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German Greens present flood prevention plan

August 3, 2021

The Greens have long warned of the extreme weather effects of climate change. Now, they're proposing a program to prevent a recurrence of July's flood disaster.

Roof gardens in Berlin Wedding
The Greens want to change the nature of urban areasImage: picture-alliance/dpa

The Greens hesitated for a long time. In the wake of damage, suffering, and death following the floods in western Germany in mid-July, they seemed to not want to say that they had seen it all coming. 

Leaders of this environmentalist party were cautious in their visits to the affected regions. Unlike Chancellor Angela Merkel and regional leaders, they focused on calls for donations, while praising volunteers, Germany's agency for technical relief (known as THW), and the German armed forces.

But now, as the federal election campaign moves into high gear, they are once again emphasizing the issue they consider to be the core of their brand: climate change. And that includes preparing for extreme weather.

The party's co-chair Robert Habeck, parliamentary group leader Anton Hofreiter and climate expert Oliver Krischer have presented an eight-page paper proposing a whopping €25 billion ($30 billion) program for the next 10 years. It calls for stronger dams and dikes, an end to sealing over land, more green spaces in cities, and to undo the channelization of rivers. 

Urban green roofs and open spaces

The German Green party's candidate for chancellor and party co-chair Annalena Baerbock is not an author of the paper. Despite a strong start to her campaign including very strong polling, after negative media attention regarding inflation of achievements on her resume and accusations that sections of her book may have been plagiarized, Baerbock seems to have faded from the spotlight.

Now, the party appears to be seeking to divert attention toward the issues in order to push forward its party platform and present fresh ideas.

"We want to invest more in preparedness, and make that the guiding principle of our politics. For that, we need a climate fund to invest in projects such as 'sponge cities,' flooding and health protection measures, and adapting the sewer systems," said Franziska Brantner, a Green member of parliament from the southwestern state of Baden-Württemberg.

"Sponge cities" refer to measures such as green roofs, which absorb rainfall and result in less runoff. Earth surfaces that have been sealed off by concrete and pavement in cities may be transformed into green space wherever possible. This allows water from rain to soak back into the earth, recharging aquifers instead of flooding urban areas.

A turf roof at WISTA Adlershof in Germany
So-called green roofs use living turf instead of shingles or tarImage: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-Zentralbild/ZB/B. Pedersen

Brantner also believes that cooperation among different levels of government needs to change. "Optimized structures and agreements between the federal, state, and local governments, better warning systems, and heat plans are crucial. Adapting to the climate crisis is a huge challenge that we need to address now," he said.

Robert Habeck called the overall strategy "closing the gap between the energy transition, climate protection, and disaster prevention." He added that "global warming is real. The only question is how we can slow it down."

Public debt — this time for the climate

The paper also calls for a climate and disaster registry that includes a detailed list of the kinds of damage possible and regions particularly at risk.

Germany's Social Democrat Party-led Environment Ministry hastened to agree. "Germany urgently needs a better knowledge base on the damage and costs of climate change," said Deputy Environment Minister Jochen Flasbarth in Berlin.

But just two months ahead of the general elections in Germany, other parties are not yet willing to surrender the issues of climate protection and preparation for extreme weather to the Greens without a fight. 

The Greens paper also includes critiques of the federal government's budget policy. The pandemic has been costly for the state, and has led to new highs in borrowing.

Although the €25 billion proposed by the paper is also to be borrowed, the Greens qualified this: "We think tax cuts for the wealthy and rigid adherence to the notorious debt brake are wrong. By abandoning the rigid debt brake, we are enabling a decade of investment in the future." 

Robert Habeck and Annalena Baerbock in conversation
Green party leaders Robert Habeck (left) and Annalena Baerbock (right) want to focus on issues in their party's campaignImage: Kay Nietfeld/dpa/picture alliance

While the balanced budget measure known as the "debt brake" (Schuldenbremse) was indeed largely ignored during the pandemic, it has nevertheless been in effect for a decade, and obligates governments to assure that spending does not exceed income.

Introduced in 2016, Germany's debt brake has limited the federal government's structural net borrowing to 0.35% of gross domestic product. The center-right Christian Democrats (CDU), their Bavarian sister party the conservative Christian Social Union (CSU), and the pro-free market libertarian Free Democrat Party (FDP) all want to reinstate the spending limits as quickly as possible, once the pandemic allows.

Due to this constellation, the Greens have few political partners with whom to implement their concept — particularly once coalition building begins after September's vote. 

This article has been tranlsated from German.

While you're here: Every Tuesday, DW editors round up what is happening in German politics and society, with an eye toward understanding this year's elections and beyond. You can sign up here for the weekly email newsletter Berlin Briefing, to stay on top of developments as Germany enters the post-Merkel era.

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Jens Thurau Jens Thurau is a senior political correspondent covering Germany's environment and climate policies.@JensThurau