BERLIN — Thousands of climate protesters, young and old, gathered Friday in Berlin and other German cities to demand tougher government action against global warming, particularly in curbing greenhouse gas emissions in the transportation sector.
A small pro-business party that controls Germany’s Transport Ministry, the Free Democrats, has pushed back against efforts to impose a general speed limit, phase out combustion engines and massively invest in public transport.
The refusal has frustrated the party’s larger coalition partners — Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s Social Democrats and the environmentalist Greens — as well as climate campaigners who say Germany is missing its own emissions targets.
Among them was retired Protestant pastor Reinhart Kraft, 85, who staged a one-man protest outside the Free Democrats’ headquarters in the German capital with a sign reading “End the climate boycott.”
Kraft urged Scholz to put his foot down on the issue and praised the young activists who planned a rally in the capital’s government district later Friday.
“We need pressure,” he said. “And I hope very much that the young generation doesn’t let up.”
His words were echoed by retiree Algisa Peschel, who took part in a rally near the Transport Ministry together with her husband.
“We experienced the war when we were small children,” she said. “We know what destruction means. And this includes the destruction of nature.”
Asked about the protests Friday, a spokesman for Scholz said the German government takes its climate goals “very seriously.”
“All ministries are hard working on them,” said Wolfgang Buechner.
The protests in Germany are part of a global “climate strike” called by the group Fridays for Future, which drew inspiration from Swedish activist Greta Thunberg ‘s protests outside the parliament in Stockholm.
Darya Sotoodeh, a spokesperson for the group, accused Germany’s transport minister of placing too much focus on the country’s car industry, at the expense of affordable public transport. Last year the government agreed to introduce a nationwide public transit ticket costing 49 euros ($52) a month, but bus and train companies say it is not sustainable without further government subsidies.
Public transit labor unions, whose members went on strike in parts of Germany on Friday to demand higher wages, expressed support for the climate protest.
“We’re standing side-by-side with Fridays for Future,” said Mathias Kurreck of the ver.di union, which also represents public transport transit workers.
“With more pressure on the government we can actually achieve the climate goals,” he said.
The rise in global carbon emissions last year was partly blamed on a rebound in air travel as pandemic restrictions eased. The International Energy Agency also warned this week that the trend toward ever bigger cars is a growing problem for the environment.
Scientists warn that international efforts to limit the average worldwide temperature increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 Fahrenheit) compared with pre-industrial times are failing.
The consequences of higher temperatures are already being felt in many parts of the planet, including in Europe. Governments in Italy — which also saw protests — and France warned this week that the countries face another year of drought after winter brought little rain and snow.
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