CO2 emissions: Municipalities as pioneers for climate protection?

Stand: 15.11.2022 11:40 am

While the international community in Egypt is fighting for more climate protection, something is happening on a small scale. Communities are on their way to becoming carbon neutral. The potential for CO2 savings is great.

At first glance, Kastl in der Oberpfalz resembles many municipalities in Germany: a historic center with a castle and a church surrounded by single-family homes that stretch through the valley and up the hills. And yet the small market town has achieved something the global community can only dream of: in the last twenty years, CO2 emissions in the public sector have been reduced by two-thirds.

Mayor Stefan Braun points to the roof of the changing rooms at the local outdoor pool. Since 2003 it has been completely covered with a dense network of black plastic pipes. “That was the first measure we took,” explains Braun. The water from the pool is heated here with the heat of the sun and sent back into the pool. “In early summer we already have 28 degrees in the pool,” says Braun. The former gas boiler has become redundant. This saves the municipality 15,000 euros per year. The investment for the absorption system on the roof amounted to 45,000 euros and had already paid for itself after three years.

Local heating saves 500,000 liters of oil

Other measures in Kastl also help the climate: solar panels are now standard, at least on public buildings – for example at the sewage treatment plant, where solar energy is used directly. At the community border in the back of the forest, a community wind turbine is running – with three megawatts of power, theoretically as much electricity as the entire community consumes, in practice the electricity ends up on the general grid.

And: a wood chip heating system provides local heat. It is supplied by farmers from a radius of ten kilometers and sends hot water to public buildings and now also to about fifty households. The pipeline network is currently being expanded. “In the past, no one wanted to burn locally because it was a bit more expensive than burning fuel oil yourself,” says Braun. “Meanwhile they are running towards us.” The mayor calculates that the municipality is currently saving about 500,000 liters of heating oil per year with local heating alone.

Communities alone will not save the climate

Carsten Warnecke of the NewClimate Institute in Cologne praises the efforts of many communities. Yet more climate protection also requires the big politics currently being negotiated at the UN climate conference in Egypt. “We need the massive expansion of renewables. I think everyone has understood that by now. But it really has to happen,” says Warnecke. Because no matter how much the communities themselves save, they can do little on their own to ensure the energy supply of, for example, industry.

This is especially a problem in larger cities and metropolitan areas. The climate expert is currently suspicious that coal-fired power stations are being restarted and investments are being made in gas infrastructure. The great danger is that this development is not only temporary, but that newly developed gas reserves will also be used in the long term – and the earth will warm up further.

Emissions at pre-pandemic levels

Indeed, researchers find that CO2 emissions this year are similar to pre-pandemic levels, with more than 40 billion tons worldwide. That is the conclusion of the current report of the international scientific project Global Carbon Budget. Because a lot of rainforest is cut down, an important buffer is lost that could absorb CO2 again. If this level continues for another nine years, global warming can no longer be kept below 1.5 degrees. This puts the climate goals of the Paris Agreement in direct jeopardy.

Municipalities such as Kastl also have many more options. So far, the community has been able to reduce its annual carbon emissions from 480 tons to 200 tons – in terms of public administration. However, if more private households switched to renewable energy sources, much greater savings could be achieved. On average, each German citizen currently produces almost eight tons of CO2 per year.

Much more potential

The mayor of Kastl, Braun, would like to see more commitment from the citizens. Of the approximately 1,000 roofs, only 180 are currently used for photovoltaic energy or hot water, he calculates. Most households still heat with oil. With the help of a solar register, every member of the municipality can find out online whether his roof is suitable for a photovoltaic system. “There is still a lot of potential there,” says Braun. However, some have recognized the signs of the times and photovoltaic systems are currently being adopted on a regular basis.

The municipality wants to build a second wood chip plant soon to provide even more single-family homes with local heat. This will save about one million liters of heating oil every year. And: Some taboos falter. The municipality is considering equipping monumental buildings with solar panels. “We need to weigh up what is urgently more important to us,” says Braun. “Leave old buildings as they are. Or fight climate change.”

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