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10 German words you need to know to engage in the climate debate

The environment will top the agenda at the World Economic Forum in Davos this week. Here are the key terms you need to know to discuss the role Germany plays.

10 German words you need to know to engage in the climate debate
Wind mills in Brandenburg. Photo: DPA

Germany is one of the countries trying to lead the way in terms of environmental policy, and debate on the subject will continue to dominate the news over the next few years. 

READ ALSO: Five ways Germany makes you greener without even noticing

Here are ten words which can help you to get to grips with discussions, both in the press and with your friends and colleagues. 


This compound word meaning “environmental protection”, was reportedly invented on the November 7th, 1969, in the interior ministry of the former West German government.

The roots of the current environmental movement (Umweltbewegung) can be traced back to this era, when green activism began with protests in West Germany against aircraft noise and nuclear power plant plans in.


Das Treibhaus is the German word for greenhouse, so you can probably guess what Treibhausgas means. 

Cars: a major contributor to greenhouse gases. Photo: DPA

Greenhouse gases are a major cause of global warming and are one of the key issues in the fight against climate change. In December, the EU pledged to collectively reduce greenhouse gas emissions to net-zero by 2050.


Verpackung (packaging) has been making a lot of headlines in Germany in the last couple of years. In January 2019, a new Verpackungsgesetz (packaging law) was introduced, requiring manufacturers to report their use of paper, glass and plastic and to contribute to recycling costs. 

READ ALSO: Germany to ban single-use plastic shopping bags

There has also been a lot of focus on the overuse of packaging and many of the main German supermarkets are making efforts to reduce the amount of packaging used for their products.

Erneuerbare Energien

Erneubare Energien (renewable energies) are on the rise in Germany – last year, renewable energy sources made up just over 40 percent of energy production in the Bundesrepublik, overtaking coal. Renewable energy sources in Germany include solar, wind, biomass and hydroelectric power.


If you have lived in Germany for more than a few weeks, you should already know how seriously Mülltrennung (waste separation) is taken. Household waste is separated into four differently coloured bins and glass bottles must be taken to a local Mülltonne (waste container). 

If you are still not sure what should go where – have a look at our article from earlier this month (recycling section).


This term, which translates literally as Carbon Dioxide Balance, is the German equivalent of the English term “carbon footprint”. 

You can work out what your own personal carbon footprint is by using this online calculator.


This German word for sustainability was first used by the forestry industry in the early 18th century due to an increasing national wood shortage

Nowadays, the word is synonymous with green thinking and over the last thirty years it has become the guiding principle for political, societal and ecological action on the environment. 


Abwasser, meaning “waste water”, refers to both household and industrial  waste water, both of which have devastating effects on the environment.

READ ALSO: Wasserwende: Germany urges more people to drink tap water to protect the environment

An 'Abwasser' plant in Greifswald. Photo: DPA


The literal translation of this German word is “animal holding” but, in the environmental context, it is used to refer to animal farming, which is extremely environmentally inefficient.

In order to help the environment, people are advised to cut down on their Fleischkonsum (meat consumption).


The last word on this list was the “non-word of the year” 2019 and translates as “Climate Hysteria”. It is a word which has been used by Klimawandelleugner (climate change deniers) in an attempt to discredit the current environmental movement and to play down the seriousness of the threat posed by global warming. 


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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.


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.