GERMAN BRIEF: CLIMATE
Germany to invest in forests and
peatland to reach climate goals
May 2023: Germany has lost most of its natural peatland. Its forests suffer from lengthy periods of drought. Both, peatlands and forests, contribute to a functioning water balance and act as carbon sinks. According to a government report, “some 53 million tonnes of greenhouse gas are released every year in Germany solely because drained peat soils cannot provide the ecosystem services they normally would.” Intact ecosystems are a natural defence against climate change. Forests and floodplains, soils and peatlands, seas, rivers and lakes as well as urban and rural near-natural green spaces remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and store it for the long term. The German federal government has now embarked on a long-term plan to restore some of the country’s lost biodiversity. As a first step, it has earmarked some four billion euros (US$4.4bn) to, for example, rewet peatlands, change existing conifer forests to mixed woodlands, expand protected wilderness areas and stop logging in government-owned beech forests. Working together with regional and local authorities, the federal government also expects to provide the funding for the planting of some 150,000 trees in cities across Germany. Town halls will be encouraged to prioritise urban parks over paved streets and city squares. In what is called the ‘Biodiversity Action Plan’, the German ministry for the environment describes how intact nature protects people in a number of ways: Healthy ecosystems store carbon dioxide – but the opposite is also true. “When ecosystems are destroyed, they release the carbon they have stored over millennia in a short space of time.” “Healthy ecosystems provide habitat for a great diversity of animals and plants. Nature never stops working for people. For example, microscopic organisms keep soils fertile, and insects pollinate crops.” “Healthy forests, peatlands and floodplains hold water in the landscape. They can absorb water and store it for periods of drought. They also stand ready as inundation areas in the event of flooding.” Not unexpectedly, the government’s ‘Biodiversity Action Plan’ has had a mixed response. Environmental groups such as Greenpeace and the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) welcomed it, while farmers, who currently use more than 90 per cent of drained wetland for cultivation, were less enthusiastic. The German Farmers’ Association said the plan would only succeed if the government reached out to those affected by changes to land use regulation. "Alternative income opportunities have to be created so the land can continue to be used." The road building lobby expressed fears that projects such as the planned A20 Baltic Sea coastal motorway, which is planned to run through wetlands, will be threatened.
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