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Floods fuel the climate debate in Germany's election campaign

Leading politicians in Germany are uttering one word as they reel from the worst inland flooding in living memory: "klimawandel", the German term for climate change.

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Floods fuel the climate debate in Germany's election campaign

The last week's catastrophe has brought the topic to the forefront of an election campaign which will decide who succeeds Angela Merkel in the German Chancellor position this fall, 16 years after she was elected.

It also puts Armin, the party's leader, in the lead race, on the defensive. He is accused of stalling efforts to increase renewable energy use, phase out coal power, and introduce universal highway speeds limits during his four-year tenure as North Rhine-Westphalia governor.

The state is an industrial powerhouse and home to nearly a quarter Germany's population. It was also one of the hardest hit regions by the floods that claimed more than 200 lives and caused billions of dollars (euros) in damage.

Laschet stated, "I've known since a long time that Climate Change is a Task that We'll Have to Deal With," during a heated exchange with journalists the morning following the worst flooding. He insists that he wants "more speed" in reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

These statements provide a glimpse of hope for climate activists such as Salome Dorfer who campaign to save Luetzerath village from being bulldozed in order to make way to a coal mine.

The village is located in Laschet's State and was first recorded in 853 year-old records. It is just a few hundred metres (yards) away from a large pit in which RWE, a German utility company, extracts lignite coal for nearby power plants.

Although the practice will end in 2038, environmentalists believe it must stop at least 10 year earlier if Germany is to meet its climate agreement goal of limiting global warming by 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degree Fahrenheit).

Dorfer stated that 46 tons of coal is averaged under every square meter of ground below us. "Every square meter that we can defend will help save a lot more emissions."

Dorfer and her fellow activists are currently preparing to hide in tree houses in an effort to stop villager evictions. However, she hopes that increasing public awareness about climate change will help to make this fight unnecessary.

Scientists believe that extreme weather such as the one that caused flash floods in Western Europe last week can be attributed to climate change. However, it is difficult to predict when these storms will occur again in a warmer world.

Dorfer stated, "I believe people are beginning to see now that their effects are real and that they need to take action now." Already there are severe consequences. We've already reached 1.2 degrees Celsius in climate warming. It will be a disaster if we go above 1.5 degrees.

Peter Schuette, a software engineer, said that he too expects recent floods to have an impact on how people think about climate change. He also believes it will affect how they make difficult decisions in the future, even though it may cost some jobs.

Schuette 52 stated, "I have children and a family too and I think we can't continue as before and pretend it's not our issue." "So far, the storms that you saw were distant, and there were some South Sea islands at risk of flooding. Now, suddenly, our cellars are being flooded by the water.

Volker Kronenberg, University of Bonn political scientist, stated that Germany's Green party has the potential to benefit from a greater focus on climate change.

He said that "The Greens have a lot credibility with the public about this issue", noting that party leaders have so far resisted trying to capitalise politically on floods.

The party pledged that it would raise carbon prices and accelerate the country's transition from coal-fired power to 2030. It pledged to pay back money from CO2 charges to citizens as an "energy bonus", which will be most beneficial to low-income earners, to ease concerns about rising energy prices.

Social Democrats have suggested a similar cashback scheme for climate costs, while also stating they would implement a 130 kph (81 MPH) speed limit on Germany’s Autobahn. Experts believe this simple measure would result in a significant reduction in fuel consumption.

The country was not opposed to Merkel's recent decision to make Germany carbon neutral by 2045, five years earlier than originally planned.

Kronenberg said that it will be difficult for Laschet to tell the truth to voters about the actions Germany needs to take to adapt to climate change in the next years.

He said that North Rhine-Westphalia is home to heavy industry and steel which are very energy-intensive. "It's a huge challenge for companies and it's a great opportunity for jobs."

With more than two months before the September election comes around, there are other crises and issues that could dominate the discussion.

Kronenberg stated that "These images will stay in people's minds." "But, we must not forget that politics can be a fast-moving industry."

Schuette, a software engineer, admitted that his country is responsible for 4.6% of all man-made greenhouse gas emission in the atmosphere. He said that he will not be able save the planet on his own.

He said, "But, as they say in Germany: 'You must sweep your own door first.'"

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