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CLIMATE

Climate activists block traffic in Berlin as protests heat up

Opposition leaders and environment activists condemned German Chancellor Angela Merkel's government Monday for watering down a new climate protection law, as "Extinction Rebellion" protestors blocked traffic in Berlin.

Climate activists block traffic in Berlin as protests heat up
'Extinction Rebellian' actvists blocked Berlin's Großer Stern Monday morning as part of their "Block Berlin" action week. Photo: DPA

Key elements of a September climate deal struck within Merkel's coalition government were absent from a draft law published by the environment ministry, including a binding goal of “climate neutrality” by 2050 and a powerful
oversight role for an independent commission of experts.

“This is an anti-democratic scandal for climate policy,” Left party MP Lorenz Goesta Beutin told AFP, adding that Germany now risked breaching the 2015 Paris Agreement, which committed almost all countries to reducing climate-altering carbon emissions.

READ ALSO: Germany reaches climate deal as protesters strike for change

Monday's new pitched battle over the climate law comes as “Extinction Rebellion” protesters, who call for direct action and civil disobedience to pressure governments into more drastic environmental protection, blocked a major roundabout in the heart of Berlin.

Police confirmed that around 1,000 people had blocked the busy “Großer Stern” intersection in the Tiergarten park from four am.

Even within the coalition, some among Merkel's junior partners the social democrats (SPD) were riled by the draft law, set to be passed to parliament by ministers Wednesday.

“If (Merkel's conservatives) further weaken the climate package, it will be nothing more than a paper tiger,” said Karl Lauterbach, a left-wing contender in the SPD's leadership race.

Defending its draft law, the environment ministry pointed to carbon dioxide (CO2) reduction goals across economic sectors — principally transport, construction, agriculture and waste — that will tighten annually until 2030.

Germany is “especially ambitious” among EU member nations in its CO2 targets, Merkel's chief of staff Helge Braun told ZDF public television.

“The climate protection law that we will pass in the coming days will anchor exactly these national climate goals for 2030” which the country committed to in Paris, he added.

In a speech in Sinsheim, southwest Germany, Merkel promised that “monitoring and oversight will be anchored in the law in a way that is crystal clear”.

READ ALSO: What are the key points of Merkel's new climate strategy?

Berlin has been under pressure to make its climate measures more credible.

Ministers have acknowledged the country will fail in its aim to reduce emissions by 40 percent of 1990 levels by next year, while tens of thousands of young people have taken to the streets every week for months in “Fridays for Future” demonstrations.

But Merkel's coalition of centre-right conservatives and centre-left social democrats are keen to preserve social peace, with an eye on “yellow vest” protests that hobbled France last year over higher fuel taxes.

“To just make everything more expensive overnight, when people can't avoid
it because they've just bought a new car, would not only be disproportionate
in our view, it wouldn't make anything better,” Merkel aide Braun said.

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ENVIRONMENT

Young activists take German states to court over climate inaction

Campaigners began a legal challenge against five German regions on Monday to force them to take stronger action on climate change, emboldened by a landmark recent court ruling in favour of environmental protection.

Young activists take German states to court over climate inaction
Demonstrators from the Fridays for Future movement protest in Gießen, Hesse, with a sign saying "No wishy-washy, no climate lashing". Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Frank Rumpenhorst

The plaintiffs are basing their case on a sensational verdict by Germany’s constitutional court in April which found that Germany’s plans to curb CO2 emissions were insufficient to meet the targets of the Paris climate agreement and placed an unfair burden on future generations.

In a major win for activists, Chancellor Angela Merkel’s federal government then brought forward its date for carbon neutrality by five years to 2045, and raised its 2030 target for greenhouse gas reductions.

READ ALSO: 

On Monday, 16 children and young adults began proceedings against the regions of Hesse, Saxony, Saxony-Anhalt, Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania and Saarland, with support of environmental NGO Environmental Action Germany (DUH).

They are charging that none of the states targeted by the legal action have passed sufficiently strong climate legislation at the local level, according to DUH.

“The federal government can’t succeed on its own,” lead lawyer Remo Klinger said in a press conference, highlighting state competence in the area of transport.

DUH worked closely together with the youth climate movement Fridays For Future to find activists willing to front the challenges, the group said.

Seventeen-year-old plaintiff Alena Hochstadt said the western state of Hesse, known for its Frankfurt banking hub, had always been her home but she feared having “no future here”.

Concern about the risk of “floods, storms and droughts” led her and other campaigners to seek “a legal basis for binding climate protection”.

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

Hesse’s ministers for climate and the economy said they were “surprised” by the announcement.

“DUH clearly has not yet understood that we in Hesse are well ahead,” Priska Hinz and Tarek Al-Wazir said in a joint statement, drawing attention to an energy future law from 2012, before the Paris climate agreement.

In July, DUH-supported activists took the states of Bavaria, North Rhine-Westphalia and Brandenburg to court on similar grounds.

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