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Germany could ‘lose last glaciers in 10 years’

Germany's glaciers are melting at a faster pace than feared and the country could lose its last ice caps in 10 years, an alarming report said Thursday.

Germany could 'lose last glaciers in 10 years'
The glacier on Germany's highest mountain, the Zugspitze, covered in snow. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Sina Schuldt

“The days of glaciers in Bavaria are numbered. And even sooner than expected,” said Thorsten Glauber, environment minister of the southern region, home to Germany’s ice-capped Alps.

“The last Bavarian Alpine glacier could be gone in 10 years.” Scientists had previously estimated the glaciers would be around until the middle of the century.

But the melting has accelerated dramatically over the last years. Located in the Zugspitze area and in the Berchtesgaden Alps, Germany’s five glaciers have lost about two-thirds of their volume in the past decade.

Their surface areas have also shrunk by a third – equivalent to around 36 football fields.

Issuing a stark warning over global warming, Glauber stressed that the glaciers are “not only a monument of Earth’s history in the form of snow and ice”.

“They are thermometers for the state of our climate,” he added.

A global study released Wednesday found nearly all the world’s glaciers are losing mass at an ever increasing pace, contributing to more than a fifth of global sea level rise this century.

An international team of researchers analysing images taken by a NASA satellite said that between 2000-2019, the world’s glaciers lost an average of 267 billion tonnes of ice each year — enough to submerge Switzerland under six metres of water every year.

The report came as meteorologists in Germany said this April has been the coldest in four decades.

Like elsewhere in Europe, Germany has recorded wild weather in recent years. After a winter in which temperatures plunged well below freezing in February, the mercury rose to 25.9 degrees on April 1 before slipping more than 15 degrees for much of the rest of the month.

Environmentalists blame global warming for the shifts and have been urging governments to do more to halt the damaging trend.

READ ALSO: How Germany is reacting to top court’s landmark ruling

Under the 2015 Paris Agreement countries aim to keep the global temperature increase to under two degrees Celsius, and ideally closer to 1.5 degrees, by 2050.

Climate activists scored a landmark victory Thursday in a case against Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government as the Constitutional Court ruled Berlin’s environment protection plan insufficient.

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CLIMATE

‘No longer pushing the burden into future’: German govt approves more ambitious climate targets

The German government on Wednesday approved a new law setting more ambitious targets to reduce CO2 emissions, after the country's top court declared a flagship climate law "insufficient".

'No longer pushing the burden into future': German govt approves more ambitious climate targets
German environment minister Svenja Schulze holding up the country's new emissions targets at a press conference on Wednesday. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Kay Nietfeld

“We are setting the framework for the next years and decades,” said Environment Minister Svenja Schulze, adding that the reform was a “fair offer to the younger generations” as it “no longer pushes the burden into the future”.

In a sensational ruling last month, Germany’s Constitutional Court said the current climate protection law threatened to “irreversibly offload major emission reduction burdens” onto the period after 2030, thereby “violating the freedoms” of future generations.

READ ALSO: ‘Exclamation mark for climate protection’: How Germany is reacting to top court’s landmark ruling

Already under electoral pressure from the Green Party, which currently leads opinion polls ahead of September’s general election, the ruling left-right coalition has since moved quickly to tighten the law.

Under the new targets approved by Chancellor Angela Merkel’s cabinet on Wednesday, the government expects to slash emissions by 65 percent by 2030 compared to 1990 levels, going further than the current 55 percent reduction target

The cut will reach 88 percent by 2040, with the goal of bringing Germany to carbon neutrality by 2045, five years earlier than previously expected. Schulze added that Germany would also now aim to record negative emissions from 2050 onwards, by absorbing more greenhouse gases than it produced.

“We are talking about nothing less than a doubling of the tempo when it comes to climate protection,” she said.

“That is a huge task, but I am optimistic,” she said, adding that the government planned to see the law through parliament before September’s elections.

Yet critics argued that even the more stringent targets did not go far enough.

Speaking to public broadcaster ARD, Green Party leader and would-be Merkel successor Annalena Baerbock urged the government to “not just name targets, but also measures with which we can reach these targets”.

In a stunt in the early hours of Wednesday morning, Greenpeace Germany projected an image onto the wall of Merkel’s office which showed the words “right to a future, climate protection now!” against a background of flames.

The group has called for further measures such as an exit from coal by 2030 and a ban on combustion engines from 2025.

Germany currently aims to phase out coal power by 2038 at the latest, though Schulze claimed Wednesday that this date could be brought forward with a sufficient expansion of renewable energies.

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