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Germany to invest €4 billion in 'natural climate protection'

March 29, 2022

The environment minister says the plan will strengthen biodiversity and dampen the effects of climate change. Landscape renaturation, trees for cities and the protection of federal lands are all part of the agenda.

Germany´s Rehdener Geestmoor wetlands at sunrise
Currently the large majority of Germany's wetlands — effective carbon sinks — lay dryImage: Olaf Juergens/Zoonar/picture alliance

German Environment Minister Steffi Lemke on Tuesday announced that the government plans to invest nearly €4 billion ($4.4 billion) in "natural climate protection" to complement steps being taken to wean Germany off fossil fuels and reduce carbon emissions.

Lemke said the plan was aimed at strengthening Germany's existing biodiversity and helping dampen the effects of climate change.

"Only by acting in this way do we have a chance at achieving our climate targets, becoming climate-neutral by 2045 and protecting the natural foundations of life for our children and grandchildren," Lemke said. "It's high time we stopped working against nature and instead harness the existing synergies of nature and climate protection."

The plan of action presented in Berlin pertains to both Germany's countryside and its cities. Lemke outlined five areas of activity, adding that concrete measures would be unveiled throughout the year.

Five-point climate protection plan

Lemke said intact wetlands would be protected and those that have been drained would be restored by increasing groundwater levels. Rivers, lakes, ponds and floodplains, which "provide a great deal of biodiversity," will also be protected.

Resistance to such plans is expected to come from farmers and road builders.

The planned A20 coastal freeway in Brandenburg, Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, Schleswig-Holstein and Lower Saxony, for instance, is slated to run directly through wetlands. Farmers currently use as much as 92% of the country's drained wetlands for cultivation.

Lemke said Germany's seas must be thought of "as a source of livelihood and an essential part of our climate system." Her plan calls for amplifying their natural functions by using them in a more sustainable fashion.

The plan also foresees an expansion of protected wilderness areas and the protection of forest ecosystems. Lemke said that beech forests — considered especially effective as carbon sinks — owned by the federal government would no longer be logged.

As part of the ministry's "urban climate protection" plan, the government expects to plant as many as 150,000 trees in cities across Germany. Moreover, city parks will receive special protection for their role in providing shade and cooler air than busy paved streets and barren city squares.

Many of the measures outlined will require cooperation from Germany's 16 state governments. Lemke on Tuesday said that talks were already underway.

Artificial seagrass to help protect Germany's coast?

Lemke's plan greeted with mixed reactions

"Carbon sequestration by natural ecosystems is the third important pillar on the road to climate neutrality — alongside energy savings and the expansion of renewables," said Sascha Müller-Kraenner, federal chairman of the environmental NGO Environmental Action Germany.

Other environmental groups such as Greenpeace and the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) also welcomed the announcement.

Farmers were less enthusiastic. Joachim Rukwied, president of the German Farmers' Association, said the plan will only succeed if the government reaches out to those affected by changes to land use regulation: "Alternative income opportunities have to be created so the land can continue to be used," he said.   

The conservative opposition Christian Democrats and Christian Social Union said they found the plan lacking, complaining that the administration was not thinking big enough when it came to "an overall concept combing climate protection and climate adaptation."

Farmers protest in Berlin

js/nm (AFP, KNA)