Higher CO2 prices for green economic miracle

The EU wants to impose a sustainability scheme on asset managers. The money industry is already preparing. Stanislaus von Thurn und Taxis for the benefit of the climate protests and setting the course for politics.

Stanislaus Prinz von Thurn und Taxis (32) recently became Head of Sustainability Research (ESG) at asset manager Flossbach von Storch AG in Cologne. He started there in 2017 as an equity analyst after working for a London hedge fund and the German private bank Berenberg. The economist studied in Maastricht, Prague and London.

WirtschaftsWoche: Prinz von Thurn und Taxis, do your fund manager colleagues at Flossbach von Storch have to change a lot in the depots in order to take greater account of the risk of climate change?
Von Thurn und Taxis: Sustainability is not new to us, it has always been part of our investment process. Therefore, the topic is already reflected in our portfolios. A company can only be sustainably successful if it serves its customers properly, motivates its employees, treats its business partners fairly, invests adequately, pays taxes and does not cause any environmental damage. In addition to good corporate governance, ecological and social issues are prerequisites for long-term economic success. One cannot be done without the other.

According to the will of the EU, companies with more than 500 employees should in future indicate to what extent their activities fit into one of three categories for sustainable investments: “green”, “enabling” and “transition” are available. Does this help fund managers?
The primary concern should be to ensure that the sustainability data is also reliable. The form in which this is implemented is of secondary importance to us. The fact that transparency is to be increased is definitely a step in the right direction. But I would at least question whether one is doing oneself a favor with terms such as “green”, “enabling” and “transition”, that is, an express assessment. Not a single ton of CO2 should be saved just because something falls into the “transition” pot. That would require a consensus in society as a whole.

Aren’t money managers too narrowed down when politicians give them strict requirements for a sustainability scheme? Do you expect a loss of return?
No, neither one nor the other. Since the taxonomy should expressly not prescribe where one can invest and where not, we reserve the right to deviate from the static classification if our analysis comes to a different conclusion. Our hope is that the taxonomy will at least lead to companies issuing more and better information on sustainability and thus making it easier for us to analyze the respective companies – and that it will put a stop to “greenwashing” in the fund industry. This would protect investors from sham packaging that says “sustainable” on it, but does not contain any of it.

Has your stance on the topic of climate change and sustainability changed much with the protests of climate protection activist Greta Thunberg and the “Fridays for Future” movement?
Greta Thunberg’s protest is important, but the right conclusions should be drawn from it. Politicians should have the courage to use intelligent incentive systems to promote climate-friendly economic activity and consumption and, conversely, to punish pollution of the environment. A higher CO2 pricing, for example, would be more productive than a pure ban policy, as it stimulates innovations and the development of new technologies without patronizing the citizens. It could even contribute to a green economic miracle, a kind of “Green New Deal”, if it were done right and steered the energy of scientists, entrepreneurs and engineers in the right direction.

You have received a lot of awards for your funds, but a sustainability seal is not one of them. Will that change?
We are basically not interested in awards or seals. We will remain true to our investment strategy, which explicitly includes ESG factors in the analysis process.

ESG stands for environment, social and good corporate governance, or in English: environment, social and governance. Why are these factors important?
We are convinced that this strategy not only delivers added value for our investors, but also benefits all stakeholders in the companies in which we are involved. In the end, that should also be recognized – with or without a seal.

Can you rely on the data provided by companies on sustainability and the climate?
No, not yet. For a proper company analysis that also integrates sustainability factors, we not only need more, but above all better data than the one previously provided. The fact that there has not yet been a reporting standard that prescribes what and how it is published appropriately has led to a confusing jumble of data that is sometimes hardly comparable. The template-like ESG ratings derived from this therefore only help us to a limited extent. You can point out one or the other critical point, but nothing more. As an investor, you cannot avoid your own analysis.

Environmentalists concerned: will Africa become a new dumping ground for plastic waste?

The world’s strictest ban on plastic bags applies in Kenya. But environmentalists fear that this could change – but that would also have consequences for other countries.

Kenya is a role model in the fight against plastic waste that pollutes Africa . The world’s strictest ban on the use, manufacture and import of plastic bags has been in effect here for three years . But maybe not for much longer: environmentalists fear that Kenya is under pressure to relax its regulations and, even more, to become a key station for the transit of this type of rubbish to other African countries.

Accordingly, the oil industry has asked the US to move Kenya to change its determined stance. The advance of the American Chemistry Council, whose members include larger oil companies, took place by letter to the agency of the US Trade Representative – against the background of negotiations between the US and Kenya on a trade agreement, the first bilateral pact of its kind between the US and Kenya an African country south of the Sahara. It should also serve as a model for other agreements with states in Africa.

This importance also played a role in bringing about the visit of Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta to the White House last February. US President Donald Trump has seldom met an African head of state there.

The letter from the American Chemistry Council, which the AP news agency saw, was dated April 28th. In it, the panel’s director of international trade, Ed Brzytwa, called on the US and Kenya to ban restrictions on “the production or use of chemicals and plastics” both domestically and in their cross-border trade.

“We expect Kenya in the future to become a hub for the supply of other markets in Africa with US-made chemicals and plastics,” the letter continues, which was first made known by the Unearthed group, a branch of the environmental organization Greenpeace . In June, the Chemistry Council also repeated the request in a hearing where the public could comment.

Environmentally friendly waste management

China banned most plastic waste imports in 2018, forcing companies to find new dump locations. But more and more other countries – including in Africa – also refuse to pick up the garbage. Plastic waste intended for recycling is piled up on heaps in Kenyan cities.

Oil companies, meanwhile, are under increasing pressure as more countries like Kenya work towards moving away from fossil fuels for their energy supply.

In a statement to the AP news agency, the Chemicals Council stressed that it is well aware that “a bilateral trade agreement between the US and Kenya does not override Kenya’s domestic approach to plastic waste or its international obligations under the Basel Agreement is undermined “.

The committee was referring to a global agreement on environmentally friendly waste management, which is intended to make it significantly more difficult to transport plastic waste to poorer countries. Almost 190 states have joined, but not the US.

AP requests to the US Trade Representative’s office for comment went unanswered, and Kenya did not respond. In a US review of the negotiating goals in May, one point cited was the creation of rules “to ensure that Kenya does not waive or deviate from protective measures under environmental laws in order to promote trade or investment”.

Limitations of plastic

Kenya banned plastic bags in 2017, inspiring other African countries with roads, waterways and even trees full of tattered bags to take similar measures. The thought that the state could weaken or lift its ban under pressure from the US or the oil industry has upset the vibrant community of environmentalists in the country – all the more since further progress has now been made: Kenya has this year too Banned other single-use plastic products such as bottles from beaches, national parks, and other protected areas.

“They want Kenya to lift its strict restrictions on plastic, including the plastic bag ban from 2017! NO! ”Tweeted James Wakibia, who at the time had fought hard for the ban on bags and is now committed to ensuring that all East African countries ban“ all unnecessary single-use plastic ”. Any attempts to soften Kenya’s laws would be “outrageous and irresponsible”, says Inger Andersen from the UN environmental program Unep, based in Kenya.

According to a 2018 study by the organization, there was some sort of regulation regarding plastic bags in 127 countries at the time. 37 of these states were in Africa, which made this region a world leader, as the UN says. She particularly points out the sentences of up to four years imprisonment and fines of the equivalent of up to 32,000 euros, which threaten in Kenya in the event of violations.

The state put the negotiations with the USA on hold in the spring because of the corona pandemic, and they finally started in July. The Chemicals Council says it doesn’t know whether the US Trade Representative’s office has considered its recommendations.

In any case, Griffins Ochieng, director of the Center for Environmental Justice and Development in Kenya, strongly warns that any attempt to change plastic laws would be dangerous. “Africa looks like a new garbage dump,” he says. “We won’t allow that.”

CO₂ levels in the atmosphere are breaking records

The concentration of greenhouse gas will soon be higher than it has ever been in the past millions of years. But what does that mean for the future?

The way to the secrets of the earth’s history often leads to the sea floor. There are fossils from bygone times in the rock layers – a treasure for geologists like Gavin Foster from the University of Southampton. He and his team examined fossilized zooplankton from the Caribbean sea floor, about the size of a pinhead, in order to draw conclusions about the CO₂ content in the atmosphere millions of years ago – and to compare it with today’s values.

Because the acidification of the oceans is closely related to the CO₂ in the air. Because carbon dioxide reacts with water to form carbonic acid, the oceans absorb a large part of the greenhouse gas from the atmosphere. Foster and his colleagues used this relationship between the pH value and CO₂ in the atmosphere in their studies of fossilized plankton. The boron content in its shells told them how high the pH was in the water when the tiny organisms drifted through the oceans. Based on the acidity, the scientists were then able to infer the CO₂ content in the air at that time.

The results sound worrying: By 2025 there will probably be as much CO₂ in the atmosphere as there has not been for around 3.3 million years , the scientists report in the journal Scientific Reports . In that period, the Pliocene, it was significantly warmer than today, an average of two to four degrees. Trees grew in Antarctica, gazelles jumped across Europe, and the sea level was 15 to 25 meters higher.

“There’s no blueprint for what’s happening. We’re playing with fire.”

When the CO₂ content soon leaves the maximum values ​​from the Pliocene behind it, it will move towards a new phase in geological history: the Miocene, which dates back to 23 million years. But its CO₂ maxima could also be cracked over the coming decades if humanity continues to emit as much carbon dioxide as it does at present.

Climate change deniers like to use such historical CO₂ highs as an argument that climate change is not a real threat. The earth and its inhabitants would have survived the CO₂ concentration at that time, they say. But what do such comparisons say? And if there was already as much CO₂ in the atmosphere as there is today, why did the CO₂ content decrease again?

Mojib Latif from Geomar in Kiel is one of the most renowned German climate researchers. The CO₂ record reports worry him. “However, historical maximum CO₂ values ​​can only be compared with the current situation to a limited extent,” says the chairman of the German Climate Consortium. What Latif means: Before humans started building machines and cars, the CO₂ content in the atmosphere changed much more slowly than since the beginning of industrialization. Fluctuations stretched over tens to hundreds of thousands of years. Changes in the earth’s orbit and axis alternately resulted in more and less solar radiation.

As a result, temperatures rose and fell, as did the CO₂ concentration in the atmosphere. In the current climate change, however, these factors – scientists speak of the Milanković cycles – play no role. The period in which we humans drove up the CO₂ values ​​is far too short. “There is no blueprint for what is happening,” says Latif. That is exactly what makes climate change so dangerous. “We’re playing with fire.”

Nevertheless, a lot can be learned from the past warm and cold periods, says Latif. Because even if the causes were different back then – the consequences are, at least in principle, the same today. However, it also applies here that everything is happening much faster at the moment, emphasizes Latif.

“Knowledge of CO₂ levels in the past shows us how the climate system, the ice caps at the poles and the sea level have reacted to it,” says Elwyn de la Vega, one of the researchers on Foster’s team. After the last glacial period, for example, the sea level rose over a very long period of time, but by no means continuously at a snail’s pace, but occasionally jerkily in short and violent spurts. “Using simulations, we are trying to find out exactly how that happened back then – and whether there could be similar attacks in the coming years as a result of climate change,” says Latif.

Gazelles are unlikely to be hopping across Europe anytime soon

As an ingredient for climate simulations, historical CO₂ values ​​are quite useful – but completely unsuitable for general comparisons, because back then it is about many millennia and now about a few decades. In the past, living beings had enough time to adapt to increased temperatures and higher sea levels: over the course of several generations, animals moved, and evolution brought about new species.

The current, rapid climate change, however, leaves nature and humans hardly time to react – gazelles are unlikely to be hopping through Europe anytime soon. “Our civilization today only developed significantly after the last great warm periods,” says Georg Feulner from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research. “In earlier warm periods, for example, there were no cities near the coast that could have been endangered by rising sea levels.”

According to estimates by the United Nations, around ten percent of humanity lived in coastal regions in 2017 that are less than ten meters above sea level – if the water levels were to rise to the Pliocene level again, these areas would be significantly below sea level. According to Gavin Foster and his colleagues, the fact that coastal cities have not yet been flooded is solely due to the fact that it will take a while for the earth to fully react to the higher CO₂ content in the atmosphere. However, the consequences of man-made climate change are already evident today. Meteorologists recently reported that the past twelve months were among the warmest on record , with an average of almost 1.3 degrees Celsius warmer than before industrialization.

More than 200 environmentalists killed last year

Environmental activists are often murdered for fighting illegal mining or deforestation, the non-governmental organization says. In some countries, their use is particularly dangerous.

Protests against mines and deforestation, hydropower plants and large farms are dangerous in many places: According to a count by the non-governmental organization Global Witness, at least 212 environmentalists were killed worldwide. That’s an average of more than four murders a week – and more than any previous report. In addition, environmentalists in many countries are repeatedly threatened, slandered and brought to justice because of their work.

Most of the murders of environmental activists, according to the report, took place in Colombia (64), the Philippines (43) and Brazil (24). Global Witness registered more than two thirds of all cases in Latin America. But also in the EU country Romania two environmental activists were killed last year who had campaigned against the illegal deforestation of Europe’s last primeval forests. The organization assumes that the actual number of environmentalists killed is significantly higher because many cases are covered up or not reported.

According to the non-governmental organization, behind the acts of violence are mostly companies, farmers and, in some cases, state actors as well as criminal gangs, paramilitary groups and rebels. “Agriculture, oil, gas and mining create violence against environmentalists – these are the very industries that fuel climate change through deforestation and emissions,” says Rachel Cox of Global Witness.

Where did all the bees go?

Farmers are already feeling the consequences of insect death. Without wild bees and other pollinators, fewer apples, cherries and blueberries end up on supermarket shelves.

“Man of work, woke up and recognize your power, all wheels stand still when your strong arm wants it,” says the founding song of the General German Workers’ Association, from which the SPD later emerged. What was true in the factories of the 19th century also seems to have significance for the modern agricultural industry: If busy bees stay away from the cultivated areas, the pollen is not distributed, fruits do not ripen, and the harvesting machines stand just as idle as the steam engines 150 years ago . However, the proletarians on the run do not go on general strike of their own free will – there are simply fewer and fewer. The death of insectsindustrial agriculture is largely responsible for it itself; Fertilizers, pesticides and the loss of natural habitats have depleted stocks worldwide.

It has long been known what serious consequences the extinction of many insects has on flora and fauna. A new study by US and Canadian researchers shows how much agriculture itself is suffering from home-made insect mortality: In the large growing areas of North America, insects no longer pollinate apple, blueberry and cherry blossoms sufficiently, which is causing harvests to shrink noticeably. The report’s 31 scientists led by biologist James Reilly in their study that this Wednesday in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B has been released.

The fewer insects flew over the orchards, the fewer fruits grew on trees and bushes

The researchers systematically investigated which popular and therefore mass-grown fruits in North America suffer from a lack of bees and other pollinators. To do this, they visited 131 cultivation areas and counted honey bees, wild bees and other insects that came to flowers there. The researchers compared these figures with the crop yields of the farms they visited. In apple, cherry and blueberry farms, they found a clear connection: the fewer insects flew over the orchards, the fewer fruits grew on trees and bushes. Melons, almonds and pumpkins, however, have so far hardly been affected by insect death.

In order for the missing bees to shrink the harvests substantially, the fruits must above all be healthy. Because if diseases, pests, drought or lack of nutrients mean that fewer flowers grow anyway, the missing pollinators are of little consequence: even severely decimated swarms of bees can then cope with the comparatively few flowers.

The biologists estimate the value of the wild bee work at just under 1.3 billion euros

The researchers also found that wild bees – many species of which are threatened with extinction – and honey bees share the work fairly fairly. Even in intensively cultivated areas, the wild bees pollinated almost as many plants as honey bees bred by beekeepers. For a long time it was assumed that honey bees are more important for agricultural production than wild bees. However, a few years ago studies indicated that wild bees can do at least as much. According to the scientists, honey bees fly more frequently, but wild bees transport more pollen per flight. However, the researchers rarely observed other pollinating insects such as flies or butterflies on the plantations examined. They also play an important role elsewhere.

One thing is clear: the death of insects is causing immense economic damage. The biologists estimate the economic value of wild bee work at just under 1.3 billion euros – for the blueberry, apple, cherry, almond, melon and pumpkin cultivation in North America alone. Scientists try again and again to monetize the value of so-called eco-services such as pollination work. According to an estimate from 2008, all of humanity owes bees, bumblebees and other pollinators more than 150 billion euros for their worldwide services in fields and orchards.

First and foremost, the authors of the study recommend better protecting wild bee populations – above all by growing wild flowers. But they also mention that some farmers are now artificially pollinating their plants, be it with the help of drones or human workers. A few weeks ago, Japanese researchers even reported that they had pollinated fruit blossoms with soap bubbles containing pollen. The masterminds of the labor movement in the 19th century also foresaw that capital would replace the workers as soon as technical progress allows it. Unlike factory workers, however, there are no new jobs for wild bees – their extinction would be irreversible and the damage to nature considerable.

It’s still greener

The chemical industry must become more environmentally friendly. But not every strategy is sustainable in the long term. Which approaches are useful.

The undesirable side effects of material prosperity are seldom as obvious as the colorful plastic mix of bottles, flip-flops and fishing nets that blemishes some holiday beaches. Most of the potentially harmful chemicals in the environment are invisible to the naked eye: flame retardants, for example, biocides, pesticides, medicines and long-lasting fluorochemicals that can be found in coated pans, jackets and baking paper and, as the Federal Environment Agency recently reported, in alarmingly high doses have been detected in the blood of children. Again and again, chemists find problematic substances where they don’t belong.

At some point Klaus Kümmerer from Leuphana University Lüneburg had enough of such finds. “I just didn’t feel like measuring the five thousandth pollutant in the six hundredth sampled area,” says the scientist. For 15 years he has been researching how chemistry can be made more sustainable from the ground up. Together with his team, for example, he chemically converted a heart drug, a beta blocker and an antibiotic so that they can be more easily broken down by microbes in the environment. Similar to how chemists once defused surfactants from detergents that had produced meter-high mountains of foam on the rivers in the early 1960s.

“Benign by Design” is the name of the concept of chemically assembling substances in such a way that they cause as little damage as possible to the environment. It is one of the twelve guiding principles of so-called green chemistry, which were developed 22 years ago by the US chemists Paul Anastas and John Warner. “Green” are also products and manufacturing processes that produce as little waste as possible, that use little energy and resources, or those from renewable sources. There are countless examples of the success of the concept today, says Julie Zimmerman from Yale University, USA, who works with Anastas. They range from batteries for electric cars to biofuels and gentle production methods for cancer drugs that generate little waste.

Planet plastic

“One of the biggest challenges is getting away from the concept of waste and seeing every ‘waste’ as a resource,” says Zimmerman. At the beginning of the year , her team reported in the journal Science on two examples that are already being implemented industrially. The wood waste material lignin from the paper industry is used, among other things, as a raw material for vanilla flavoring, and chemical building blocks for foams made of polyurethane can be obtained from the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide.

From Kümmerer’s point of view, the main ideas behind green chemistry are correct, but they often fall short. “They do not consider the entire material and product flows and how they could be reduced,” he criticizes. Metals that are increasingly in demand for digitization, for wind turbines and solar cells, or phosphorus for fertilizers, for example, are simply finite and thus resources that have to be managed well. “The first thing you should ask yourself about every chemical and every product is: Do I even need it?” He is convinced.

Fungal resistant wood could make fungicides superfluous in facade paints

For some functions there are definitely more sustainable, non-chemical alternatives. To protect wooden structures, for example, a roof overhang or fungus-resistant wood could make the use of fungicides in facade paints superfluous. “Only when it is clear that a chemical compound is needed does the question of how it can be produced most sustainably,” emphasizes the chemist. This also includes observing ethical and social criteria, such as the origin of the resources and the conditions under which they are obtained.

The example of biodiesel shows how much damage a narrowed view can be. Part of the fuel is obtained from vegetable oil instead of crude oil, i.e. from renewable raw materials. But rainforests have already been cleared and moors drained for the oils, which will continue to release carbon dioxide for centuries. Fields are also blocked for food production. “That does more harm than good,” said the Nobel Laureate in Chemistry, Hartmut Michel, recently at the virtual Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting. In addition, the efficiency of photosynthesis, with which plants produce biomass from light and carbon dioxide, is extremely low at around one percent. It is more efficient to generate hydrogen with solar power,

As far as the circular economy is concerned, it is also worth taking a look at the details. ” Recycling is always associated with material losses, energy consumption and other waste materials,” says Kümmerer. The more substances there are in a material, the more difficult it will be to separate them again. Many plastics, for example, still contain dyes, flame retardants and plasticizers.

Innovative composite materials that are supposed to make cars lighter are also problematic. “They may help to save carbon dioxide, but in 20 years you will be there and have to see how you can recycle it,” said Kümmerer. The same problem arises today with innovations from the past, such as electrical appliances, wind turbines and solar cells. “Products and materials have to be planned much more so that they can be recycled,” demands the chemist. The simpler they are set up, the better.

Every innovation should immediately be critically questioned: Do you really need it?

Some substances cannot be put into the cycle, such as shampoo, cleaning agents or medication. Because sewage treatment plants often cannot collect them and around 80 percent of the world’s wastewater cannot be cleaned anyway, they should be designed in such a way that they decompose completely as quickly as possible.

For researchers like Zimmerman and Kümmerer, there is no question that government pressure and financial incentives are required to make the chemical industry more sustainable. New business models can also help. For example, so-called chemicals leasing, which has been promoted for several years by the United Nations Industry Department UNIDO together with Switzerland, Austria and Germany. Manufacturers or importers do not sell chemicals, but a service that also includes advice and the return of chemicals.

One example is car manufacturers who pay paint producers for the painted sheet metal area instead of the paint itself. “Then there is an incentive to achieve good quality with as little paint as possible,” explains Kümmerer. In hospitals, manufacturers of disinfectants can be paid for advice on the necessary hygiene standard instead of the chemicals. His team successfully tested this in a clinic in Worms, says Kümmerer. About half of the disinfectants could be saved.

Last but not least, the topic of sustainable chemistry is a compulsory part of the training. But this is still more the exception than the rule, also in Germany. Since March of this year, Leuphana University has been offering a part-time master’s degree in sustainable chemistry under Kümmerer’s leadership. The researcher asks his students to critically question every innovative product idea: What function should the product fulfill? What are the consequences if I produce 100,000 tons of it? Where does the material come from? How much do you lose And all of this beyond the first life cycle, says the scientist: “We need this kind of thinking.”

Place there!

There is displacement competition in the Dachau flora: so-called neophytes spread at the expense of native species. How environmentalists in the county are responding to the problem.

A battle rages between rodents in Europe: the gray squirrel from North America is in the process of ousting the native squirrel. In England, for example, there are “only remnants” of the native species, according to the Nature Conservation Union, and Germany could also be targeted by the wandering gray squirrels. A similar displacement competition in the Dachau flora has long been a reality. In the main role: neophytes, i.e. plant species that are not native to this country, but have nonetheless established themselves permanently. Some neophytes threaten the native flora and fauna, others have long since become dear to our hearts, for example the potato.

The term neophyte comes from the Greek and means “new plant”. According to the Federal Agency for Nature Conservation, this is understood to be alien plant species that were not native to Europe before America was discovered. They came to Europe from North America and East Asia in various ways. Once you arrive, “you will never get rid of the species completely”, says Sybille Hein from Nature and Landscape Protection Dachau. This development has been causing the district great difficulties for many years.

The main problem with neophytes: They can grow up to two meters high and simply take the space for native plants to grow. Basically, the local spread of neophytes affects both the insect and the plant world. Certain species can even be dangerous to humans. Peter Heller from the Bund Naturschutz(BN) in Dachau complains about the settlement of non-native plants in the region. He is particularly concerned about the Canadian goldenrod, the Indian balsam and the giant hogweed. “The neophytes gradually settle here and displace our plants,” says Heller. The Canadian goldenrod and Indian balsam are particularly common on riverside regions. There is also too much of the Indian balsam on the Amper. There are other “hotspots” in the district, for example, in Dachau-Ost in the direction of the herb garden or in the Alte Würm, says Sybille Hein. Forest edges are also affected. According to the BN, these areas are particularly important for maintaining biodiversity. Heller emphasizes that one must keep non-native plants away from forest edges in order to “reduce the impoverishment of the landscape” to prevent. Contact with the giant hogweed can also be dangerous for humans and lead to serious health problems, warns Hein. The sap contains substances that are toxic to humans and could cause burns in sunlight. Hein therefore recommends wearing protective suits every time you work with the hogweed.

However, there are also good sides to the “new plants “. Certain neophytes can be useful: Wolfgang Niedermeier from the Dachau District Beekeeping Association emphasizes that the Indian balsam is an important source of food for bees. However, he too is concerned about the rapid spread. Because “as soon as the bees find something, they naturally try to enter it and nature does not foresee that to that extent”. The work that a bee would need in spring is then already done in winter. Niedermeier emphasizes how important “a clever frost” would be in the middle of October, so that “the catch crops and balsam overturn”. If this does not happen, the bees continue to register that the natural cycle becomes unbalanced.

The introduction of the neophytes was not entirely unintentional. According to the Federal Agency for Nature Conservation, half of the plants established here were deliberately introduced as useful plants. For example the potato, the tomato or the corn. The only problematic are those neophytes that reproduce uncontrollably and displace native flora. “It is difficult to do something about it. You would need an army of people and government funds,” said Heller. The fight is just hard to win. However, targeted measures can help to protect native species.

The BN Dachau has been organizing so-called “neophyte campaigns” for years. From mid-May to mid-August, volunteers clear the area of ​​the Amperau from Indian balsam and Canadian goldenrod once a week. These actions promise success and, according to Heller, would help to contain the spread. “If nothing is done, native plants will disappear completely.”

Which tree is ideal for urban greening?

Urban trees now have to withstand climate change. This can mean that new species are needed.

A row of tall trees with a spreading dark green crown lines a small street near Stuttgart’s town hall. Last year, Eberhardstrasse was redesigned to be car-free, parking spaces were replaced with green spaces and seating. Here you can see on a small scale what is currently occupying many town halls in the country: How can they bring more green to cities that is also able to withstand climate change?

Volker Schirner is a trained gardener and horticultural engineer and has to face this problem with every new construction project and every tree that the city has to replace because it has become infected with an illness or has become old and brittle and is no longer considered to be roadworthy. At the beginning of his career, Schirner took care of the Berlin zoo. Now he is the head of the Stuttgart garden, cemetery and forestry office and, as such, lord of hundreds of thousands of trees.

He can still remember how the Japanese pagoda tree , for which he likes to use the old botanical name Sophora japonica , became a kind of fashion tree in the 1980s. At the time, the pressing problem in many cities was air pollution, and the Asian tree species was considered insensitive to pollutants such as sulfur dioxide. The pagoda tree is relatively common in Stuttgart.

The tree species is also doing well in terms of climate, says Schirner. Their advantage is the feathery leaves, through which less water evaporates than with linden or maple, which is why the trees can manage with less water. So actually ideal for a city center that heats up as much in summer as that of Stuttgart. But the Sophora also has its disadvantages: With its sweeping crown, the full-grown tree is not suitable for narrow street canyons – also because the branches can break when the wind sweeps through the alleys. To create an avenue, it would have to be repositioned and replaced by narrower types. But removing mature trees is not very popular today.

Norway maple and chestnut suffer from drought. You will probably see them less often in the future

In Eberhardstrasse, Schirner’s employees have now contrasted the tall pagoda trees with a narrower species. It is an elm that retains its slim crown even when fully grown. Elms had almost disappeared in Germany due to a fungal disease and are now enjoying a comeback in a more resistant variant.

Narrow-crowned species that evaporate less water and whose root ball can cope with little space: This is one of the strategies urban experts are using to adapt to climate change. In addition, many cities are experimenting with irrigation. They use substrates that hold water longer and equip the ground with water storage tanks that are either filled by the watering vehicle via a drainage pipe – or that are connected directly to the rain gutters of surrounding houses.

Many cities also work with water-permeable flooring in order to increase the seepage surface over the root ball. Since this year, more time and personnel have been available for irrigation in Stuttgart. The gardening office starts watering earlier than before in the year to saturate the soil before the growth phase. Schirner was also able to double the number of its casting vehicles.

In addition, the gardening authorities are looking for tree species that can deal with drought stress. The Norway maple and chestnut, which are popular in Germany, have their problems here. However, Schirner is convinced that these tree species will continue to be seen in German cities – albeit in a smaller proportion than today. When replanting, you will have to pay more attention to which tree is suitable for which location. At Stuttgart’s Schlossplatz, for example, where chestnuts stand on strips of meadow in a park-like setting, they are doing well. On the opposite Karlsplatz, where chestnut trees are surrounded by pavement, some specimens are visibly weakening.

The dominant tree species in most major German cities are linden and maple. In some places they make up half or more of the tree population. In Munich, for example, around 70 percent of the trees in public areas are linden and norway maples. In the Bavarian capital, the building department commissioned an inventory and a development plan last year. The aim is to achieve a mix of tree species that is adapted to climate change.

However, you never know when a pest will appear and attack the supposedly optimal climatic tree. The plane tree, for example, which is very present in downtown Stuttgart – there are around 120 of these Mediterranean trees in the central pedestrian zone alone. “It grows well, is incredibly robust and is decorative,” says Schirner of the tree that the master horticulturist Peter Joseph Lenné planted in the Berlin zoo more than 150 years ago. Unfortunately, a few years ago the massaria disease appeared. Now there is a risk that the beautiful plane tree avenue will eventually be attacked and carried away. “We are currently very careful about replanting plane trees,” says Schirner.

Which tree species thrives where, and which can cope with extreme conditions such as a thin layer of earth above the subway shaft or a sun-drenched pedestrian zone, has been studied across Germany for years. Even at the time of the increased air pollution, municipalities founded the German Garden Authority Conference (Galk) and exchanged experiences. In the meantime, the focus has shifted to climate change.

Experts test exotic plants as well as old, almost forgotten species

Galk is responsible for an ongoing experiment in which cities from Hamburg to Stuttgart to Munich are planting new species where trees have to be planted anyway. They then document how the species are doing for years. “We are currently testing 40 tree species,” says Joachim Bauer, who coordinates the project. The results are incorporated into a list of recommendations that municipalities and tree nurseries can access.

It’s not just about exotic imports. The list also includes surprising rediscoveries such as the field maple, which can deal with drought much better than the Norway maple, says Bauer. For him, the plant is a hot candidate for the future tree. But he also still considers the Japanese pagoda tree to be very promising. You don’t necessarily have to plant it in a narrow street.

German environmental award for climate commitment

The scientist Ottmar Edenhofer and two young entrepreneurs from Limburg are honored.

Air pollution is Europe’s greatest environmental health threat

According to the European Environment Agency, there are 630,000 premature deaths from environmental factors every year in the EU – 400,000 are caused by air pollution alone.

More than 400,000 people die each year in the European Union as a result of air pollution . This is the result of a report by the European Environment Agency (EEA). The report analyzed data on the impact of the environment on the health and well-being of Europeans. In addition to the 27 EU states, the EEA member states include Great Britain, Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Iceland, Norway and Turkey. Cooperating countries are Serbia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Montenegro, Kosovo, Albania and North Macedonia.

According to this, air pollution remains the greatest environmental threat to health in Europe. In 1990, however, the number of premature deaths due to it was still one million.

In second place is noise pollution, which leads to 12,000 premature deaths, the report said. The effects of climate change are also increasingly having their share, for example heat waves and floods. People in urban environments are particularly affected by the consequences of climate change, said Catherine Ganzleben of the EEA. Other factors mentioned by the Environment Agency are chemical compounds, resistance to pathogens resulting from excessive use of antibiotics and polluted drinking water.

The clear difference between the countries in Eastern and Western Europe is also striking. In many Eastern European countries, the rate of premature deaths from environmental factors is much higher than in Western Europe. Bosnia-Herzegovina has the highest proportion of deaths related to environmental pollution (27 percent), while Iceland and Norway have the lowest (nine percent). The situation in Germany is therefore also comparatively good.

630,000 deaths annually from environmental factors

The studies are based on data from the World Health Organization (WHO) on the causes of death and disease from 2012. According to this, around 13 percent of annual deaths in the EU – the equivalent of 630,000 premature deaths – can be attributed to environmental factors and would therefore be avoidable. The most common causes of death include cancer, heart disease and strokes.

“While we in Europe see improvements in the environment and the Green Deal with a clear focus on a sustainable future, the report shows that action is needed to protect the most vulnerable in our society,” said EEA Executive Director Hans Bruyninckx . Poverty often goes hand in hand with living in a polluted environment and poor health. “Dealing with these issues must be part of an integrated approach to an inclusive and more sustainable Europe.”

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