"Berlin shows no clear CO2 reduction trend since 2008."
from Soot Free Cities' clean air report, 2015.
|Bagger 288, the world's |
This post isn't about Berlin's underground life but its overground life: trees, crops, water and wildlife (including the exotic and unpredictable species of humans who live here). What's the one thing that they all depend on? Air.
In 2011, Berlin was ranked the city with the best clean air policy in Europe in a Soot Free Cities report. In the last five years, however, it's fallen to fifth place. To anyone who's noticed the constant greyish haze on the horizon in recent months, this is probably not such big news. It is, however, something that you won't hear about in the mass media. That's why I've decided to write this post and 'clear the air' (pun intended) about it.
Despite being about as above-ground as you can get, air quality in Berlin still seems to be an underground issue. Few in the activist scene seem concerned about it. The Stop A-100 anti-motorway movement touched on it briefly, but that movement seems to be in hiatus now that the motorway is going ahead as planned. There was a small movement against the expansion of Schoenefeld airport a few years ago, due to pollution concerns, but it seems to have vanished into thin air (sorry - did it again!).
Maybe that's because the issue of air quality just doesn't stir up as much controversy as things like refugee rights and affordable housing do. Yet at the same time, it transcends them. Everyone in Berlin is affected by air quality, or will be in the future.
The declining air quality in Berlin seems to have been affected by three things: official apathy, an increase in cheap flights, and a rise in coal energy in Germany.
The shortcomings in Berlin's official stance on air pollution are covered in the Soot Free Cities report, the highlights of which are below:
Reduction of Local Emissions: "PM10 has increased at measuring stations with high traffic volumes. Daily limit values were exceeded at some stations in 2014." Nitrogen is also higher than average. This suggests an increase in car traffic. Personally, I've noticed huge traffic jams in my area daily, on roads that had a very light flow two years ago, so it's easy to see how that could add up to a rise in car pollution.
Low Emissions Zones: "Berlin's LEZ has led to significant emission reductions. Soot emissions from exhaust pipes decreased by more than 50% and NOx by about 20%."
Clean Public Vehicles: "The bus fleet in Berlin is already completely equipped with diesel particulate filters. One fourth of the city’s cleaning vehicles today are fuelled with gas. 400 new utility vehicles (garbage vehicles, power sweepers etc.) will possibly use SCR systems or hybrid engines." Quite a lot of that is in the future, so I guess we'll have to wait for the next report to see how they did.
Public transport: "The city shows little activities [sic] to expand public transport despite a continuous increase of customers." (And they're raising the prices).
Cycling: "The expansion of the cycling network [...] was too small compared to the increasing demand..." As anyone cycling past the East Side Gallery or Brandenburger Tor will have noticed!
Air travel wasn't included in the Soot Free Cities report, but the Berlin flight authority has said that air traffic's increased by 77% in the last 11 years. Call me crazy, but there might just be a connection between that and Berlin's worsening air quality.
Coal energy is also a huge issue, though. For one thing, coal stoves are still common in Berlin's old buildings, despite being outlawed in most other metropolises due to air quality concerns. Also, Yale's School of Forestry and Environmental Economics recently reported that:
"[While] CO2 emissions steadily fell from 1,051 million metric tons in 1990 to 813 million tons in 2011, in 2012 and 2013, CO2 emissions rose again to 841 million tons. This can largely be attributed to an increase in the use of lignite (coal) for electricity production."
Coal isn't just bad for the air, it's also a major source of mercury pollution. Mercury is incredibly toxic to the brain (see Mad Hatter disease) and makes any animal that consumes it unsafe to eat. (It's because of mercury that salmon and tuna - and whale - are off the menu for most health-conscious people). So this one isn't just a concern for Asthmatic Berliners. But at least there is some hope on that front: in 2015 Germany agreed to reduce coal energy usage further to help meet its 2020 CO2 limits.
In the meantime, readers of this blog who live in Berlin may be interested to know that Vattenfall, which is probably the most visible energy provider in Berlin, relies very heavily on coal. Vattenfall is currently planning to sell their remaining coal reserves... but that isn't exactly reassuring (the new owner is probably going to want to burn that coal, too!). There are plenty of alternative energy providers out there though, since Germany is a leader in that field.
But I'm far from being an expert in this subject, so let me know what you think. Is Berlin a green city or is it just green-washed? Share your views in the comments box below!