Germany has mixed record in drive for cleaner airgreenspun.com : LUSENET : Grassroots Information Coordination Center (GICC) : One Thread
many has mixed record in drive for cleaner air By Erik Kirschbaum
BERLIN (Reuters) - Germany likes to portray itself as the world's environmental policeman -- wagging a green finger at the rest of the planet for failing to clean the dirty air over factories and power plants.
Boasting that it has cut its carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions by 18 percent in the last decade, Germany wants the world to be more German in the crusade to stop global warming by reducing the output of deadly greenhouse gases.
But a closer look at the record shows, at best, a mixed performance.
Emissions of lethal gases in the populous and heavily industrialised western three-quarters of Germany are actually up by just under one percent in the last decade.
It is only thanks to the massive collapse of industry in formerly communist eastern Germany that followed unification in 1990 that C02 output is down nationwide by 18 percent since then.
"Germany needs to get off its high horse and start taking stronger steps to reduce its emissions," said Michael Mueller, a member of parliament in Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder's Social Democrats and leading voice on environmental issues.
"Without the good fortune of unification and the shutdown of heavily polluting industries in the eastern states, Germany's position would be far worse," he added.
Some critics call Germany hypocritical -- it is the world's third largest industrial power and biggest user of fossil fuels in Europe. Yet it wants to impose its green policies on others, something which just might help German companies specialising in environmental technologies.
SHINING EXAMPLE FOR WORLD? Mueller points out that Germany alone has three times as many cars as all of Africa.
"Behind the scenes, industry exerts enormous pressure in Germany to thwart any bolder steps to protect the environment," Mueller said. "We should stop acting like a world leader because we really aren't."
German Environment Minister Juergen Tritten cites a recent study, commissioned by his ministry, that found Germany was on track to meet a target of cutting emissions by 25 percent by 2005 from 1990 levels. C02 output fell by 180 million tonnes since 1990.
Tritten was one of dozens of ministers battling at this month's U.N. conference in Bonn to salvage the Kyoto accord on global warning. European ministers are leading efforts to enforce mandatory cuts on greenhouse gas emissions by industrial states.
The free market forces that swept quickly across East Germany following the collapse of the Berlin Wall forced the antiquated, inefficient and heavily polluting eastern German industries behind the Iron Curtain out of business.
In grimy industrial towns such as Bitterfeld and Wolfen, south of Berlin, flocks of geese and other birds that had avoided the filthy region of chemical, film and coal plants soon returned to the skies for the first time since the 19th century.
While it is indisputable that big strides to clean the air have been made in western factory towns such as Ludwigshafen on the Rhine, Dortmund in the Ruhr area and car-making Stuttgart, pollution levels were still climbing through the mid-1990s.
Germany has pointed to its decline in CO2 output figures in pushing other nations -- especially its key trade rivals, the United States and Japan -- to adopt the pact agreed in 1997 in Kyoto, Japan, calling for leading countries to reduce output by an average of about five percent from 1990 levels by 2012.
"Germany has become the country that is setting an example for the rest of the European Union," said Trittin.
Asked by ARD television why the country was always acting as if it had a superior record when it in fact does not, Trittin said: "We have a number of things planned."
The minister said the government was working hard to promote renewable energy and that natural gas would be used more, and coal less, in the years ahead. Germany leads the world in using clean or renewable energy. It has 9,400 land-based wind turbines that produce about 6,100 megawatts of power each year.
But that meets just 2.5 percent of Germany's energy needs.
AMBIGUOUS ON PROTECTING ENVIRONMENT Britain was the only other country lauded in a report prepared by the Frauenhofer Institute and the Berlin-based DIW institute for economic research.
Britain cut its C02 output by 12 percent, or by 90 million metric tonnes, in the decade to 2000 compared to Germany's 180 million. Trittin said Europe as a whole managed to cut only a total of 100 million metric tonnes in the decade to 2000.
The institutes' report nevertheless noted that the German government still had a lot to do to "strengthen its efforts to promote climate protection policies" in coming years if its goals are to be achieved.
It chided Trittin's government for "deficiencies" in its policies on transportation, energy and taxation, adding that German industry needed better incentives to save energy.
Beneath the "green" surface -- Germans willingly sort their trash into a half dozen different receptacles and use recycled paper for government stationery -- there are clear limits on how far people will go to protect the environment.
They drive their powerful cars at full throttle on packed motorways at gas-guzzling -- and legal -- speeds sometimes exceeding even 250 km/h (150 mph). Any attempt to introduce any sort of speed limit results in a battlecry that recalls the Cold War: "Free travel for citizens of the free world."
Schroeder is proud of his close ties to industry and likes to call himself the "Autokanzler" -- car chancellor. He was on the supervisory board of Volkswagen when a regional leader.
Mueller of the SPD notes that in recent years cars in Germany have been getting bigger and faster rather than smaller.
Car air conditioners are in vogue even though there are only a handful of truly hot days each year.
And the same Germans who profess a deep love for their forests will also rise up in mass angry protest whenever the government has pushed out an incremental petrol tax increase.
Germany has arguably the world's best public transit system yet commuters leave buses and trains half empty while clogging the roads by riding solo in automobiles. Car pooling is an alien concept -- Germans don't even have a term for it.
"Germany has a long way to go yet," said Stefan Schurig, a spokesman for environmental lobbyists Greenpeace in Germany.
"The emphasis on renewable energy is a step in the right direction. But it could do so much more as far as conservation is concerned, measures that would truly make a difference."
-- Jackson Brown (Jackson_Brown@e-mail-me.com), July 23, 2001