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Berlin voters fail to bring forward net-zero target. How do other European capitals compare?

People cross the shopping street Friedrichstrasse in central Berlin.
People cross the shopping street Friedrichstrasse in central Berlin. Copyright AP Photo/Markus Schreiber
Copyright AP Photo/Markus Schreiber
By Rosie Frost
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Residents of the city were asked to decide whether to move the goal 15 years earlier than previously planned.

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A referendum that would have brought Berlin's climate neutrality target forward to 2030 failed to draw enough voters.

The proposal would have seen the current 2045 goal moved 15 years earlier.

Berlin - like the rest of Germany - is aiming to reduce net carbon emissions by 95 per cent by 2045. Climate scientists and activists believe this isn’t soon enough. They say that the country will already have exceeded its carbon budget by 2031.

Environmental group ‘Klimaneustart Berlin’ or Climate Reset Berlin initiated the referendum for the city’s target for carbon neutrality to be brought forward. It was put to the vote on Sunday 26 March.

With the support of local environmental groups, green search engine Ecosia and Fridays for Future, it hoped to make the 2030 target legally binding. But the referendum was not successful. 

Why did Berlin's climate proposal fail?

Residents of Berlin were called to vote on Sunday. After about 98 per cent of the votes had been counted, the supporters of the proposal were just ahead of the opponents, according to an announcement by the city-state's election administration.

However, that result only met one requirement for a successful proposal. The second requirement, a turnout of at least 25 per cent of all eligible voters, was not met, the German news agency dpa reported.

Shortly before the end of the count, there were around 423,000 votes in favour and around 405,000 votes against. The quorum for a successful referendum would have been around 608,000 votes in favour of the proposal.

What would the referendum have meant for Berlin?

As well as bringing Berlin's climate targets forward, the referendum would have made the language of the pledge stronger by replacing words like ‘target’ with more decisive language like ‘duty’. An interim target to cut emissions by 70 per cent could also have been brought forward from 2030 to 2025.

Critics said that the estimated cost of bringing the date forward would have been in the billions of euros. They believe changes like building renovation and cutting back on private vehicles would take funding away from other areas like education.

AP Photo/Markus Schreiber
Climate activists shout slogans during a protest in front of the ministry for economy and climate in Berlin.AP Photo/Markus Schreiber

Why do governments need to bring forward climate neutrality goals?

The recent IPCC Synthesis Report urged more governments to bring forward their climate neutrality pledges.

UN Secretary-General António Guterres said that rich nations need to “commit to reaching net zero as close as possible to 2040” pressing a “fast-forward button” on their goals.

“This can be done,” he added. “Some have already set a target as early as 2035.”

Last year, the intergovernmental panel also said that a growing number of cities were now setting climate neutrality targets.

But, it warned, they could only meet their full climate potential by addressing emissions beyond their borders.

Which European capitals are already aiming for climate neutrality by 2030?

Several other European capital cities already have 2030 climate neutrality targets.

Mayor Sadiq Khan set the goal for London to reach net-zero back in 2020. The plan involves installing more heat pumps in homes, insulating buildings, cutting car journeys and reducing the number of petrol and diesel cars on the road.

The European Commission also announced a mission last year to make 100 cities in the bloc climate neutral by 2030. It involves providing funding for these metropolitan hubs to research innovations in clean transport, energy efficiency and urban planning.

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More than 100 cities have so far joined the initiative including capitals like Paris, Stockholm, Rome and Helsinki. Berlin won’t be in the mission if the referendum is successful but several other cities in Germany are already part of it.

And the Danish capital Copenhagen is aiming even higher. It has set its climate neutrality goal as 2025 which would make it the first climate-neutral city. These plans have hit some stumbling blocks, however, with reports that a flagship waste incinerator project failed to get funding for carbon capture technology.

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