By: George Kurzom
Berlin's largest commercial center known as KADEWE
Exclusive to Environment and Development Horizons:
During my recent family trip to Germany, I had the privilege of visiting the city of Leipzig, in the state of Saxony eastern Germany, which has a population of about half a million. On the roof of a tall building belonging to Helmholtz Institute for environmental Research, we clearly saw a huge factory for BMW where electric cars that do not emit pollution are produced, and next to the factory we saw windmills that produce clean energy. The research institute itself also contributes to environmental efforts; where the walls of the building are covered with solar panels extending from the ground floor to the roof that produce electricity from solar energy
This example of impressive environmental infrastructure represents Germany's position as the leader of developed countries that has committed to economic growth at limited expense to the environment, especially through the use of green technology. However, the reality is much more complicated as Germany continues to consume many environmental resources to maintain its economy alongside the high level of consumption of its citizens.
A look into German policy and practices indicates that they have adopted a policy based on the use of green technology and thus prevention of pollution from the source. This is a shift from the previous policy of addressing pollution resulting from its facilities, factories and vehicles.
The German government is moving towards the adoption of "circular economy", where products and by-products, such as waste, do not exit the cycle of production. Meaning that instead of transforming the resources into pollutants to the environment, they are reused as raw materials or as energy producers.
Germany's biggest success story of green technology use is embodied in renewable energies. Through the extensive use of windmills and solar panels, Germany currently provides about a third of its capacity to produce electricity and that is by using the top technology to ensure the best use of energy sources and connecting it to the national electrical transmission network.
The German government, proud of its achievements, recently published a book in a series of tourist guides issued by the historic publishing house "Padkar" about the tourist routes in the sites of renewable energies throughout Germany. In the city of Berlin, I sailed on the Spree River with my family, which runs through the historic center of the city using a solar-powered boat. It is noteworthy that in Germany there are currently two villages which are equipped with renewable sources of energy, thus strengthening the economy of rural areas.
It is worth recalling the tremendous destruction that hit the city of Berlin during the Second World War. The Allied military bombing destroyed about 70% of the beautiful city, resulting in about 75 million cubic meters of rubble. This scene of destruction was repeated in other large German cities such as Hamburg and the city of Dresden that was completely destroyed, but rebuilt after the war in a short period stone by stone. Germany, after the war, rose from the rubble and rebuilt what was destroyed (partly thanks to the Marshall Plan) and began rebuilding its historic buildings, churches and beautiful cathedrals, to the point where now it has the strongest economy in the European Union, and the fourth globally (in terms of GDP).
It is interesting to know that agriculture in Germany is only 1% of its GDP and employs only 2.5% of the population. In contrast, industry is 30% of GDP, and about 30% of the labor force works in the industry. However, local agricultural production covers about 90% of Germany's food needs. In fact, within the European Union, Germany is the third largest producer of agricultural products (after Italy and France).
Environmental and organic agriculture in Germany has made a remarkable progress in recent years. There are about 25,000 organic agricultural holdings (about 9% of the total holdings), which means about 11 million cultivated dunums (about 7% of the total cultivated land. In addition, other large and unregistered areas are grown with different crops, and animals are raised according to organic and environmental farming patterns, but without official monitoring and follow-up by official and non-official institutions.
It is interesting to know that one-third of Germany is covered with forests. In some German states, the area of forests is more than 40%, despite the very advanced level of industry and the overcrowding population. Germany is considered to have the largest population in the EU (about 82 million people).
The Dilemma of consumption patterns
From an objective critical perspective, we can raise questions about the success of the growth model promoted by the German government. Recently, the Friedrich Ebert Foundation, which works on economic and political policies, published a report analyzing the achievements of the circular economy in Germany. The report notes that only one-third of recycled waste is converted into industrial raw material. The remaining waste eventually becomes normal waste again. And only 1% of the electronic waste (generated by various electrical appliances) is reused. On the other hand, the Germans have developed very large waste incineration facilities, which led to importing waste from other countries.
It is remarkable that meat consumption per capita in Germany is still very high, estimated on an average of 88 kg per capita/year. An example of the very high consumption of meat is Berlin's huge mall “KADEWE”, where the sixth floor is full of meat and cheese, and includes about 2,000 different types of meat and a thousand different types of cheese! Green technology, can solve many problems but not all of them, however, the massive consumption of meat is not a technological problem, but a lifestyle problem.
However, we should also be aware that in recent years, Germany has seen a significant improvement in water resource treatment. In the last three decades, individual water consumption has fallen by 16%. The main factors are the use of household water conservation measures and the rise of prices. However, it became clear that saving rivers and lakes is more complex and half of these water sources have witnessed irreversible changes due to drainage and dams.
It is also remarkable that in the past decade, Germany has managed to maintain its GDP growth at an average rate of more than 1% per year. On the other hand, the environmental impact of this growth was reduced. Greenhouse gas emissions declined by 27% and the use of raw materials in industry decreased by 13%. German industry has increased its competitiveness because it decreased its purchase of raw material that has become more efficient and recyclable. The annual business capacity of green technology industry is currently around 300 billion euros
Can we compare the German model with the Palestinian situation?
When comparing Germany with the Palestinian situation, we must take into account the large differences in space, economic features and available physical data, such as climate and water quantities, and most importantly the Israeli occupation and the confiscation of land, natural resources and water.
However, the enormous (perhaps unexplained) gap between the German and Palestinian situation is particularly evident in the field of renewable energies. In spite of the great potential for solar energy in our country, where the sun shines most of the year, we can take advantage of this potential to reduce the economic and political dependence on Israel in terms of energy. However, the currently electricity produced from renewable energies in the West Bank and Gaza Strip is very marginal (not exceeding 1% of total consumption). In fact, our capacity of producing electricity from renewable sources is great, compared with tens of percent of electricity produced by Germany from solar and wind sources taking into account that the sun in Germany doesn’t shine most days of the year. It’s true that we have limited spaces to establish large facilities to produce energy from renewable sources, but many solar panels can be installed on the buildings’ roofs and walls.
In the field of recycling we can also learn a lot from the German expertise, especially in terms of legislation of laws on waste recycling, such as packaging, rubber tires, beverage packages, electronic waste, and the imposition of charges on plastic bags, as well as the establishment of fuel generating facilities from waste. Currently we continue to send most of our waste to landfills instead of recycling them or producing energy out of them.
Translated by: Ghadeer Kamal Zaineh