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ENVIRONMENT

Germany passes new bee-protection law to ward off ‘ecological apocalypse’

Germany passed legislation on Friday imposing more ambitious climate targets and tougher curbs on pesticides to protect insects - both controversial flagship projects of Chancellor Angela Merkel's government.

Germany passes new bee-protection law to ward off 'ecological apocalypse'
A bumblebee lands on a wildflower. Bees are one of the key insect species that the government is keen to protect. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Daniel Bockwoldt

In its final session before the summer recess, the upper house of parliament signed off on reforms to Germany’s climate protection law to bring the nation’s target date for reaching carbon neutrality forward by five years, to 2045.

Germany will also aim to slash CO2 emissions by 65 percent by 2030 compared with 1990 levels, going further than an earlier goal of 55 percent.

The changes were forced by a groundbreaking ruling by Germany’s Constitutional Court in April that the 2019 climate law was “insufficient” and placed an unfair burden on younger generations to tackle global warming.

Merkel’s cabinet reacted by swiftly drafting more ambitious legislation, ahead of a September 26th general election in which concerns about climate change are expected to be on voters’ minds.

READ ALSO: No tax hikes, climate action – Here’s what’s in the election manifesto of Germany’s CDU

But critics including Fridays for Future activists and the opposition Green party say the efforts still don’t go far enough.

The “insect protection” law also approved on Friday has likewise been contentious, driving a wedge between different ministries and pitting
environmentalists against farmers who say the new rules threaten their livelihoods.

The package of measures includes phasing out the controversial weed-killer glyphosate by January 1st, 2024 and banning the use of insecticides and herbicides in certain areas.

It also creates more protected zones, such as bee-friendly meadows, and reduces light pollution at night.

Biologists have long warned that plummeting insect populations damage the ecosystem by disrupting natural food chains and plant pollination.

Tractor protests

The final package of insect protection measures is the result of more than two years of wrangling and a last-ditch compromise giving farmers an additional 65 million euros ($78 million) to help them adapt to the changes, bringing the total to 150 million euros annually.

“By protecting insects today, we are safeguarding the agricultural industry of tomorrow,” said Environment Minister Svenja Schulze.

Farmers have repeatedly staged tractor protests against the legislation, fearing the stricter regulations won’t allow them to compete with cheaper agriculture products from abroad.

READ ALSO: ‘No food, no future’: German farmers protest against insect protection plans

A 2017 study in Germany was one of the first to raise global alarm about the loss of insects.

It found that the biomass of flying insects across German nature reserves had declined by more than 75 percent in 27 years, triggering warnings of an “ecological apocalypse”.

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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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