“The sky over the Ruhr must turn blue again” was the vision that Willy Brandt once drew in the election campaign. In 1961, the SPD candidate for chancellor wanted a pot of coal free from dust, ash and soot on the houses, without all the negative consequences. Now, 60 years later, Brandt’s demand appears to have been met: thanks to stricter environmental regulations, new technologies and the withdrawal from mining. But the political demand has long gone further. The goal is to be climate neutral by 2045 in order to limit global warming.
How fit is an industrial region like the Ruhr to a future without coal-fired power stations and combustion engines, with few pollutants and lots of green space? The Ruhr Regional Association wanted to know and commissioned a study that the Wuppertal Institute for Climate, Environment and Energy has just presented. And the results are mixed, especially for a commissioned work. “The region has come a long way in some areas, but there is still some catching up to do in others,” said Manfred Fischedick, CEO of the Wuppertal Institute, diplomatically.
There is some catching up to do, for example, when it comes to CO₂, the currency of the new era, so to speak. The research team calculated that the Ruhr area recently emitted a good 16 tonnes of greenhouse gases per capita per year. For comparison: nationally, there are about nine tonnes per capita. The savings achieved so far are “still far too low, taking place far too slowly,” warns the study.
The pot has little potential for green electricity; people drive cars more than average
Of course, the five million residents between Duisburg and Dortmund must be credited with the fact that there isn’t much they can do about it. Above all, industry and power plants are responsible for the high emissions. It is therefore all the more important if and how quickly steel mills, for example, manage to process iron ore with hydrogen instead of coal. This protects the climate if hydrogen is obtained with green electricity. Companies like Thyssenkrupp plan to invest billions, but are also negotiating start-up aid with the state. In addition, the phase-out of climate-damaging coal-fired electricity generation, which Germany intends to implement by 2038 at the latest.
The Ruhr region also performs poorly when it comes to future energy. The Wuppertal Institute uses the latest regional data, according to which in 2017, just under seven percent of the kettle’s electricity came from renewable sources. Nationally, the share was 36% at the time, and the trend is increasing. On the Ruhr, Emscher and Lippe, however, there is hardly any hydropower potential, less wind than on the coast – and less space. The study now calls for more solar cells on roofs and balconies. However, he recognizes that a densely populated industrial region now depends on the import of renewable energy.
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Kaiserberg motorway junction near Duisburg: Residents of the Ruhr area have recently driven 79% of their kilometers by car – an amount above the average for a metropolitan area.
(Photo: Matthias Balk / dpa)
There remains one problem which – at least before the Corona crisis – manifested itself in numerous traffic jams: residents of the Ruhr region recently covered 79% of their kilometers by car, the research group said. The proportion is above the national average, although distances to supermarkets or schools in the densely populated Pott are relatively short. The region has so far “approached the recovery of traffic” with far too much hesitation, warns the Wuppertal Institute and has made fairly ambitious proposals: for example, a general “citizen ticket” for local public transport in France. instead of individual tickets – or a toll for car trips in cities.
The renaturation of fallows and watercourses is gradually bearing fruit
But, as the study quotes the local slang: “Getz hömma auf am knöttern.” So pretty harassed. The research team praises the fact that almost six percent of the Ruhr area today is green and recreational areas; the proportion is higher than in many other metropolitan areas. What started in the 1920s with the first green corridors brings fresh air and shade to cities, can prevent flooding – and offers plenty of space to retreat into “the often still existing image. of a gray region, dreary and not very livable “.
The Wuppertal Institute points out that many mining and industrial wasteland have turned into green spaces. The study names, for example, the former steelworks of Duisburg which has become a landscaped park covering an area of 250 football pitches. Overall, hardly more areas are sealed in the jar today than a few years ago. This development must “be perpetuated”, asks the research group.
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Duisburg-Nord Landscape Park: Hundreds of plant species are now at home in the old ironworks.
(Photo: Martin Gerten / dpa)
And something else encourages you: the study calculates that around 115,000 people are now employed in the environmental industry in the Ruhr area, thousands more than a few years ago. In addition to renewable energies, the Wuppertal Institute refers to the renaturation of the Emscher: the river crossing Dortmund and Bottrop has long been considered “the Ruhr sewer”; For decades, the Emscher had become a canal that discharged sewage and pollutants. But the billions of renovations since 1992 are gradually paying off, according to the research team: With the separation of wastewater and nature, trout and kingfishers, for example, have returned.
In any case, Frank Dudda, mayor of Herne and chairman of the Assembly of the Ruhr Regional Association, sticks to the vision that the Pott should become the greenest industrial region in the world. “Certainly, it is an ambitious goal”, says the politician of the SPD, “but the metropolis of the Ruhr is serious”. The region is experiencing change, even if it sometimes hurts. And change usually starts with a vision. Almost like back then with Willy Brandt.