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SPECIAL SERIES - Germany must cut waste to set global example for sustainable development

by Astrid Zweynert | azweynert | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Tuesday, 22 September 2015 00:01 GMT

Benjamin Schmitt, a supporter of the “foodsharing” movement, searches for food in bins behind a supermarket in Berlin, Jan. 31, 2013. REUTERS/Fabrizio Bensch

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Germany faces challenges in establishing sustainable way of life at home despite its global leadership in clean energy

LONDON, Sept 22 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Instead of going to the pub in the evening, German student Christian Klinge puts on his old sneakers and sets off to forage through bins behind supermarkets and restaurants in Berlin to find food that can still be eaten.

The 22-year-old is part of a growing movement of people in Europe and the United States who collect discarded food and share it - outraged that an estimated 1.3 billion tonnes of food is wasted globally every year.

"It just makes me angry that so much food that is still fine to eat gets thrown away - about 80 kilos per person in Germany every year. What a waste," Klinge said.

Germany may have won an international reputation for being environmentally aware and a leader in clean energy, but the world's fourth largest economy faces challenges in establishing a sustainable way of life at home.

Its wasteful attitude to food is one of them, experts say.

As the world gets ready to adopt new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) at a U.N. summit this week, Germany is still some way off achieving its own sustainability targets, enshrined in a national strategy launched in 2002.

Its ecological footprint, use of raw materials and energy remain far too high, while it also scores badly on protecting biodiversity and managing land, experts say.

Excessive application of nitrogen and phosphorous on its farms, overuse of freshwater and air pollution above the World Health Organisation safety threshold are also causes of concern, according to a study by Bertelsmann Stiftung, a foundation that promotes social responsibility.

"Germany has strongly supported the universality of the (global) goals. It now faces a big challenge to link what it has done and will do domestically to the international requirements to achieve the goals," said Adolf Kloke-Lesch, a director at the Sustainable Development Solutions Network Germany (SDSN).


Guenther Bachman, head of the state-appointed German Council for Sustainable Development (RNE), noted that despite shortfalls, the national sustainable development strategy includes issues the U.N. goals do not cover, such as limiting the country's debt.

Bachman said Germany's strategy was more balanced than the SDGs, which are based on the assumption that consumption-driven economic growth is a prerequisite for development.

"In Germany, the discussion is at a more developed stage," focusing on things like how to live a good life, he added.

Campaigners say Germany and other rich countries are more likely to single out goals that best fit their broader policies rather than approach the SDGs in a holistic way.

Goal 1, for example, stipulates the end of poverty in all its forms everywhere, and many developed countries would argue poverty is no longer a big issue for them.

But one of the goal's targets is to halve the number of people living in poverty according to national definitions by 2030. That could prove challenging for Germany, where poverty and inequality have been on the rise.

Despite its wealth, a record 12 million of Germany's 80 million people are now classified as poor, with elderly and young people particularly affected, a study by a leading welfare organisation, Paritaetischer Gesamtverband, found this year.

"I think it would be very wrong to cherry pick because it would set a bad example for other countries to just choose to focus on targets that suit you," said SDSN's Kloke-Lesch.


Germany's top three priorities when it comes to the SDGs are to boost sustainability at home, throw its weight behind more sustainability in international politics and help other countries put the goals into action, a spokeswoman for the Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) said.

"We must increase the focus on the social and economic dimensions of sustainable development," the spokeswoman said in emailed comments to the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

One way Germany can help developing countries achieve the SDGs is through its expertise in sustainable technologies. But it will also push for development policies focused on human rights, the spokeswoman added.

For example, the BMZ hopes its Partnership for Sustainable Textiles, backed by child rights activist and Nobel peace laureate Kailash Satyarthi, will become a blueprint for other countries.

The partnership aims to ensure clothes destined for the German market comply with social, ethical and environmental standards, from raw cotton to the finished product.

Bachmann said the BMZ should play a bigger part in domestic policies through such initiatives - which do not just put the onus on consumers and how they can behave more sustainably.

"We need new indicators, for example for imports of sustainable goods that have been made without exploiting workers, so we can ask the right questions about who we do trade with," he said.

One area where Germany could make an immediate impact is by meeting a target set at the United Nations back in 1970 for economically advanced countries to spend 0.7 percent of national income on aid every year, campaigners said.

Germany is one of the world's top bilateral donors, and in March it announced a record aid budget of 7.4 billion euros ($8.3 billion), up 13.2 percent year-on-year.

But it still spends only 0.4 percent of its national income on aid despite having promised to meet the target this year, a pledge only Britain has met so far among the G7 countries.

"Even though money isn't everything when it comes to development policy, Germany should work harder at meeting this goal if it wants to be a leader in helping developing countries to become more sustainable," said Richard Klasen, post-2015 project coordinator at the Forum Ziviler Friedensdienst (Forum Civil Peace Service).

(Reporting By Astrid Zweynert; Editing by Katie Nguyen and Ros Russell; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, corruption and climate change. Visit www.trust.org)

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