24 Mar 2023, 13:44
Sören Amelang

Debate over “Berlin 2030 climate neutral” initiative heats up ahead of referendum

Clean Energy Wire

With only a few days to go before the referendum to make Germany’s capital climate neutral by 2030, the debate over the ambitious initiative intensified among policymakers, experts, and in the media. In a debate held in Berlin's city parliament, Conservative (CDU) politician Stefan Evers called the law changes proposed in Sunday’s vote a “grab bag whose content is unknown even to the initiators,” reported local tabloid BZ. The city’s Green climate senator Bettina Jarasch said the measures necessary to achieve climate neutrality in Berlin by 2030 would cost at least a high double-digit billion amount. Around 300 representatives from Berlin’s cultural scene launched an appeal to call for a “Yes” vote in the referendum, reported Tagesspiegel.

Berlin citizens will decide in a referendum on Sunday 26 March whether the city should adopt a plan to become climate neutral in 2030. This target implies that the German capital with almost four million inhabitants would have to phase out its emissions in just 7 years — 15 years earlier than currently planned. If more than a quarter of voters agree to the proposal (and outweigh those against), a corresponding law would automatically enter force. Even many supporters of the referendum say it is an illusion to believe that Berlin can become climate neutral by 2030.  "My thesis is that we won't make it by 2030. I think 2045 is realistic," said Fritz Reusswig from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, who said he will still vote in favour to avoid a standstill on climate action under a city government led by the Conservative CDU and the Social Democrats (SPD), which looks likely following a recent city election. The fact that the demand is unrealistic is one of the most controversial points of the referendum. “Is it permissible to use one's vote to pressure policymakers into something that one considers quite unrealistic?” asked Petra Pinzler in Die Zeit. “The opponents of the referendum say: No, that would be frivolous, almost coercion to break the law. The supporters’ retort: Only if politicians are coerced will they finally take the climate crisis seriously.”

Media commentators are sharply divided on the issue. “This referendum is a farce that, if successful, will do more harm than good,” because a successful majority would result in a binding yet unrealistic law change, argued Kaja Klapsa in conservative daily Welt. In an opinion article in conservative tabloid Bild, Gunnar Schupelius also called on readers to vote “No,” because a success would result in radical measures such as driving bans, heating bans, and an obligation to renovate old buildings at unknown costs. “On Sunday, a law could enter force whose effects are not known to those who vote for it. This is not only completely absurd, but also dangerous,” Schupelius argued. In contrast, Miriam Dahlinger wrote in Süddeutsche Zeitung: “To increase pressure on policymakers, we need radical demands from civil society” even if these are considered unrealistic. In her opinion piece entitled “Berlin, this is your chance!” Dahlinger asked: “Who else could be a role model [in the fight against climate change] if not modern cities like Berlin?”

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