Empowering the Chimney Sweep: Germany Approves Ambitious CO2 Reduction Measures

The German cabinet on Wednesday signed off on a far-reaching package of measures aimed at cutting Germany's CO2 emissions. Energy efficiency is at the top of the list -- but the country's chimney sweeps will also have new duties.

A friendly chimney sweep? Or Big Brother?
AP

A friendly chimney sweep? Or Big Brother?

Touch a chimney sweep in Germany, so the tradition goes, and you are guaranteed good luck. But that bit of folk wisdom may soon be a thing of the past.

On Wednesday, the German government passed the second part of its ambitious package aiming at cutting the country's CO2 emissions by 40 percent relative to 1990 levels by 2020. And the responsibility for enforcing some of the new measures will fall to the beloved chimney sweep.

The new measures, which had been twice delayed amid controversy before Chancellor Angela Merkel's cabinet finally rubber-stamped them on Wednesday morning, call for new homes and apartment complexes to become much more energy efficient as of 2009. Buildings that are refurbished after that date are also required to install state-of-the-art insulation and energy savings systems.

German Environment Minister Sigmar Gabriel on Wednesday said that chimney sweeps, responsible for checking and maintaining heating systems in Germany's residential buildings, will be asked to report homeowners not complying with the new measures.

Gabriel also praised the package by saying it was "the largest worldwide -- perhaps even the only -- such package aimed at reaching climate goals." He said the new measures aimed at energy conservation and improving building efficiency will lead to cost savings for homeowners and will create 500,000 new jobs by 2020.

The package was originally set for passage earlier in the year, but disagreements in the cabinet, particularly between Gabriel's ministry and Economy Minister Michael Glos, led to two delays. One planned measure, that of coupling automobile registration costs with the amount of CO2 vehicles emit, has been tabled indefinitely.

In addition to energy conservation measures, the package will also increase tolls on German highways for semi trucks, with older vehicles having to pay a higher fee than newer, more efficient trucks. The country's power grid is also to be revamped, allowing it to be more open to receiving power generated by renewable energy sources.

The government estimates that, all together, the measures -- combined with earlier measures passed last December -- will result in a 35-percent cut in Germany's CO2 emissions by 2020. Gabriel said that the government is looking into ways to achieve the final 5 percent necessary to reach the 40-percent goal. Germany has already managed emission cuts of some 20 percent relative to 1990 levels.

But not everyone was sure that the new package will go quite as far as the cabinet claims. Greenpeace estimates that the measures will only result in a cut of 30 percent by 2020. Many others criticized compromises made in the last few months of tough negotiations in Berlin. Originally, for example, so-called "intelligent" power meters were to be mandated -- devices which can control a house's or apartment's power consumption for maximized efficiency. Now, such devices will only be optional.

Logistics companies have also complained that the new toll rules will place an unfair burden on German trucking. Some companies will be forced out of business as a result, they claim.

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