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Ministerium für Klimaschutz, Umwelt, Landwirtschaft, Natur- und Verbraucherschutz des Landes Nordrhein-Westfalen
Ein Mann und ein Kind im Gegenlicht
© gettyimages / svetikd

Setting a good example: North Rhine-Westphalia’s new climate policy

In its Fifth Assessment Report on Climate Change published in 2014 the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) shows more clearly than ever that human activities are altering the climate system. Worldwide, temperatures are continuing to rise as a result of increasing concentrations of CO2 and other greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere. The global mean temperature has increased by 0.8 °C since pre-industrial times.

The only way to reduce the negative impacts of a changing climate and keep the rise of global temperatures within the 2°C limit of manageable climate change is to drastically reduce greenhouse gas emissions. 

As Germany’s industrial heartland and No. 1 energy producing state, North Rhine-Westphalia is responsible for more than one third of German greenhouse gas emissions. With its progressive climate protection policy North Rhine-Westphalia is taking responsibility for its carbon footprint. The state has become a pioneer in climate change mitigation and adaptation: In 2011 the newly elected state government initiated a new and highly ambitious climate protection policy with the goal of drastically curbing carbon emissions while at the same time strengthening North Rhine-Westphalia’s economy through increased investment in green technologies. A lot has happened since then: in 2011 the state government initiated the Climate Protection Starting Program and in January 2013 North Rhine-Westphalia was the first federal state to pass a Climate Protection Act. In the meantime, the government has drafted a Climate Protection Plan to outline strategies and measures to reach the goals specified in the Climate Protection Act. The Climate Protection Plan was drafted in the so far largest grassroots, participatory, multi-stakeholder process ever conducted in Germany, involving a total of over 400 stakeholders. Currently the state parliament (Landtag) is debating the draft of the Climate Protection Plan.

Bottom-up Climate Protection: North Rhine-Westphalia’s strategy to combat climate change

North Rhine-Westphalia is the most populous state in Germany and the center of German industry and energy production. Climate protection can only be successful in this highly industrialized region if we all work together to combat climate change. In order to achieve North Rhine-Westphalia’s climate protection goals we need the active support of citizens, environmental groups, industry, the energy sector, cities and communities and companies. The state government believes that top-down policies and regulations are not the way to get people actively involved in climate protection. On the contrary, “Climate Protection made in North Rhine-Westphalia” builds on bottom-up measures to motivate different stakeholder groups to become actively involved in climate change mitigation and adaption, e.g. by participating in the drafting and implementation of the Climate Protection Plan. The state government is also providing new tools and opportunities for citizens, companies and municipalities to protect the climate and benefit from the advantages of saving energy and using clean energy sources. Climate protection should not be a burden for citizens, companies and municipalities but rather an opportunity, e.g. to create new jobs, save costs and improve public health and the environment.

The Act on the Promotion of Climate Protection in North Rhine-Westphalia

In June 2011 the state government decided that by 2020 North Rhine-Westphalia would reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by at least 25 percent and by 2050 by at least 80 percent below 1990 levels. On January 29th 2013 the State Parliament (Landtag) passed the Act on the Promotion of Climate Protection in North Rhine-Westphalia which made these emissions reduction targets legally binding for the first time in German history. The act also sets targets for the adaptation to the impacts of climate change that are too late to avoid. In order to achieve these ambitious emissions reduction targets and take steps to reduce the risks posed by the negative impacts of climate change, the state government has drafted a Climate Protection Plan in a so far unprecedented participatory process.

The Beginnings: The Climate Protection Starting Program

When it comes to protecting our climate, we can’t afford to lose any time. Even before the Climate Protection Act was passed and the participatory process to draft the Climate Protection Plan was initiated, the state government introduced the Climate Protection Starting Program in order to launch core climate change mitigation measures by the end of 2012. The measures supported through the Climate Protection Starting Program target communities, companies and private households. The program encompasses greenhouse gas reduction grant and loan schemes with a volume of several hundred million Euros, including 150 million Euros a year for energy efficiency in buildings and a total of 250 million Euros in funding for combined heat and power (CHP) projects. Other measures include a climate change mitigation initiative for communities and an electricity saving initiative for low income households.

North Rhine-Westphalia’s Climate Protection Plan

With the First Climate Protection Plan the state government is fulfilling a core requirement of the Climate Protection Act passed in 2013: The Climate Protection Plan contains strategies and concrete measures to reduce the emission of greenhouse gasses and reach the reduction targets set by the Climate Protection Act. It also outlines ways to increase resource and energy efficiency, enhance energy conservation and support the expansion of renewable energy. Furthermore, the plan includes climate change adaptation measures to prepare North Rhine-Westphalia for the impacts of a changing climate. The Climate Protection Plan is a clear mandate for action for the state government to implement the outlined strategies and measures. For stakeholders outside the government, the plan mainly contains voluntary measures such as grant and loan schemes, funding for research and development, networking opportunities, information exchange and consulting services as well as educational measures. The goal is to support and motivate industrial producers, the energy sector, small and medium enterprises, cities and communities and citizens to take action and protect our climate through bottom-up climate protection measures. The Climate Protection Plan is designed as a “learning system” which is updated every five years in a broad participatory process involving a variety of stakeholders.

A showcase for innovative climate protection: KlimaExpo.NRW

In 2014, the government of North Rhine-Westphalia launched the initiative “KlimaExpo.NRW” as a showcase for innovative projects in the areas of climate change mitigation and adaptation. Until 2022, KlimaExpo.NRW will host different formats of events that highlight the economic opportunities of climate change mitigation and adaptation for North Rhine-Westphalia and the state’s potential for technological innovation in these areas. KlimaExpo.NRW is not only a showcase but also a laboratory for new ideas and innovation in North Rhine-Westphalia. The initiative will present successful projects to a broad audience in order to motivate citizens, companies and cities and communities to become active in protecting our climate.