With future climate neutrality in view green activists from Berlin's city districts discussed local climate action at the "#FromVisionToAction!" conference. In her introductory keynote, Dr. Camilla Bausch elaborated on the current global political trends as well as the meaning of "climate neutrality", and discussed options for local action in the subsequent panel discussion with Regine Günther (Berlin Senator), Sascha Müller-Kraenner (DUH), and Clara Herrmann (District Councilor).
Dr. Camilla Bausch's keynote commenced by addressing the goals of the Paris Agreement (PA) to hold "the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2 °C above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 °C above pre-industrial levels" (Art. 2 PA). To achieve these goals, the PA aims at "a balance between anthropogenic emissions by sources and removals by sinks of greenhouse gases in the second half of this century" (Art. 4 PA). Despite these objectives, this sweeping ambition has yet to be followed by adequate action.
During the past year, scientists and policy makers have frequently referenced the need for long-term climate neutrality. Ninety-two per cent of Europeans want climate neutrality by 2050. The German Fridays for Future movement have demanded a climate-neutral Germany by 2035. The German Climate Protection Act refers to climate neutrality with 2050 as a reference point. A simplified interpretation of recent scientific reports indicate that a limit of 1.5 °C can only be kept if net zero emissions are achieved in less than 15 years – whereby this hypothesis takes an optimistic approach towards the risks in connection with potential tipping points. The sooner society acts, the less difficult the challenge with respect to timing and extent of action required.
The IPCC states that in order to achieve carbon neutrality society has to reduce energy consumption, decarbonize the electricity sector and other fuels, reduce emissions from agriculture, engage in Carbon Dioxide Removal (CDR), consume less energy, introduce a high price on CO2, and change investment patterns. But despite the outlined tailwind and guidance, the latest UNEP Gap Report states: "If we rely only on the current climate commitments of the Paris Agreement, temperatures can be expected to rise to 3.2 °C this century. Temperatures have already increased 1.1 °C, leaving families, homes and communities devastated." Some key player, like the US President, are openly opposing adequate climate action.
In the face of this, the European Parliament as well as many cities (e.g. London, Basel, Los Angeles, and Cologne) and Districts (e.g. Pankow and Potsdam) have declared a state of "climate emergency". Civil society has shown an unprecedented presence on the streets demanding bolder action – including in Berlin – while policy makers are increasingly acknowledging the importance of non-state actors in achieving climate protection goals.
Another encouraging sign is the new EU Presidencies agenda with its European Green Deal. While the package is currently in early development stages, the Deal points towards increased ambition and action as well as improved governance. The European Green Deal has the potential to accelerate change and provide impetus for the transformation of deep-seated institutions, such as the financial system.
The city of Berlin can play an important role in setting an example for other cities – e.g. through existing city networks. The city is also a place for experimenting with innovative approaches. The transformation towards climate neutrality requires a systemic as well as cultural transformation, and necessitates participation from all societal actors. The many actors that push for change on a local level share the inherent challenge of such action. Nevertheless, promising examples and initiatives are already underway. While civil society is showing willingness to engage, institutional backing by the Berlin Senate remains imperative to enable, strengthen and scale up ambition and action.
After Dr. Camilla Bausch highlighted some inspiring examples of action in Berlin districts, a lively panel discussion and public debate with many Berlin activists followed. The panel was comprised of Dr. Camilla Bausch, Regine Günther, Senator for Environment, Mobility and Climate Protection of the Bündnis 90/die Grünen, Sascha Müller-Kraenner, Executive Director of the Environmental Action Germany (DUH), and Clara Herrmann, District Councilor for Finance, Environment, Culture and Education of the Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg district. The panel was moderated by Sabine Drewes, Head of Local Politics & Urban Development Division at the Heinrich-Böll Foundation.
In a series of plena and workshops, the conference also addressed topics of food systems, digitalisation, the energy transition, the building sector, mobility and transformation of cities. The Conference "#FromVisionToAction!" was organized by Bündnis 90/Die Grünen.