Berlin vote in favour of tighter emission target fails
A referendum on whether Berlin should adopt a binding target of becoming climate neutral by 2030, held on Sunday (26 March), failed to get the requisite votes to pass.
If it had been approved, the vote would have forced the new conservative local government to invest heavily in renewable energy, building efficiency and public transportation.
Climate campaigners gathered over 260,000 signatures supporting the referendum, which aimed to make Berlin one of the few major European cities with a legally binding goal to become carbon neutral in seven years.
Last year, the European Union started a scheme to help 100 cities inside and outside the bloc become climate neutral by 2030, but the scheme and the financial support it offers are not legally binding.
The referendum’s results intended to show whether Germans, or at least Berliners, want Germany’s climate policy – carbon neutrality by 2045 – to be more ambitious.
However, Sunday’s results showed insufficient support. In order for the referendum to succeed, 25% – or 600,000 – of eligible voters needed to vote in favour. Of the about 900,000 Berliners that went to the poll, 450,000 voted yes, meaning the vote fell short.
Climate activists who initiated the vote say the government’s target is too far in the future to prevent global warming from exceeding 1.5 degrees Celsius.
Unlike Berlin’s previous referendums, including one calling for the expropriation of large landlords or on keeping the former Tempelhof airport free from development, Sunday’s climate referendum would have been legally binding for the government in Berlin.
They include a mandate to install solar panels on all suitable roofs in the city to generate around 25% of the city’s electricity, in addition to expanding wind power turbines in the neighbouring Brandenburg state to supply the capital.
Installing a large heat pump on the Spree river and renovating buildings across the city to replace oil and gas heaters with efficient heat pumps are also among the measures that will be needed if Berliners back the new 2030 goal.
Germany’s capital would have also had to expand electric vehicle usage and add bike lanes while making public transport more attractive, the group suggested on its website.
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Potential SPD-CDU coalition
The Berlin referendum mirrors an EU decision to make climate neutrality a legally-binding commitment on EU member states, with a European Climate Law obliging the 27-nation bloc to reduce emissions to net zero by 2050.
It comes as Germany’s conservative CDU party is negotiating a possible coalition with the Social Democrats in the city after its clear victory in a repeat election, driving the environmentalist Greens into opposition.
Stefan Taschner, a Greens Berlin lawmaker, said a positive referendum result would have forced the new ruling coalition in the city-state to conduct a more active climate policy.
Danny Freymark, a CDU Berlin lawmaker, voted against it, saying a new binding target would deprive the new government of any leeway and would lead to disappointment.
As a city of four million, with few renewable energy sources nearby or geothermal heating, Berlin lacks what is necessary to make that target more achievable, said Bernd Hirschl from Berlin’s Institute for Ecological Economy Research.
“Because it’s not about 2030. It’s about the question of whether we want to send a signal to politicians or not,” he added.
The EU Climate Law explained
The European Commission tabled its much-awaited Climate Law in March this year, in a bid to carve into stone Europe’s objective of becoming the first climate-neutral continent in the world by 2050. EURACTIV explains what the Climate Law does, how it works and what its criticisms are.