Germany sees pioneer role on global warming
Author: Mark John
"We shall make sure Germany maintains its top position on climate protection," Environment Minister Juergen Trittin said, forecasting that Germany would meet its pledge of cutting emissions 21 percent from 1990 levels by 2010.
Trittin urged governments meeting at a United Nations environment conference in the Hague next month to ensure they kept promises contained in the 1997 Kyoto Protocol to cut emissions of greenhouse gases, notably carbon dioxide.
"I think we must try to arrive at a binding protocol in the Hague which will lead to actual reductions in carbon dioxide emissions," said Trittin, a member of the environmentalist Greens party in the centre-left coalition government.
A study released on Tuesday showed that the 15-nation European Union as a whole would fall far short of promises made in Kyoto to cut emissions of carbon dioxide, the most important of six major planet-warming gases.
Always more "green" than many of its neighbours, Germany has boosted its ecological credentials further since the 1998 election victory of Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder's coalition of Social Democrats and Greens.
It has begun to shut down its nuclear plants - albeit far more slowly than many Greens want - and has slapped unpopular new levies on polluting fuels in a bid to wean the world's third-largest economy off its dependence on oil.
NEW ENVIRONMENTAL MEASURES
Measures passed by Schroeder's cabinet yesterday included support for new forms of energy and energy-saving cars, a nationwide building insulation plan and the setting of voluntary targets for businesses to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Part of the cash for the programme came from 15 billion marks ($6.6 billion) that Berlin is ploughing back into the economy after a windfall from the recent auction of new-generation UMTS mobile telephone licences.
A German-Dutch study released on Tuesday forecast that the EU's CO2 emissions will increase by 7-8 percent of 1990 levels by 2010, compared to the eight percent reduction the EU agreed to in the binding 1997 U.N. Kyoto Protocol on climate change.
The new measures announced by Berlin received modest approval from ecology lobbyists, who noted that other countries looked on Germany to set a lead on ecological measures.
"It's vital that Germany pursues its role as a pioneer on energy policy," said Oliver Rapf, climate change expert at the Frankfurt office of the World Wide Fund For Nature.
He criticised Schroeder for not having committed his government to prolonging the "eco-tax" programme after it ends in 2003, saying this sent "absolutely the wrong signal".
Despite huge protests from truckers, farmers and taxi drivers recently, Schroeder has insisted he will pursue a further rise in the eco-tax levies next year.
Other ecologist groups attack Berlin for its continued huge state subsidies to the coal industry - worth some $3 billion this year - which they say prop up an outdated and environmentally damaging form of fuel.