After autumn, the Germans have no time to celebrate the departure of the hot summer, but they have to worry about preparing to pay the high heating costs in winter. The submarine leakage accident of the “Beixi” natural gas pipeline has aggravated the anxiety of the Germans.
Germany has established a complete environmental protection management system since the 1970s. In recent years, most nuclear power projects have been suspended (the three nuclear power plants still in operation were originally scheduled to be closed at the end of this year, which is likely to be delayed), and waste recycling and “Carbon neutrality” has become a gold-lettered signboard and a model of environmental protection in Europe. However, as the conflict between Russia and Ukraine brought about the risk of cutting off the supply of natural gas, Germany had to rely on coal and other fossil energy sources, and then made some compromises on environmental protection issues.
Painful lessons in exchange for comprehensive environmental protection laws
After the end of World War II, unlike East Germany, which was originally dominated by agriculture and forestry, West Germany, which had a better industrial foundation, completely inherited the three major industrial areas of Germany before World War II. Its industry developed more rapidly and pollution was more serious. The exploration of environmental protection is also more in-depth.
In 1950, a mine in the Ruhr area of Germany
At its worst, even on a sunny day, the Ruhr area was as dark as night.
As an important industrial city in Germany, the Ruhr area gathers the top coal, steel, chemical and other heavy industries in West Germany and even the whole of Europe. It is surrounded by smog all day long, and the air is filled with sulfur dioxide and PM2.5 (fine particulate matter). At its worst, even on a sunny day, the Ruhr area was as dark as night. Children born in the Ruhr area do not even believe that the sky is blue.
Serious environmental problems soon spread to major cities such as Munich, Frankfurt, and Stuttgart. Business operators regard environmental protection as an additional burden, and industrial wastewater is directly discharged into natural water bodies—because of excessive pollution, more than 200 species of fish in the Rhine River have decreased by about 60% by the early 1970s.
The change occurred in 1972, when West Germany promulgated the first environmental protection law, the Garbage Disposal Act. Since then, West Germany will issue a relevant law every few years, such as the “Act on the Control of Air Emissions”, “The Law on the Control of Water Pollution Emissions”, and “The Law on the Control of Combustion Pollution”. “Control” became the keyword of German environmental protection in the 1970s and 1980s.
Since the late 1980s, the German environmental protection idea has added the connotation of sustainable development. In the early 1990s, the German Parliament included the protection of the environment in the amended Basic Law. In particular, it clearly stated in the article: “The state should protect the basic conditions of natural survival in the spirit of being responsible for future generations.”
In 1996, Germany once again came to the forefront of the world: the world’s first circular economy law – “Circular Economy and Waste Management Law” came into effect, stipulating that the priority order of dealing with waste issues is: avoidance, recycling, and final disposal. Under this framework, the German government has further formulated regulations to promote the recycling of waste in various sectors and industries.
According to German media statistics, Germany has established the world’s most complete and detailed environmental protection legal system. There are about 8,000 federal and state environmental regulations. In addition, Germany also implements about 400 environmental protection regulations of EU standards.
Perfect Garbage Sorting
Garbage sorting is the most well-known in the world among Germany’s many environmental protection measures.
Mr. Li, who has studied in Germany for many years, told the author that learning to sort garbage is one of the compulsory courses for living in Germany for a long time. Wrongly throwing garbage will face a fine of up to 5,000 euros, and this data does not only exist in theory: In 2016, nine residents in a residential building in Germany were fined 1,700 euros for not disposing of garbage in accordance with regulations.
In Germany, garbage can be roughly divided into seven categories: biological waste, waste paper, packaging, glass bottles, toxic waste, other waste, and large waste, but the division methods are different in some regions.
According to Mr. Li’s observation, Germans are very strict about garbage collection. In order to prevent someone from littering and being fined, some German families will put a lock on their own trash can outside the door. The co-rental partner also specifically reminded him of some easily confused types of garbage, such as toothbrushes are not plastic garbage, but “other garbage”.
“Green Dot” sign
Leipzig, Eastern Germany, June 30, 2022 Yellow lidded trash cans for light plastic waste on the street
Germany has a long history of garbage collection. Since 1961, East and West Germany have established relatively formal garbage classification systems, but the results have not been good. The German government realizes that appeals alone cannot accomplish great things.
In 1991, Germany’s newly promulgated “Packaging Act” stipulated that manufacturers are responsible for recycling used products. The packaging production and sales company also jointly established a company specializing in recycling business – “Green Dot”. Enterprises only need to pay a certain registration and usage fee to entrust “Green Dot” to collect and classify the company’s waste.
All products that join the “Green Dot Organization” are printed with a circular green dot pattern composed of circles and arrows on the packaging. German people usually give priority to products with the green dot logo when purchasing. Today, “Green Dot” has become the leading recycling organization in Europe.
In order to increase the public’s enthusiasm for recycling, the German Ministry of Environmental Protection has also formulated a deposit system for beverage containers: cans, glass bottles, etc. have a deposit of 0.15-0.25 euros, and consumers can only get it when they put the empty bottle into the automatic recycling machine. Return this part of the deposit.
Education and Business: A Virtuous Circle of Environmental Protection
In addition to mandatory regulations, education and business means are also two major weapons for promoting environmental protection in Germany.
VSHINE Social Innovation Planet is a social enterprise in the Greater Bay Area that focuses on carbon neutrality and sustainable development. According to Yang Yang, the person in charge of the company, the Asia-Pacific Sustainable Youth Leaders Community initiated by them currently has thousands of college students and professionals who focus on and love ESG (Environmental, Social and Corporate Governance), carbon neutrality, and sustainable development. , over 30% of them have studied related subjects such as environmental protection in Europe. When these young people share global sustainable development education, “Germany” is often a high-frequency word.
Yang Yang said that most of the top universities in some European countries, represented by Germany, offer majors related to ESG, carbon neutrality and sustainable development (including environmental protection, biological science, etc.), and their society has formed an environment that values environmental protection. Therefore, graduates of these majors are easily recognized by the job market, and it is also easier to find professionally-matched and decent jobs.
Cologne Cathedral on the Rhine, Germany
In Yang Yang’s view, Germany has an early deployment and is good at guiding commercial companies to revitalize environmental protection through market-oriented means, which is an important reason why the country can achieve excellent results in environmental protection.
Germany is at the forefront of Europe in terms of ESG policy. As early as 1998, Germany passed the country’s first corporate governance law, the “Business Control and Transparency Act”, which established corporate governance standards for listed companies; and financial services institutions should disclose their corporate governance policies in their annual reports and provide a reasonable explanation for any breaches of the Code.
Since then, the German Sustainable Development Code has not only clarified the concept of ESG, but also made recommendations on the scope of disclosure by companies and institutions, including the use of natural resources and greenhouse gas emissions. “With similar operating data, investors and consumers will pay more attention to companies with higher quality ESG reports, and companies are more willing to spend energy on ESG. Environmental protection has also been valued in this virtuous circle.”
Energy crisis provides impetus for transformation
Compared with the unfavorable progress in recycling and education, Germany’s environmental protection process in energy is full of twists and turns.
The energy self-sufficiency rate of European countries is generally not high. As a traditional industrial powerhouse in Europe, Germany has always had deep energy anxiety. Yang Yang said that vigorously developing renewable energy is an important strategy for Germany to deal with the potential energy crisis.
At the end of last year, the German ruling coalition announced a series of plans on climate, energy, and environmental protection. It plans to advance the deadline for phasing out coal power from 2038 to 2030, and promises that by 2030, 80% of Germany’s power generation will come from renewable energy— This target was only 65% during the Merkel government. To this end, the ruling coalition will continue to promote the construction of solar photovoltaic, land and offshore wind energy.
As of the first half of this year, the proportion of renewable energy power generation in Germany has remained at around 50%. In order to achieve the development goal, the German Bundestag passed a bill in July, planning to use 2% of the land in Germany for wind power generation.
The dream is full, but the reality is very skinny. Sufficient natural gas supply is the basis for Germany to vigorously develop renewable energy, while Germany’s natural gas mainly came from Russia. Facing the embarrassment of mutual sanctions between Russia and Europe, Germany had to announce in mid-July that it would restart 16 fossil fuel power plants and extend the operating permit period of another 11 power plants.
German Chancellor Scholz said that the decision to restart is only temporary, and Germany is still committed to achieving carbon neutrality by 2045.
Regarding Germany’s current predicament, Yang Yang believes that geopolitical conflicts will affect the pace of Germany’s energy transition in the short term, but have little impact on long-term development. “Most of the major political parties in Germany maintain a positive attitude towards ESG concepts and environmental protection. The overall policy convergence is strong, but there are differences in specific propositions. The current energy crisis will deepen people’s concerns about energy self-sufficiency, so the German government is more promoting green energy. The impetus of energy and sustainable development.”