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Environment

The German environment minister's wish list

For Germany's environment minister, the need for new environmental policy goes without question. Now, she's proposed to bring ecological priorities into all political domains. Also without question is political backlash.

German Environment Minister Barbara Hendricks on Thursday (08.08.2016) forwarded her "environment program 2030," representing a radical change in environmental policy.

"Our lifestyle, our consumption, our globally networked economy disproportionately use the natural resources of the planet, and endanger the chances for life and development in other regions of the world," Hendricks said at a press conference in Berlin today.

"We need a new, strengthened environmental policy - one that systematically takes on the vast problems we see globally and within our own country, and which will have the ability to shape ecological change," Hendricks stated.

Hendricks' environment program 2030 demands nothing less than "unconditional and fundamental changes in society, industry, agriculture, energy and resource use, in transport and infrastructure."

Yet many would say it represents a wish list more than an actual program.

Laundry list of changes

Environmentally damaging subsidies should be eliminated; public money should only flow into environmentally just investments.

Proposed laws should include mandatory descriptions of negative environmental consequences. Animal farming should be designed so that it is sustainable and humane.

For products and services, Hendricks would introduce new kinds of product information, including about reparability and exchangeability of individual components.

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This could be imagined as a second price tag, which would inform the consumer about actual environmental and social costs.

The purpose would be to make it easier for consumers to make more sustainable choices, Hendricks said.

And it's supposed to start with electronic devices, although the minister could also imagine such additional "price tags" for groceries.

The latter isn't as urgent, Hendricks added.

'Ideological labeling'

The plan has not been received well among Germany's governing coalition of center-left Social Democrats and center-right Christian Democrats.

Georg Nüsslein, deputy head of the parliamentary group for the Christian Democrats, railed against "Labelitis out of the Hendricks house," which would bring "absolutely nothing" for protection of the climate and environment.

"This ideological attempt to split up all products into a blanket 'good' or 'evil' will only fail in today's complex world," Nüsslein said.

Less than transparency, the plan would only bring about "disenfranchisement of the consumer," he added.

Hendricks is used to crossing swords with the transport and agricultural ministries.

But she argues that as environment minister, she's responsible for protection of species, nature, soils, water and the climate - so all this is open game.

"Agricultural production, as we have it today, touches on all of these areas," she said.

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Initiatives cut short

In the areas of agriculture and transport, Hendricks' proposals have seldom seen success.

The German environment minister was unable to get passed introduction of a "blue placard," or signage against especially polluting automobiles.

Nor was she able to gain a majority in the fight against the herbicide glyphosate.

"Agricultural and transport policy find themselves outside of the range of authority of the environment minister," Hendricks soberly declared.

With her environment program 2030, Hendricks is sending a signal that she will no longer take this lying down, stating that the environment ministry has should be able to take ithe nitiative in other fields as well.

Hendricks is seeking a basic right for the environment ministry to have a say in "matters meaningful for environmental policy" in the future.

Pretty little list?

This fundamental right of initiative already exists within Germany's policy framework - when it comes to consumer protection or gender equality for women.

But even Hendricks admits that having this right for the environment isn't likely to become government policy. And that's also not her proposal.

"It would be nice - but that's not my first purpose," Hendricks said.

Development of the environment program 2030 is first and foremost fulfilling duties relating to the governing coalition's contract, she added.

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But perhaps this "program" is nothing more than a nice list, of what needs to be done in order to really change anything?

The priority of environmental policy to the German government was recently illuminated by how it dealt with a plan for climate protection through 2050.

Not much left

Based on Germany's implementation of the Paris Agreement, the climate protection plan was supposed to be able to achieve significant greenhouse gas emissions reductions by mid-century.

Hendricks' ambitious proposals to this end were systematically dismantled by Germany's economy, transport and agricultural ministries, together with the chancellery.

Hendricks was forced to strike from the plan her initiative to reduce meat consumption. Express rejection of conventionally fueled autos will also no longer be a goal.

Rather, the plan's preamble emphasizes that maintaining the competitiveness of industry remains a top goal. Environmental groups are, of course, enraged.

But Hendricks - like any good environmentalist - also recycled. One of the sentences that was struck from the climate plan found new life in the environment program.

"New cars should run emissions-free by 2030," it says on page 79, noting the need to reduce auto emissions.

"We are consistent in what we hold for necessary and correct - for that reason, we'll keep this point in our program. Because this is my, and our, environment program," Hendricks concluded.

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