Focus on climate crisis
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Reporting on climate change is one of the major journalistic challenges of our time. The climate crisis is also one of the most important issues of humanity for SPIEGEL. For this reason, we support an international initiative that seeks to take a look this week: "Covering Climate Now" was initiated by the Columbia Journalism Review and the Canadian newspaper "The Nation", with more than 200 media companies around the world, including the Guardian, El País, La Repubblica, The Times of India, Bloomberg or Vanity Fair. SPIEGEL is dedicating the cover story of the current issue to the climate crisis this week and every day pays special attention to mirror.de
According to Transport Minister Andreas Scheuer (CSU), there will be little change for motorists in the coming years despite the climate crisis. The emission of greenhouse gases can be reduced largely painless, he says: With higher subsidies for electric cars, for example, and more money for alternative fuels and buses and trains. Prohibitions, taxes and other hardships? Such things are missing in his proposals for the big climate package, which the federal government wants to launch on Friday.
This is far too lenient for environmentalists. Scheuer's measures were "insufficient in terms of climate policy", wrote BUND, Deutscher Naturschutzring, WWF, NABU and Umwelthilfe in a letter to Angela Merkel, among others. Scheuer's ministry, meanwhile, wants to present a plan that will save the transport sector 55 million tonnes of CO2 by the end of the next decade. Whether this works with the initiatives from Scheuer's plan is unclear.
According to many scientists and environmental activists who demonstrated at the IAA, much more dramatic means are needed. Otherwise Germany could not make its promised contribution to the Paris Climate Agreement. But what is it all about - and would such measures actually be feasible?
1. Immediate exit from the combustion engine or until 2025/28
Put an end to diesel and gasoline engines, and immediately - as it called for the action alliance "Get Off", which organized a protest bike star ride to the IAA auto show. Behind the alliance are organizations such as the cycling club ADFC, BUND and German environmental aid. The environmental organization Greenpeace is also joining in, but is aiming for the exit date rather in the middle of the coming decade.
Either way, the demands are extremely ambitious - and their implementation might be counterproductive. The immediate exit from the combustion engine is hardly conceivable without manufacturers and suppliers shut down factories and tens of thousands of employees would have to dismiss. They would probably also bill the billions to the state if it bans its core business from one day to the next. Trade unions would call for their members to protest - in the end, climate protection would probably be extremely unpopular.
By contrast, with a few years of transition, the dislocations of a burned-out in favor of electric cars would probably be much lower, especially since e-cars are getting better and cheaper. "In principle, this is feasible for cars," says car expert Ferdinand Dudenhöffer. "The question is the time." But he also considers 2025/28 to be too early and too expensive and more realistic in 2040.
But what does realistically mean at a time when CO2 emissions have to be radically reduced? For car expert Eric Heymann of Deutsche Bank, it simply means achieving the greatest savings possible with as little effort as possible - for example, with a well-functioning CO2 emissions trading system that includes traffic.
A burnout would also be counterproductive if climate-neutral, synthetic fuels prevail in the coming years. These are produced from electricity, hydrogen and CO2 (for example from the air) - and used in combustion engines. In just a few years, the cost of a ride in a VW Golf, fueled with such fuels should sink to 5 euros per 100 kilometers, expects expert Wolfgang Köppel from the DVGW Research Center at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology. This was made possible by new, large factories in countries with favorable solar and wind power supply.
Conclusion: An immediate exit from the combustion engine would be rash and counterproductive. It is still possible to reduce the CO2 emissions of car traffic quickly - with less drastic specifications.
2. Climate neutral traffic until 2035
This requirement of "alighting" sounds more moderate than an immediate burn-off, because there is supposedly a lot of time left until 2035. But it is also very far-reaching - and achievable only with immense effort. As a rule, it takes about 20 years for a car generation to disappear naturally, predominantly from the vehicle fleet. So if combustion cars expire without regulation until 2035, they would have had to stop selling in 2015. Since this has not happened and burners are still massively sold off, in this scenario, a large proportion of then still approved gasoline and diesel cars would have to disappear by the deadline in 2035 or fueled only with climate-neutral, synthetic fuels.
Even harder would be the change in aircraft. The development of alternative propulsion systems in aviation lagged significantly behind the road.
For electric cars to be climate-neutral on the road, the electricity mix would have to be switched to 100 percent renewable energy. The federal government plans officially a share of 65 percent by 2030 (today: more than 40 percent), the eco-think tank Agora Energiewende expects a share of 77 percent for 2035. The gap is not so huge at first sight. However, if all cars in Germany were powered by electricity, the demand for electricity would grow by about a third, the consulting firm PwC has calculated.
Deutsche Bank man Heymann calls the goal of environmentalists "technically and economically impossible". Traffic researcher Andreas Knie from the Social Science Research Center Berlin speaks of a "Herculean task". He advises to first declare the goal in the big cities. Otherwise, it would probably initially amount to massive increases in individual mobility, which would seem to many people as a driving or flying ban.
Conclusion: It is not completely unthinkable to achieve such a goal - it stands and falls with the rapid, complete conversion of the power supply to renewable energies. Sufficient electricity could be produced. But storage systems that buffer fluctuating wind and solar power would probably make the final steps on the 100-percent path very expensive.
3. Priority for pedestrian and bicycle traffic
For decades, traffic planners have looked at the space in cities mostly from a driver's perspective - and created wide avenues for passenger cars. Now, the tide is to turn, and the place to be redirected in favor of pedestrians and cyclists.
This plan should be relatively easy to implement. People in metropolitan areas are increasingly turning to the wheel, e-scooters and public transport. The traffic is already declining in some places and even lobby clubs such as the ADAC acknowledge that fewer cars are good in cities - and not only in Amsterdam or Copenhagen, but also in Germany.
"More space for foot and bicycle traffic would be politically enforceable and would bring a lot of quality of life," says traffic expert Knie. Among other things, he relies on more zebra crossings and fewer bedtime traffic lights, where pedestrians first have to request green. German bank economist Heymann thinks the climate benefit is manageable, because rather short car trips would be replaced. However, the urban redevelopment is comparatively cheap.
Conclusion: a winner topic. It's best to start right away!
4. Massive expansion of bus and train as well as free tickets
At present, almost all political forces - from the left to Transport Minister Scheuer - are calling for a better public transport service. There are disagreements in the question of whether the tickets should be free or at least significantly cheaper.
However, the expansion of bus and train is anything but a hobby. In many places, it may take years or decades before a rail line is built - because residents complain and German planning law is patient. Especially underground and suburban rail projects in cities are also very expensive, the money could be used in favor of the climate often better off differently.
In the countryside, on the other hand, the supply would have to be multiplied so that all the municipalities are connected. "This will be priceless and brings significant loss of comfort for the rural population," says car expert Dudenhöffer. Even traffic expert Knie advises against simply increasing the Bustaktung: "We need a completely different public transport with smaller vehicles that bring customers from door to door." In addition, more entrepreneurial spirit in the industry is important. Therefore, local traffic should continue to cost money. Otherwise, the quality could suffer.
Conclusion: well meant is not well done. It is comparatively easy to mobilize further billion in subsidies for local traffic. But they could be poorly invested money and sometimes only have a long-term effect.
5. Introduction of a top speed of 120 km / h on highways, 80 km / h out of town and 30 km / h in urban areas
There it is again, the favorite subject of car Germany. Lawn on highways is symbolic on the one hand for freedom, on the other hand for future oblivion.
A speed limit could easily be implemented in theory: A stable majority in the population is according to surveys, it costs almost nothing and brings more security on the roads. And there is a climate benefit - by as much as 3.5 million tons alone, the motorway limit could reduce CO2 emissions according to the German Aerospace Center.
However, there is a critical mass of speed limit opponents among the supporters of most parties. That makes the implementation politically expensive - because it could drive more voters in the arms of the AfD. Tempo 140 would be a conceivable compromise, says German bank man Heymann.
Conclusion: As strange as it sounds in the face of the obvious climate crisis - Germany may still not be ready for the speed limit, at least not for 120km / h. And maybe it's not worth it to put too much political energy into the subject because of possible alternatives.
6. Efficient electric mobility instead of thicker (E-) SUV
Electric cars are potentially climate-friendly - but manufacturers sometimes use the new technology to build even heavier and more powerful vehicles. So would penalty taxes or restrictions on bulky SUVs, including electric ones, be a good answer if in return small electric vehicles are being promoted?
Traffic researcher Knie pleads for SUV driving bans in inner cities. "Cars weighing more than two tonnes are dangerous and should be allowed to enter cities only with special permission." For more populist holds the car fan Dudenhöffer, then VW buses would have to be banned.
Redirecting could also be less draconian and cost neutral, for example with a bonus-penalty system with a penalty for SUV and subsidies for electric car buyers. "Regulatory would be okay," says Heymann. But not the vehicle category must be the decisive criterion, but factors such as weight, size, fuel consumption or space requirements.
Even with a higher motor vehicle tax, market shares could be shifted in favor of smaller electric cars - how strong the effect would be depends on the amount of the tax. In fact, exactly this measure is already being discussed in the Climate Cabinet.
However, the project does not aim specifically at electric SUVs. That would probably not make sense, since the e-drive in the segment often pays off and thus advance the technology. In addition, e-SUV after all, climate-friendly than diesel or gasoline SUV. The e-cars should therefore at least not be covered by the highest penalty, but buyers are best not to get any subsidies.
Conclusion: In principle feasible. But brings only significant improvements for the climate, if the signals are clear.