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Scientists hunt climate change in Berlin parks

Scientists at Berlin's Technical University (TU) will spend three years investigating the effects of climate change in Berlin and Brandenburg as maintaining the green spaces in and around the capital becomes increasingly difficult.

Scientists hunt climate change in Berlin parks
Climate change could make a morning run in Charlottenburg palace gardens a thing of the past. Photo: DPA

“We see serious damage [to the parks] and fewer and fewer new plantings work out,” said landscape architect Professor Norbert Kühn from TU Berlin.

He said that the worst-affected plants were old native trees such as oak, beech and linden trees – of the type to be found by the hundreds in parks like the one at Potsdam's Sanssouci Palace.

Kühn and his fellow researchers believe that the warmth and dry soil caused by climate change could be damaging the plants that have traditionally populated Berlin and Brandenburg.

Parks are a particularly challenging case, because it would be difficult to replace the trees and flowers at protected historic sites with new plants that are better adapted to the new conditions.

“But there are all kinds of possibilities – a domestic oak tree is almost indistinguishable from an American one,” Kühn said.

How will the lush gardens at Potsdam's Sanssouci Palace react to the changing climate? Photo: DPA

Now the German Federal Environment Foundation (DBU) has given the scientists €350,000 to investigate the problem.

One path being explored is adding artificial substrates to the soil in plants' early years, giving them support during the time when they're establishing roots.

Other researchers will be looking into old gardening texts to find out how the green-fingered Germans of past generations kept their parks and forests looking spruce in times of drought and high temperatures.

Still more experiments will look into ways of rejuvenating damaged trees.

“We want to see if we can get them to produce more new growth, so that they can be maintained for longer,” Kühn said.

We recommend enjoying a beer in Berlin's Tiergarten while you still can. Photo: DPA

Among the parks covered by the study are two must-sees on any Berlin tourist's list: the Sanssouci palace gardens and Berlin's Charlottenburg palace.

Parks in Potsdam-Babelsberg and in Rhinesberg will also be looked at by the scientists, who will create special plantations of their own which will be open for viewing by the public from 2016.

“The effects of climate change are so far mostly restricted to forests and agriculture,” Kühn said.

He and his team hope that some of their discoveries will prove useful for keeping Germany green where it matters – in the woods and the fields – just as much as in beautiful parks.

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CLIMATE CHANGE

UPDATE: Greta Thunberg joins German climate strikes before vote ‘of a century’

Tens of thousands of climate activists including Greta Thunberg descended on German cities Friday ahead of the weekend general election to crank up the pressure on the candidates to succeed Angela Merkel.

UPDATE: Greta Thunberg joins German climate strikes before vote 'of a century'
Greta Thunberg and other climate activists in Berlin on Friday. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Jörg Carstensen

Speaking at a rally in front of the Reichstag parliament building in the run-up to Sunday’s poll, Thunberg told cheering Fridays for Future youth supporters that they needed to hold Germany’s political leaders to account past election day.

“It is clearer than ever that no political party is doing close to enough… not even their proposed commitments are close to being in line with what would be needed to fulfil the Paris Agreement,” on curbing climate change, she said.

“Yes, we must vote, you must vote, but remember that voting only will not be enough. We must keep going into the streets.”

As Germany’s top parties hold final rallies ahead of Sunday’s vote, the Fridays for Future youth marches claim the political class has let down the younger generation.

“The political parties haven’t taken the climate catastrophe seriously enough,” Luisa Neubauer, who runs the group’s German chapter, said.

She said Germany, as one of the world’s top emitters of greenhouse gases, had an outsize responsibility to set an example, with time running out to reverse destructive trends.

“That is why we are calling this the election of a century,” she said.

The race has boiled down to a two-way contest between Social Democrat Olaf Scholz, the moderate finance minister, and Armin Laschet from Merkel’s conservative Christian Democrats.

Polls give Scholz a small lead of about 26 percent over Laschet at around 22 percent, with the candidate from the ecologist Greens, Annalena Baerbock, trailing in the mid-teens.

Despite the urgency of the climate issue for a majority of Germans, particularly in the aftermath of deadly floods in the west of the country in July, this has failed to translate into strong support for the relatively inexperienced Baerbock.

She told Die Welt newspaper that she hoped Friday’s rally would give her party “tailwinds” heading into the vote. “The next government has to be a climate government – that will only work with a strong Green party.”   

More than 400 “climate strikes” are planned across Germany, with the Swedish Thunberg, who inspired the movement, expected to speak outside the Reichstag parliament building.

Thousands gathered on the lawn there from late morning bearing signs reading “Climate now, homework later”, “It’s our future” and simply “Vote”.

“Climate is an important issue and if this continues things are going to get worse and worse,” 14-year-old pupil Louise Herr told AFP.

Gathering under the banners “We are young and need the world!” and “Everything for the climate”, the activists are arguing that “climate crisis is this century’s biggest problem”.

READ ALSO: Climate change made German floods ‘more likely and more intense’

 ‘Unfair burden’

The activists will be part of a global climate strike in more than 1,000 communities around the world, Fridays for Future said.

Their central demand is to limit the warming of the Earth to maximum 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 Fahrenheit) as laid out in the 2015 Paris climate accord.

The Paris agreement set a goal of reducing global warming by two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels with an aspiration to go further and cap the rise to 1.5 Celsius.

Despite Merkel’s vocal support of climate protection measures, Germany has repeatedly failed in recent years to meet its emission reduction targets under the pact.

In a landmark ruling in April, Germany’s constitutional court found the government’s plans to curb CO2 emissions “insufficient” to meet the targets of the Paris agreement and placed an “unfair burden” on future generations.

The Fridays for Future movement launched global school strikes more than two years ago arguing that time was running out to stop irreversible damage from the warming of the planet.


Demonstrators take to the streets in Berlin to call for urgent climate action. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/AP | Luca Bruno

In September 2019, it drew huge crowds in cities and towns around the world including 1.4 million protesters in Germany, according to organisers.

The outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic put the brakes on its weekly rallies but the election campaign in Europe’s top economy has revitalised the
movement.

“The climate crisis cannot be solved through party politics alone,” Thunberg told reporters ahead of her appearance in Berlin.

“We can’t just vote for change, we also have to be active democratic citizens and go out on the streets and demand action.”

READ ALSO:

Greens as junior partner?

Around 60.4 million Germans are called to the polls on Sunday and most voters cite climate protection among their top priorities.

All three leading parties have said they aim to implement a climate protection agenda if elected, with the Greens presenting the most ambitious package of measures.

However the Fridays for Future activists have said even the Greens’ official programme falls short of what is needed to stick to the 1.5 degree Celsius temperature rise.

The Greens want to end coal energy use by 2030 instead of the current 2038. They also want the production of combustion engine cars to end from the same year.

While the party is expected to fall far short of its ambition to win the election Sunday and place Baerbock in the chancellery, polls indicate it has a good chance of joining a ruling coalition as a junior partner under Scholz or Laschet.

By Deborah Cole

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