Berlin vote could boost German capital’s climate plans

Sunday’s referendum, which drew considerable financial support from US-based philanthropists, calls for Berlin to be climate neutral by 2030, meaning that in less than eight years the city will no longer be able to contribute to global warming.

An existing law sets the deadline for achieving that target at 2045, which is also Germany’s national target.

The center-right Christian Democratic Union, which won a recent local election in the capital and is likely to lead its new government, opposes the earlier target but will be forced to implement it if the referendum passes.

Jessamine Davis, a spokeswoman for the grassroots group that initiated the vote, said Berlin’s current target is not in line with the 2015 Paris climate accord, which aims to limit global warming to 1.5C compared with the pre-industrial average.

“This is a very ambitious goal, we are clear about it. And it won’t be easy,” he said of the plan to cut almost all emissions by 2030. “But the climate crisis is an even bigger challenge.”

Ms. Davis pointed to the flood disaster in western Germany two years ago that killed more than 180 people and caused economic damage of tens of billions of euros.

Scientists say such disasters could become more likely as the planet warms. By contrast, redesigning Berlin’s entire city heating network to be carbon neutral is estimated to cost four billion euros, he said.

Polls show Berliners narrowly in favor of the proposal, but the law also requires it to win the support of at least 25% of the city’s 2.4 million eligible voters to pass, something that could be more difficult to achieve on a day when there is no election or other voting is taking place.

To draw attention to the referendum, Ms. Davis’s group has carried out a large-scale publicity campaign, with the help of donations of almost 1.2 million euros. While some 150,000 euros came from crowdfunding, most of the money was provided by philanthropic organizations and individuals.

A poster about the referendum in Berlin.
A poster about the referendum in Berlin (Markus Schreiber/AP)

The lion’s share, more than 400,000 euros, came from German-American investors Albert Wenger and Susan Danziger.

In emails to the Associated Press, Wenger said the US-based couple had “a long history of supporting climate movements and investing in innovative solutions to the climate crisis.”

“The Berlin ballot initiative demonstrates that citizens in a democratic process demand faster and stronger climate action,” he said. “This is a replicable model for the rest of the world and could achieve climate neutrality by 2030 before major tipping points are crossed.”

Stefan Evers, a senior Christian Democrat politician, said his party recognized the “historic challenge” of climate change and the impacts it is already having on Berlin and its 3.7 million people.

The party has proposed increasing the budget for climate-related measures from five to 10 billion euros, but Evers said the investments required if the referendum passed would ruin the bank.

“Everyone who votes ‘yes’ on Sunday must ask themselves: Do we want to make drastic savings in kindergartens, schools, public sports facilities, homeless relief and social housing because of this referendum, or not,” he told his peers. politicians on Thursday. .

Evers warned that if estimates of a €100 billion price tag for the measures are accurate, “then in a few years Berlin will not be climate neutral but will be bankrupt.”


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