Global environmental challenges
A speed limit for Germany?
In Germany, where many consider their cars sacred and most politicians on both the left and right refuse to consider tampering with the unlimited speed on the Autobahn for fear of hurting the car industry, the leader of the Greens party said it is high time for the country to join the rest of the civilised world and put an upper limit on Autobahn speeds — if for no other reason than to cut CO2 emissions
“The speed limit on German motorways will happen because it has to happen,” Cem Oezdemir, co-chair of the environmental Greens, said in an interview (click here for full story). “There will be an Autobahn speed limit as soon as the Greens are in power. We simply can’t afford it any longer to ignore any chance to reduce CO2 emissions. The interesting thing about a speed limit is that it would have an immediate impact on emissions. It would also save money, save lives and reduce the number of horrible injuries resulting from high-speed accidents. When you think about, it all the arguments speak in favour of a speed limit.”
Oezdemir, 43, said that aside from the powerful car lobby — which opposes a speed limit for fears it would damage the marketing mystique of carmakers like Porsche, BMW, Mercedes and Volkswagen — there are precious few reasons for letting cars continue drive at speeds of up to 200 kph and more: “The only argument against it is the pre-modern masculine dream of racing their cars at high speed.”
A study by Germany’s environmental protection office (Bundesumweltamt) found that a speed limit of 120 kph would lead to a 9 percent reduction in Germany’s CO2 emissions — practically overnight. It would also cut emissions of other pollutants by up to 28 percent. Greenpeace estimates that Germany could cut its CO2 emissions by some 40 million tonnes by 2020. There are speed limits of 130 kph on about half of Germany’s 12,000 km of motorway network. On unlimited sections cars often travel at speeds of up to 200 kph and some even reach 290 kph.
Some environmentalists reckon that CO2 reductions from cars worldwide could be even more substantial over the longer term. If consumers around the world were to stop buying the heavy, powerful cars built to race on German motorways and instead buy smaller, lighter and more fuel-efficient cars that aren’t built for such high speeds, emissions would not only be cut in Germany but in many other countries as well.
Germany, the world’s sixth largest emitter of greenhouse gases, likes to think of itself as a leader in the fight against climate change. But is that just hot air? Chancellor Angela Merkel, herself a former environment minister, has ruled out a speed limit: “It will not happen under me,” she said
As a number of foreign leaders have pointed out how can a country that refuses to introduce a speed limit to make a significant cut in its greenhouse gas emissions be taken seriously?
PHOTO: Cem Oezdemir, co-leader of Germany’s Greens party. REUTERS/Kai Pfaffenbach