Green group names and shames "12 autobahns no one needs"

The German government's road building policy sabotages climate goals and harms biodiversity, says BUND.

Bumper to bumper on the A100. Does Berlin need more of this? 
Bumper to bumper on the A100. Does Berlin need more of this? imago images/Stefan Zeitz

Berlin-Environmental group BUND has launched an attack on the German government's road-building practices. According to a brochure put out by the eco-lobby Tuesday, the ever-growing autobahn network is sabotaging Germany's climate efforts and pointlessly destroying natural habitats. To boot, BUND says the planned highways are uncessary and a huge waste of money.

The report, titled "Disaster by the dozen: Twelve autobahns no one needs", also lambasts Berlin's plan to extend the A100 ring up into Friedrichshain.

"New roads do not make the world a better place. They create more traffic and CO2 emissions," said Olaf Bandt, BUND chairman.

A total of 1,360 national road building projects are planned through 2030. Of these projects, 850 kilometres alone consist of new multi-lane freeways. Bandt said such policies undermine the country's efforts to cut carbon emissions and achieve its own targets under the Paris Accord. Germany's Climate Protection Act stipulates that the transport sector must reduce CO2 emissions by 42 per cent by 2030.

Call to halt A100 extension

What's more, Bandt pointed out, autobahn construction contributes to the extinction of species and destroys nature reserves. A total of 170 Natura 2000 protected areas - "the crown jewels of conservation" - are affected. The new autobahns are set to cut through thousands of kilometres of habitats - forests, wetlands and drylands worthy of protection - and will pave over about 22,000 hectares of land. 

"How can it be that these areas continue to be destroyed? In road planning, we have to deal with an autocracy of planners, experts, courts and politicians that consistently undermine and circumvent ecological protection targets," said Bandt.

Hence, BUND is calling for a moratorium on national highway construction until all projects have been subjected to an environmental assessment.

One of the "12 autobahns no one needs" is the A100 extension in Berlin, says BUND. The environmentalists are demanding its removal from Germany's Federal Transport Infrastructure Plan.

"Berlin already has a very dense road and rail network," the BUND brochure says. The planned 17th construction phase would not only increase traffic and thus noise and air pollution in the city. It would require the demolition of residential buildings. According to BUND, priority must be given to the maintenance of existing motorways and the reduction of noise pollution.

Berlin received €473 million in federal subsidies for the A100 extension. BUND is calling for an end to such budgetary earmarking for cities: "Berlin should be able to decide for itself which transport projects this money is used for."

Linke and Greens slam autobahn plans

Die Linke and Green politicians expressed support for the BUND campaign. "Germany has one of the densest road networks in the world. Ever-new road projects are not part of the solution. They destroy both natural and urban spaces and stoke the climate crisis," Stefan Gelbhaar, transport spokesman for the Greens in the Bundestag, told Berliner Zeitung.

Projects like the A100 extension are "climate-hostile, nonsensical and uneconomical," Geldhaar added. The Greens, like BUND, are demanding a moratorium on new autobahns and other national highways.

"When evaluating transport projects, environmental and climate protection must finally become a priority," the parliamentarian said. "Policy should further investment in rail, cycling and networked public mobility.

Die Linke is also calling for a halt on new highway construction projects. "We need an alternative transport plan that serves the transition to social-ecological mobility and that is centred on rail," Ingrid Renners, Linke transport spokesperson, told Berliner Zeitung.

Renners said that the focus on highway construction was the result of the "dominance of industrial interests in transport policy". She said that cars were still seen as the central mode of transport, pushing all others to the margins.

"We have to overcome this in order to arrive at a sensible transport policy that focuses on people and their needs."

FDP oppose "policy of prohibition"

The business-friendly FDP showed little understanding for the anti-autobahn initiative. "BUND, just like the Greens, relies on a policy of prohibition and blockade. The damage would be felt by citizens, especially in rural areas," Oliver Luksic, transport spokesman for the party in the Bundestag, told the Berliner Zeitung.

He added that efficient road infrastructure was the foundation of Germany's prosperity. "For some parties and political commentators, individualised transport is just evil. Roads and cars are not a pointless end in themselves but an important part of real life for most citizens."

To reconcile climate targets and highway projects, Luksic proposes accelerating planning and construction in the short term. "All modes of transport, including rail and inland waterways, would benefit. Instead of bans, there needs to be openness to technology and innovative competition in transport. This includes expanding the European emissions trading scheme to the sector, Luksic said.

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