Berlin is not setting any more ambitious climate targets for the time being: a corresponding referendum on Sunday failed because the required minimum number of yes votes was not met. An alliance “climate restart” wanted to achieve a change in the state energy transition law with the vote. Specifically, Berlin should commit itself to becoming climate neutral by 2030 and not by 2045 as previously planned.
According to the election officials, a narrow majority of around 442,000 voters (50.9 percent) voted in favour. About 423,000 voters voted against it (48.7 percent). However, this was only one requirement for a successful referendum. The second requirement, an approval rate (quorum) of at least 25 percent of all eligible voters, was not met. That would have been about 608,000 yes votes. 35.8 percent of the approximately 2.4 million eligible voters took part in the referendum.
Initiators are disappointed
The alliance “Klimaneustart” had forced the vote with a four-month collection of signatures in the previous year. If successful, the amended law would have been adopted and entered into force. The fact that the number of yes and no votes was roughly equal in the end came as a surprise to many. Before the referendum, only supporters in the city had mobilized and campaigned for their cause. There was no counter-campaign.
The initiators of the vote expressed disappointment with the outcome. “Not only did one project of an initiative fail, it affects everyone in Berlin. It’s a pity for everyone in Berlin. Of course we’re going on, we’re going to keep fighting,” said Jessamine Davis from the “Klimaneustart” alliance. Climate activist Luisa Neubauer was optimistic despite the result. “We don’t let the critics and complainers stop us. Let’s not forget what we made possible here,” said Neubauer at the “Klimaneustart” election party. The result is not a defeat for the climate movement, but a defeat for all residents of Berlin. It must be discussed why many people voted against the referendum.
After the failure of the referendum, Berlin’s governing mayor Franziska Giffey (SPD) emphasized the importance of the fight against climate change. This is one of “our central political tasks,” she explained. “We are aware of the urgency, even if the referendum has not received the necessary approval.”
The CDU, which won the Berlin repeat election on February 12 and is currently conducting coalition negotiations with the SPD, sees climate protection as one of the most important issues. “Berlin says yes to climate protection – but no to false promises,” said Secretary General Stefan Evers. Decisive action is now important in order to achieve climate goals as quickly as possible.
Controversial aim of the vote
Climate neutrality means that no greenhouse gases are emitted that exceed those that are absorbed by nature, for example. To achieve this, emissions that are harmful to the climate, for example from combustion cars, airplanes, heating systems, power plants or industrial companies, would have to be reduced by around 95 percent compared to 1990. Germany wants to become climate neutral by 2045. The EU wants to be there by 2050.
Before the vote, it was disputed whether Berlin could have achieved this goal by 2030. The initiators of the referendum and their supporters, for example in environmental organizations, tenants’ associations, in the cultural scene or also in the Greens and Leftists, affirmed this. The still incumbent red-green-red Berlin Senate, however, classified the target year 2030 in a statement as unrealistic. Scientists also expressed skepticism.
The most important adjustment screws on the way to climate neutrality are well known: energy-efficient renovation of buildings, fossil-free energy and heat generation, expansion of public transport and emission-free cars, especially with electric drives. In Berlin alone, this requires investments in the tens or hundreds of billions – regardless of the target date.
The capital would not have been alone with a stricter climate target. According to the German Zero association, around 70 cities in Germany are aiming to become climate-neutral by 2035 at the latest. At the European level, the EU Commission is supporting 100 municipalities that are taking part in the “EU Mission for Climate-Neutral and Smart Cities” by 2030.