the future to prevent global warming from exceeding 1.5 degrees Celsius compared to pre-industrial levels

Speaking at the group's somewhat muted results party, German climate activist Luisa Neubauer said: "We will not let the critics and the whiners slow us down. Let's not forget what we made possible here." 

'Yes to climate protection, no to false promises'

At least 80% of Berlin's energy, however, comes from fossil fuel sources.

Few lawmakers in Berlin's state parliament, the Senate, believed seven years was enough to make the transition to renewable energy and were concerned about the short-term costs the legally binding deadline would have incurred.

The result "shows that the majority of Berliners also see that the demands of the referendum could not have been implemented — not even if they were cast into law," the city's mayor Franziska Giffey, a Social Democrat, said.

A senior CDU politician in the city-state, Stefan Evers, said the result showed that "Berlin says yes to climate protection — but says no to false promises." 

Giffey earlier this week said while it was important to take the issue forward, it would not "be possible for Berlin to be climate neutral by 2030." 

"People have to be told this clearly: everything else is nonsense," she said.

The SPD and CDU are currently in negotiations to set up a new coalition government in Berlin following recent elections. One recent policy proposal they jointly announced was a special fund of at least €5 billion (more than $5 billion) for climate protection. 

lo, msh/jsi (AP, dpa, Reuters)

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