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SPIEGEL ONLINE

03/05/2007 02:58 PM

The World from Berlin

'Why Should We Germans Save The World Alone?'

Germany in its capacity as president of the European Union and G8 is leading a drive to slash CO2 emissions. But German media commentators want to know why their country should take the leading role while the world's biggest polluters, the United States and China, stand idly by.

Greenpeace activists protest at the edge of an opencast coal mine in the Czech Republic.
AP

Greenpeace activists protest at the edge of an opencast coal mine in the Czech Republic.

German Chancellor and European Union President Angela Merkel wants the EU to agree a radical and detailed plan of action to cut carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions in the 27-nation bloc at an EU summit this week.

While Merkel has committed Germany to an emissions reduction of more than 20 percent by 2020, both China and the United States have indicated that their emissions will continue to increase in the coming years.

German Environment Minister Sigmar Gabriel, who sees Germany as a driving force in climate protection, has suggested anchoring it as a goal in a future European Union constitution. Following an Australian initiative, Gabriel has proposed a German ban of standard issue light bulbs, and the introduction of new EU energy efficiency guidelines for lamps and household appliances.

The German press has responded skeptically to the leading role that Merkel and Gabriel want Germany to adopt, questionning the political motivations behind the grandstanding and calling for greater international pressure on the true offenders: China and the USA.

The business daily Handelsblatt writes:

"The discussion lacks all sense of proportion. Germany contributes roughly 6 percent to CO2 production worldwide and the figure is declining. Roughly half of all emissions come from the USA and China, where the output continues to grow at double-digit rates."

"Effective climate protection has to find policies in the EU, the G8 and beyond to rope in the worst climate offenders."

"The perfect insulation of all German homes will save one million tonnes of greenhouse gases per year, and exchanging all lightbulbs will save a similar amount. But when Germany shuts down its nuclear plants, their output will in part have to be taken over by coal and gas-fired power stations which will produce up to 160 million tonnes of CO2 additionally per year. We're saving in the wrong places."

Mass circulation Bild in a front-page story headlined: "Are We Germans Supposed to Save the World on our own?" writes:

"We Germans are for environmental protection! We're also prepared to make sacrifices for the environment. But sometimes one gets the impression: We're supposed to save the earth ourselves!"

"What are the biggest polluters, the USA, Russia and China, doing to save the planet?"

The center-right Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung writes:

"The Christian Social Union wants to ban cars with combustion engines. The Social Democrats wants air travellers to pay a climate tax. The Greens want to slap a tax on air fuel and Greenpeace wants to ban all budget air travel."

"What's peculiar is that the so-called climate-protectors are punishing mobility and little else. Of course, the environmental costs of traffic are significant and the energy efficiency of travel has to be improved. But much more energy is being consumed by industry and private households.

"It would be better to have a debate on national and global energy use - from production to transport to consumption. One could start by asking where most energy can be saved at the lowest cost? It's not on the motorway and not with lightbulbs but in the heating of homes.

"The issue of how the energy needs of billions of people can be satisfied without destroying the environment and the climate is far too important to be left to politicians intent on self-promotion."

Protesting Putin

At least 2000 people took to the streets in St. Petersburg on the weekend to protest the increasing concentration of power in the Kremlin and to demand fair presidential elections next year. The demonstration, which was dispersed by police, was considered an unusually strong sign of opposition.

Commentators warn against over-stating the significance of the demonstration but acknowledge that, in the Russian context, it does suggest growing civilian unrest.

The center-left Süddeutsche Zeitung writes:

"A few months before parliamentary elections and a year before presidential elections, Putin remains largely unchallenged in Russia. A little demonstration in St Petersburg will do little to change that. Most Russians think they have the head of state to thank for their visibly improved standard of living. The fact that this is partly due to the high oil and gas prices, which basically has nothing to do with Putin, doesn't matter to them.

"The Kremlin boss presents himself as an authoritarian ruler with a tight hold on his empire, who defies foreign pressure and knows how to keep obstreperous oligarchs in check. The population is grateful. The people as the sovereign -- this concept doesn't apply in Russia."

The left-wing Die Tageszeit ung writes:

"For the Russian opposition, which has been largely invisible for a long time, the 'March of the Dissatisfied' was at least a minor success. Despite bans and massive intimidation, organisations managed to get almost twice as many people onto the street as last December in Moscow.

"With their demand for the release of jailed former Yukos boss Mikhail Khodorkovsky, or at least that his constitutional rights be respected, the demonstrators made clear what they want: a democratic and constitutional Russia, which has been in retreat ever since Putin took power."

-- SPIEGEL Staff, 3 p.m. CET

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