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Berlin votes on setting ambitious green target

By EARLE GALE | China Daily Global | Updated: 2023-03-27 09:34
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Voters in Germany's capital, Berlin, had a chance to vote on Sunday on whether the city should be compelled to become climate-neutral by 2030.

The city of 3.7 million people in Europe's largest and most industrialized economy has been criticized for lagging behind other capitals in the fight against global warming.

In Sunday's legally binding referendum, Berliners had the chance to demand climate neutrality by 2030, forcing the right-of-center local government to invest in building efficiency, renewable energy, and public transportation.

Jessamine Davis, a spokesperson for Climate New Start Berlin, told the Reuters news agency: "At the moment, climate policy is simply not sufficient to ensure a future worth living in our city."

Climate activists forced the referendum after collecting more than 260,000 signatures.

If Berliners choose to support the motion, the city would become one of Europe's leaders in setting legally-binding climate goals.

But critics say a "yes" vote would be expensive and set an unachievable target.

Danny Freymark, a lawmaker in the local government, said he was opposed because it would tie the hands of the administration.

"Because, even if we do everything we can, we wouldn't make it in 2030," he told Reuters.

The result of the referendum should be known in a few days.

The European Union has been urging cities to set themselves targets to become climate-neutral by 2030 and has set aside money, but it has not suggested they set themselves legally-binding goals. Currently, Berlin has a non-binding target of becoming carbon-neutral by 2045.

Supporters of the push for climate neutrality by 2030 say it can be achieved through mandatory installation of solar panels, which would generate about a quarter of the power needed. An expansion of wind power on land around the city would also be needed, alongside the installation of a massive heat pump in the city's main river, and the renovation of old buildings to make them energy-efficient. The city would also need to vigorously encourage electric vehicle use, and install more bike lanes.

The German news agency Deutsche Presse-Agentur said supporters of the idea gathered at Brandenburg Gate on Saturday for a five-hour event that featured bands and speeches from activists.

Sunday's referendum will need participation from at least 25 percent of those eligible to vote for it to be binding. Activists said they could win with as few as 608,000 votes.

But Germany's Chancellor Olaf Scholz said he believes the nation's government is doing enough.

"I am firmly convinced that what the federal government has set out to do is exactly the right way, namely to ensure that we modernize our country technologically," DPA quoted him as saying.

Deutsche Welle said Berlin's Mayor Franziska Giffey insisted "it will not be possible for Berlin to be climate neutral by 2030".

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