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Germany's Green Role

DW staff (sp)April 7, 2007

A day after a bleak report on global warming and its potentially devastating effects was published, Germany and the EU are at loggerheads over whether Europe's largest economy is doing enough to lower greenhouse gases.

Germans pride themselves on being environmentally-friendly but are they really?Image: BilderBox

In an interview with German daily Die Welt, EU Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas urged Germany to intensify its commitment towards cutting heat-trapping greenhouse gases and combating global warming.

Dimas conceded that Germany is a world leader when it comes to expanding its power supply sourced from renewable energy. But he said the country needed to catch up in other areas.

Dimas: German car industry needs to do more

"The European Union's climate goals can only be reached if Germany -- Europe's biggest economy -- plays along," Dimas said, adding that the car industry could definitely do more. He underlined that the future lay in fuel-efficient and environmentally-friendly cars and not in large fuel-guzzling ones.

BMW 3er Cabrio
German carmakers are accused of lagging behind on environmental developmentsImage: AP/BMW

The German car industry -- one of the most profitable sectors in the country -- has long been under fire for failing to develop green technologies to power vehicles and focusing instead on the bottom line and on producing luxury models.

In fact, the industry has been accused of trailing the world's automakers in terms of environmental developments according to the German Auto Club (VCD) consumer group. The country only has one entry -- VW's Polo Blue Motion -- in the list of the ten most environmentally friendly cars. Japan leads the pack with its two hybrid cars, the Toyota Prius and the Honda Civic, the group said last month.

Even the German government has controversially resisted pressure from the EU to impose caps on auto emissions which would apply to all new cars in the bloc. The move was widely seen as an attempt by Chancellor Angela Merkel's government to protect its car industry after several companies complained of the risk to EU competitiveness and employment if Brussels imposed binding limits on car exhaust emissions.

German leaders proud of leading role

Dimas' comments are however disputed by German leaders who have long prided themselves on Germany's leading role in environmental affairs.

Sigmar Gabriel, Germany's environment minister, on Saturday pointed out that the EU had no chance of meeting its climate goals by 2012 without Germany's contribution. Gabriel stressed that his country alone was shouldering three-fourths of the bloc's ambitious greenhouse cuts.

While the EU plans to reduce its CO2 emissions by eight percent against 1990 levels, Germany has committed itself to cutting its levels by 21 percent, Gabriel said.

The environment minister also said there was agreement with the German economy ministry to provide incentives for building new power plants outfitted with modern technology.

Kohle Kraftwerk in Hessen
Germany still relies heavily on coal-fired power plantsImage: AP

"In Germany, we will continue to use coal because we can't entirely reduce our reliance on it. But we won't be giving it any special privileges," Gabriel told the Frankfurter Allgemeinen Zeitung, adding that energy-efficient plants will take precedence instead.

Coal-fired power plants are one of the biggest producers of greenhouses gases, which scientists have said are primarily responsible for global warming.

Bleak forecast for world climate

On Friday, the UN published a damning report on climate change, saying that up to 30 percent of animal and plant species will be vulnerable to extinction if global temperatures rise by 1.5-2.5 C (2.7 F to 4.5 F).

The report predicted greenhouse gases would change rainfall patterns, intensify tropical storms, accelerate the melting of Arctic ice and mountain glaciers, and amplify the risk of drought, flooding and water stress.

German leaders reacted swiftly to the bleak prognosis. The German government would continue to pioneer climate protection, said Chancellor Angela Merkel, who pledged to raise the issue when she hosts the next G8 summit.

On Saturday, German Transport Minister Wolfgang Tiefensee also announced plans to compel carmakers to indicate to potential buyers in a transparent way how much carbon dioxide (CO2) different models emitted.

"Wide gap between German words and actions"

But Germany's perceived role as a world leader in green affairs was slammed by the country's former environment minister and head of the UN Environment Program, Klaus Töpfer who said there was a wide gap between German words and actions.

Klaus Töpfer bei der UNEP (Umweltschutzprogramm der UN) in Genf, Schweiz
Klaus Töpfer has lashed out at Germany's green recordImage: AP

In an interview with Welt am Sonntag, Töpfer warned that "Germans continue to considerably affect the climate," saying that
every German on average created ten tons of carbon dioxide each year.

That may make Germany's per person carbon dioxide output only half as high as that of an average American's but on a worldwide scale Germany was in the top group of the world's worst polluters, Töpfer said.

The environmental expert said the per-person CO2 emissions of the French stood at below seven tons, that of a Chinese just about three tons while an Indian only about one ton.

"The bald statistics tell us that we (Germans) have to do much more (to combat global warming)," Töpfer said.

"Most of the reduction of greenhouse gases in Germany is due to
cleaning up the energy sector in the former East Germany and is a
consequence of German reunification," he added.

"Germany must reduce its emissions to between 60 and 80
percent," Topfer said, for which there is an "urgent need for a
revolutionary change in energy consumption, whether in the economic sector or in society."