Across two days, the BSPC Working Group on Climate Change and Biodiversity assembled in the German federal state of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, visiting sites and listening to expert presentations. Topics on the first day included an eco-certificate programme, the state of the forests, ocean research as well as green hydrogen production, storage and transportation along with wind farm planning and implementation and the needed development of the electric grid. The second day dealt with peatland restoration efforts in biosphere reserves, at the European scale with a view to changing agricultural practices as well as a small start-up company growing medicinal plants on peatland. About 40 participants from the Baltic Assembly, Finland, the German Bundestag, Hamburg, Latvia, Lithuania, Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, Norway, Poland, Schleswig-Holstein and Sweden attended the two days deliberations.
The BSPC Working Group on Climate Change and Biodiversity was welcomed to Schwerin Castle in the German federal state of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern by the Landtag’s president, Ms Birgit Hesse, noting the timeliness and urgency of the topic of the working group. In that respect, she pointed out Mecklenburg-Vorpommern setting an all-time heat record for the first time since 1994 but also stressed the recent environmental disaster in the Oder river with mass fish deaths. Ms Hesse highlighted the state parliament’s engagement in international efforts, particularly those of the BSPC. In her own welcome, Chairwoman Cecilie Tenfjord-Toftby underlined the deep historical ties between Mecklenburg-Vorpommern and her own home country of Sweden. She further stressed the importance of youth work and that the BSPC had incorporated recommendations of young people in their annual resolutions.
The Baltic Sea Parliamentary Youth Conference
Regarding youth participation, Ms Aline Mayr from the Secretariat of the Council of the Baltic Sea States (CBSS) and coordinator of the Baltic Sea Youth Platform underlined the cooperation in implementing this year’s Baltic Sea Parliamentary Youth Forum, its success and a return of the format in 2023. She further spoke about the great success of the youth platform of the CBSS which had been and would be holding several events providing youth input. The primary goal was the integration of young people into policymaking in a meaningful way. Their recommendations should be taken up in the work of both the CBSS and the BSPC.
Two representatives of the Baltic Sea Parliamentary Youth Forum, Mr Andreas Schoop from Germany and Ms Simona Jakaitė from Lithuania, also members of the Baltic Sea Youth Platform, presented the recommendations of the forum. On forests, wetlands and biodiversity, the young people called for the protection of biodiversity, in particular for increased carbon sequestration through restoration of forests and wetlands as well as natural rivers. Furthermore, strategies for dealing with transboundary emergencies caused by climate change or pollution had been seen as necessary; the present Oder river disaster spanning Poland and Germany underlined the urgency. The innovation topic had been connected with the energy topic with the call for the fulfilment of the Paris Agreement and phasing out fossil fuels. More investments should go to renewable energy sources. Mr Schoop stressed this importance in light of the Russian war of aggression against Ukraine and its effects. Furthermore, the young people viewed the circular economy as the best choice in the face of climate change and should thus be implemented, with the entire lifecycle of a product to be considered from the start. On the topic of resilient cities, young people wanted them to be green, more affordable, healthier and allowing free movement, albeit with car-free zones. Future design processes of resilient cities should involve minority groups from various backgrounds. The final topic of the recommendations was the resilience of the sea and coastlines. Here, they called for legally binding quotas for fishing which should incorporate a wide view rather than focus on single species. Furthermore, the removal of sea-dumped ammunitions – a priority area of the BSPC German Presidency – was important to young people. The influx of nutrients from agriculture into the Baltic Sea should be curbed, with a unified water deposit system for the whole Baltic Sea region, the regulation of single-use plastics and pesticides as well as investments to make shipping greener.
BSPC President Johannes Schraps underlined that the recommendations would find their way into the BSPC annual resolution. He further noted the wealth of recommendations by the young people at the Youth Forum and the difficulty in compressing these into two for each topic. The president agreed that cross-border cooperation was crucial, in light of forest fires but particularly with the Oder river disaster.
Presentations on Forests and the Sea
Dr Sandra Kleine, Ministry for Climate Protection, Agriculture, Rural Areas and the Environment of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, spoke about climate protection and conservation in the German federal state. Dr Kleine noted the carbon sequestration benefits of forests, peatlands and even hedges. Such ecosystem services had to be translated into economic value, by making them visible, assessable and investable. In 2007, the federal state in conjunction with academic institutions had developed eco-securities, i.e., certificates enabling private investments into ecosystem services, such as 1 tonne of CO2 per certificate. As voluntary investments, eco-securities complemented the mandatory market in climate protection. With the government providing the framework, this allowed rural areas to funnel in urban money for their ecosystem services. Moving on, Dr Kleine highlighted functional peatlands as the most powerful terrestrial carbon storage, yet drained peatlands were greenhouse gas emitters. Peatland restoration of the vast drained areas in the state thus was a highly effective mitigation measure. The so-called peatland futures were the respective certificate, based on the mitigated emissions of rewetted peatlands. All in all, the various eco-securities represented a strong regional brand in climate mitigation that could be easily communicated to the public. In particular the peatland certificates were also traded in three other German federal states – Lower Saxony, Schleswig-Holstein and Brandenburg –, comprising two thirds of all the peatland areas in Germany. The primary benefit was that rewetting of peatlands immediately stopped greenhouse gas emissions, but the restoration also aided in preserving biodiversity as well as improving water management, including flood regulation and retention of nutrients.
Chairwoman Tenfjord-Toftby wondered what the peatlands were currently used for. Dr Kleine confirmed that most were in agricultural use; farmers were compensated through selling their land. At a question by Ms Silke Backsen, Schleswig-Holstein, Dr Kleine reported an interest of landowners to cooperate with the process. Ms Anna Kassautzki contributed that farmers were open to selling land and cooperating as long as they could continue their business, amidst changing regulations and demanding times. Johannes Schraps saw these eco-securities as another example of a best practice that could be transferred to other regions. To his questions, Dr Kleine explained that after the shift from Kyoto to the Paris Agreement, the certificate system was currently under revision so that sales would resume at some point in the future. Then, they would be sold as helping the public good rather than serving as compensation. Mr Alexander Mohrenberg asked if the project could be expanded to the national level and who the investors were. Dr Kleine saw increasing interest from companies all across Germany. She underlined the communication aspect of the futures, carrying the message into new target groups. As for the national level, she noted their connection to the German Emission Trade Authority. Secretary General Bodo Bahr asked for a clarification of the ratio between emissions generated in the state and the sequestration potential of the peatlands. Ms Mai Kivelä, Finland was interested in the working of the carbon market in Germany. Dr Kleine explained that compensation was no longer possible. To her knowledge, there was no regulation of the market.
Mr Marcus Kühling, Team Leader, Competence and Information Centre Forest and Wood, Agency for Renewable Resources, spoke about the forests in Germany. Covering 32 % of the territory, Germany was one of the most-forested countries in Europe. Since WW II, more than 1.5 million hectares of forest had been restored, showing the identification of the German people with their forests. For the most part, the ownership lay with the citizens and the municipalities. The relative paucity of tree species – only 76 compared with more than 200 in the US – made adapting to the changing climate difficult. Spruce, pine, beech and oak were the most common, accounting for 76 % of the forest area. Without human impact, Germany would be covered almost completely by primarily beech forests. Sustainable forest management had ensured Germany’s forests to have the highest growing stock in Europe. Climate change-triggered drought had killed off 220 million m², most of them spruce trees. Apart from drought, windstorms were the leading abiotic cause of damage to woods, followed by snow and ice. Traditionally a minor factor, forest fires had recently become a greater danger. The drought had also promoted insect infestation, leading to nearly 60 % of harvested trees having suffered insect damage. As in all of Europe, air and soil moisture in Germany had decreased significantly in the past three decades, despite locally stronger rainfall. By 2100, all spruce and most beech trees were projected to have died off.
To help sustain the forests, the Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture had instituted several aid packages to forest owners, among them a forest sustainability premium and an investment program for climate-friendly wood construction. Currently, a 900 million euro funding instrument was being worked on, to reward the ecosystem service of the forest and climate-adapted forest management. Another dimension of aid was provided by research, development and demonstration, looking to find practical solutions. The difficulty lay in the very long-term nature of the forests, so that results were only visible after several generations. Mr Kühling noted a few example projects, such as one against forest fires, dealing with abandoned military proving grounds as well as deadwood in forests, and another assessing the future viability of different tree species. Other efforts introduced new species like Douglas firs and redwoods, analysing their survivability and effect. There were also European-level projects on developing a research and innovation roadmap as well as on innovating a forest-based bioeconomy. Mr Kühling pointed out the wealth of information generated by research institutes, but it had to be reworked to fit the scope of a forest owner so the latter could make use of the information. This was a task the speaker’s agency was working on, through brochures, field trips and the like. Mr Kühling concluded by noting the wide range of ecosystem services provided by forests, going well beyond timber and including water, biodiversity, food and the more. He underlined that it was necessary to use the forest, so that the key point was how to use the woods sustainably.
Ms Lene Westgaard-Halle, Norway asked about the reception by local politicians. Mr Mohrenberg wondered if the rising timber prices had changed private forest owners’ reaction to these projects. Ms Tenfjord-Toftby noted the different views on how to use forests across Europe, asking for reflections on that. For Mr Kühling, politicians were – perhaps – not sufficiently focused on what tasks should be prioritised, although he agreed that most measures were vital. He further preferred timber as a construction but also heating material in the present energy crisis. As for rising timber prices, he noted that raw wood prices – due to die-offs – had been low while processed timber had garnered higher prices. As raw wood prices were rising, forest owners were proud of earning their living with the work of generations, so that more than just money was needed to involve them in state projects. Mr Kühling pointed out that forest management systems differed even within Germany, for one thing between private and state-owned woods. The forests themselves were also different across the continent so that clear-cutting – forbidden in Germany – could be beneficial for biodiversity in other locations, simulating the effects of forest fires. Therefore, a diverse mix of measures was the right choice in his opinion.
Prof Dr Uwe Freiherr von Lukas, Ocean Technology Campus Rostock (OTC), focused on Co-Innovation for Smart Ocean Technologies. Blue growth was an important factor for science as well as the economy, concerning maritime tourism, shipyards, fishing and aquaculture. Renewable energies in the Baltic Sea region generally meant offshore wind farms. Here, the new German government had set ambitious targets for increasing the number of installations from around 8 at this point to 30 in the coming six to eight years. Prof von Lukas noted the growing awareness of sea-dumped ammunitions, a problem that urgently had to be tackled. After a thorough survey, the most crucial sites would have to be cleared. To that, state-of-the-art technology and innovation was needed. To be precise, an innovation ecosystem would have to be established, bringing research scientists together with politicians and companies. Following a Canadian template, the professor’s OTC was creating such an environment, starting with a focus on skill development to provide education both on the academic and practical level. Another aspect was creating the necessary infrastructure and environment for companies and other partners. One start-up at the OTC was working on autonomous underwater vehicles while the Fraunhofer organisation would be setting up a new research centre on this campus. Prof von Lukas pointed out that the OTC received support from both the federal as well as the state level, through funding but also international cooperation. The OTC focused on the sustainable use of the oceans through various pilot projects in the Baltic Sea. Currently, they were developing an infrastructure called the Digital Ocean Lab, a large water area near Rostock where sensors and communication equipment had been set up in an underwater lab. This was an efficient environment for experiments, e.g., on unexploded ammunitions but also cable connections to shore, as well as training, to speed up innovation processes. Expanding to the European perspective, the OTC had set up an innovation platform on sustainable subsea solutions, ISSS, bringing together partners from Spain, Portugal, France, Sweden, Norway, the Netherlands, Finland and Germany to push forward international projects. R&D activities had to be supported in the future, and the professor saw it as crucial to do so not just on the national but rather on the international level. Presently, the OTC was preparing a workshop on unexploded ordinance for companies in September 2022, offering a very interesting commercial opportunity.
BSPC President Schraps pointed out a Polish project of interest on decommissioning chemical weapons. Prof von Lukas confirmed that the OTC already was in touch with the group, noting that he had only mentioned the larger organisations involved in the ISSS. He was nonetheless keen to connect that open network with other applied research organisations in the region. Ms Tenfjord-Toftby commented that the permit process was a frequent bottleneck for wind farm projects, wondering what the situation in Germany was. In Sweden, there was also a discussion on who would be paying for the connection between offshore wind farms and the grid on land. She further asked about research on the negative or positive effect of wind farms on sea-based life. Prof von Lukas agreed that permission was indeed crucial, pointing to a German initiative to give this process a higher priority over other relevant perspectives. But even for their OTC, they were in the third phase of marine planning and had not even reached the permission stage after three years. As for the grid, he believed an interregional grid across the Baltic Sea region was required. Finally, he referred to Mr Kühling’s remark on clear-cutting having a diverse impact. With a complex ecosystem like the sea, negative impacts were likely for marine mammals, but grounding structures like the offshore installations could provide anchor points for other lifeforms. It was important to be aware of the impact of human changes to the system and being open to course corrections, if necessary, also on the legal level.
Presentations on Energy
Dr Peter Sponholz, CRO (APEX Group), explained that the APEX Group dealt with hydrogen projects on the one hand as well as hydrogen storage on the other. The projects dealt with hydrogen as a source of heat, mobility or electricity as well as the molecule itself for e.g., chemical needs. Renewable energies were used to create the respective hydrogen. The task of APEX was to provide the machinery for the processes from energy source to usable hydrogen, including electrolyser, hydrogen storage and fuel cell systems or refuelling stations. He noted that hydrogen was indispensable for steel manufacture; a change-over from gas to hydrogen in the process was comparatively simple. In general, any kind of high-heat environment needed for production would end up using hydrogen. APEX had built its industrial park near Rostock airport, in a so-called hydrogen valley. The energy used in the hub was produced directly on site. Hydrogen produced there could be re-electrified but also used to power vehicles. For the company Amazon, APEX was producing and transporting hydrogen to the former’s warehouse facility to be used in forklifts. Plans were in place to build a 135 electrolysis system, creating hydrogen to be pumped into a dedicated grid to power various targets in Berlin and the Leipzig area. Dr Sponholz pointed out that electrolysis generated a great deal of heat which APEX was planning to use for heating and powering nearby industries.
The research group he was leading dealt with hydrogen storage itself, a forgotten piece of the energy puzzle: At the end of the day, after all the electrolysis processes, it had to be stored and transported. He highlighted energy density: While one litre of ordinary hydrogen could power a light bulb for about half an hour, a compressed kilogramme of hydrogen could keep the same bulb shining for about half a year. Accordingly, the form of storage was crucial. Together with partners, APEX was developing compressed storage solutions – both stationary and mobile – up to 500 bar of pressure. Even more massive amounts could be stored through chemical conversion. As for mobility, the company’s current experiments were based on a car, although Dr Sponholz was quick to note his doubt about hydrogen being viable on this platform. Instead, larger-scale transport solutions were the target, including those concerning the transport of hydrogen itself, e.g., from Canada to Germany. Although the hydrogen economy had already been mentioned 150 years earlier by Jules Verne in The Mystery Island, it was now time to implement it.
Henrich Quick, Head of Offshore, 50Hertz Transmission GmbH, explained his company was the transmission system operator in five German federal states, covering about 20 % of the German population. The Baltic Sea had been a pioneer in offshore wind production, having seen the early installations as well as grids. In particular through interconnected systems like Bornholm, the Baltic Sea offered a great potential for future energy production in a Europe-wide system. Increasing efficiency had seen production rise from a paltry 48 megawatts over mid-sized systems producing 500 – 1,000 megawatts to the next generation representing huge wind farms at 2 gigawatts a piece. Furthermore, the number of cables had shrunk to just requiring one, thus reducing not only costs but also the environmental impact. The same applied to foundations, obtaining more power from the same investment and impact on the environment. Dr Quick underlined efforts to further reduce the impact but also to speed up the permission process. However, he underlined the value of the permits, balancing the various needs, uses and effects. In the German model, the TSO built the grid connection while the wind farm developer was responsible for just the generator. The cost for the connection was borne by the grid user. He raised an example of two wind farms which ordinarily would have been connected by 4 full-size cables. Thanks to the TSO-driven planning process, a 3-cable solution could be implemented instead, with a minor cable between the farms. He saw the TSO model as preferable in creating standardised connections optimised not for the energy producers but recipients. Chairwoman Tenfjord-Toftby asked how much the energy price would rise because of the grid connection and if there was opposition, given the already high prices. Dr Quick replied that it was about the entire grid costs, from the offshore facility and then distributing the energy to the customers. The grid costs in Germany from the TSOs was about 3 cents per kilowatt hour; the offshore surcharge two years before had been ca. 0.5 cents. Compared to the pure cost of energy, that was a bargain. He conceded that the energy transformation away from fossil fuels was not cheap but worth the investment since it would ensure reliable power for the next 30 – 40 years.
The goal for his company was that 100 % of the energy in their control zone would be available from renewable energy sources in 2032, allowing for some flexibility. He noted that key here was sharing the various tasks, comparing the availability of land for onshore wind farms in comparatively empty Mecklenburg-Vorpommern with the densely built Berlin. Industrial companies were also interested in investing in renewable power sources. Dr Quick underlined the inherent complexities in creating such a system through finding smart solutions as the stable energy facilities like nuclear or coal were being phased out. He further pointed out that 10 years before, the present share of renewables in his company’s stable grid had been considered impossible. Solutions could be found by working hand in hand with science, institutions, politics and engineering. Politics in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern in particular had created the pathway that now returned on that investment through jobs and new enterprise settling in the federal state.
Mr Thomas Murche, Technical Director, WEMAG AG, Schwerin, spoke about the challenge of reaching climate neutrality by 2045. In line with the global targets, Germany had raised its 2030 reduction goal to 65 % of 1990 carbon emissions. To that end, concrete expansion paths had been established for solar and wind power plants, specifically adding 10 gigawatts annually of wind power from 2025 on and 22 GW per year of solar power from 2026. A 2022 legislative package paved the way for further subsidies for innovative and storage technologies as well as an accelerated planning and approval procedure. This could only be achieved through sector coupling by integrating energy systems. More flexible grids and added storage solutions were needed to offset the fluctuations from weather-based and decentralised power generation. Moving to the federal state of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, Mr Murche noted its primary targets to achieve greenhouse gas neutrality by 2030 and to cover the entire energy demand (electricity, heating and transport) to be covered by renewables by 2035. Currently, a respective climate change act was being developed. Already, the state was the first in Germany to generate more renewable power than was consumed, thus targeting the provision of 6.5 % of the country’s power by 2025. He noted challenges on that path in terms of the expensive restructuring of the grid, developing needed storage solutions to ensure the stable supply and the public acceptance of new renewable power plants. Opportunities, though, also arose through the development of a hydrogen industry and the provision of inexpensive green electricity, making the federal state more attractive for industry.
He went on to talk about the WEMAG Group with its focus on e.g., power supply grid, project development and telecommunications, employing about 800 people. Their networks covered a total area of 8,060 km². Since 2015, the amount of green electricity generated exceeded the consumption of all the customers in the grid. However, consumption and generation were often not perfectly matched, so that energy storage technologies would have to be developed and the installed renewable energy capacity in the grid would have to be doubled or even quadrupled. That was the challenge for the WEMAG Group which planned to expand their wind power capacity by 742 megawatts and solar power by 576 megawatts by 2030. Thus, the company was supporting the energy transformation. He saw the move away from fossil fuels driven by the transition towards electric vehicles, with an expected 7 million electric cars in Germany by 2030, consuming an additional 25 terawatt hours. The bottleneck in the transformation was the network itself, with the challenge being the synchronisation of power plants and the network.
BSPC WG Vice-Chair, Mr Philipp da Cunha, Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, asked about the approval process. Dr Quick explained that the entire industry had learned a lot, not least in the dialogue with the population to quell worries about e.g., noise from transformer substations. This was the major hold-up in the process which could not be shortened by a lot. However, this could be implemented in parallel with the remaining development and investigation processes. Mr Jens-Holger Schneider, Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, asked about grey and green hydrogen prices. Dr Sponholz answered that ca. 50 kilowatt hours were needed to produce one kilogramme of hydrogen. 60 – 80 % of the hydrogen costs were due to the price of electricity, so that determined the price of grey and green hydrogen. Mr Johannes Schraps was interested in the competitiveness of products like green steel but also public fears of pressurised hydrogen explosions. Dr Sponholz believed there should be a carbon price tag on products, making green supply chains more competitive. As for possible dangers, he noted that all kinds of fuels posed their own kinds of hazards, but hydrogen was well enough understood to enable safe handling. Mr Schraps wished to know more of the impact of offshore wind farms on marine life. Mr Quick reiterated that impacts and benefits had to be balanced. Furthermore, the industry had progressed technology to drastically minimise negative impacts on marine mammals during construction. Importantly, the established foundations served to increase some sea life in the area.
Mr Alexander Mohrenberg asked about the various systems of hydrogen transportation. Dr Sponholz said they were developing type 4 tanks, using pressures up to 60 bar. For transportation, pressures went up to 350 – 500 bar. Regarding hydrogen carriers, there was no clear answer to whether methane, ammonia or methanol were superior. His company was using catalysts to bind the hydrogen in transport. Development was still needed to make a more precise assessment of the overall costs. Ms Tenfjord-Toftby mentioned the development of local hydrogen grids for energy and heating that would reduce the number of customers in the national grid. She further asked about the plans for a hydrogen grid around the Baltic Sea as well as whether stored hydrogen should be used for conversion back to electricity, cars or as a raw resource. Dr Sponholz said that decentralised hydrogen hubs were a good way to work with the gas. Hydrogen should be used where the energy was most expensive; currently, that was mobility. However, the bottleneck was still in the network of refuelling stations, although several German bus companies were switching diesel for hydrogen engines. For heavy-duty mobility, i.e., buses or trucks, hydrogen was of great interest. He agreed that the re-electrification process was very costly, so that local use was best. Steel and ammonia production, though, would benefit greatly from a renewable basis. Mr Quick mentioned the versatility of electricity on the one hand, yet for some uses, hydrogen was better suited, such as heating. Both applications had to be used in order to decarbonise the entire system. Using hydrogen for electricity generation might be useful as a back-up when solar and wind power are not being produced, along with batteries and other storage facilities.
Ms Silke Backsen commentedthatthe loss of species was not due to renewable energy but rather due to agriculture and other causes. Mr Johannes Schraps clarified that public fears had to be understood in order to be countered. He also stressed that the streamlining of the permission process was something that politicians could tackle directly. Mr Bodo Bahr underscored that pressure was driving the needed innovation and that the current crises were providing a great deal of pressure. He noted a project of the STRING initiative, aiming for 5,000 hydrogen-powered heavy trucks going from Hamburg to Oslo by 2025. He also referred to the “IPCEI Hy2Tech”, the first ever Important Project of Common European Interest in the hydrogen sector, approved by the European Commission on 15 July 2022, involving 35 companies and 41 projects from 15 member states and including under the state aid rules up to €5.4 billion of aid which will be crowded in another €8.8 billion of private investments. Nevertheless, he worried that the many projects – national and regional – were too isolated, pursuing their own advantage over the others. Mr Bahr wished for more cooperation across borders. Dr Sponholz agreed that new technologies should be pursued, without looking too closely at the economics at the beginning. Dr Quick saw a lot of momentum in the development of storage technology as well as renewables. He cautioned that political outlooks – and industry responses – could change: Offshore wind power had not been high on the agenda some four years earlier but now was dominating many European countries as well as the USA. The industry had to catch up with the change, having to ramp up its manufacturing capacity. There would be difficulties to meet the set goals until 2030, though. To get going before that time, compromises might be necessary rather than looking for the best solution.
Tour of the WEMAG Battery Storage Facility on 29 August
Before the meeting in the State parliament of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, the members of the BSPC Working Group took the opportunity to visit the WEMAG battery storage facility in the state capital Schwerin. WEMAG storage expert Mr Tobias Struck underlined during the tour that “The 10-megawatt lithium-ion storage system stabilises short-term fluctuations in the grid frequency fully automatically with operating reserves. This allows wind and solar power to be integrated into the existing grid.”
At present, the renewable energy plants from the WEMAG grid area supply a total output of just under 2,300 megawatts (MW). The largest share is accounted for by wind turbines at 1,125 MW and photovoltaic systems at 1,000 MW. Just based on the figures, it would already be possible to supply all customers in WEMAG’s grid area with electricity from renewable energy: measured in terms of end customers, the Renewable Energy Act (EEG) feed-in quota in 2021 was 283 percent. Mr Thomas Murche, technical director of WEMAG who also gave a detailed presentation during the meeting pointed out “that means we are already above the targets set by the German government for the year 2050 and would be able to supply our customers only with electricity from renewable sources.” For photovoltaic systems alone, the amount fed into the WEMAG power grid in the first half of 2022 was almost 500,000 MWh, compared to 283,000 MWh in the same period last year.
During the tour of the battery storage facility Mr Tobias Struck answered numerous questions from the working members.
Presentations on Peatland on 30 August in the Biosphere Reserves Schaalsee
Ms Anke Hollerbach, Head of Administration of the Biosphere Reserves Schaalsee and Elbe, explained that she was responsible for two biosphere reserves, based on a UNESCO programme. Starting in the 1970s, a worldwide network of now 738 biosphere reserves had been created. A dialogue with nature, poverty reduction and human well-being were at the heart of the global approach. An international coordinating council handled the designation process approving an area as a biosphere reserve and confirming the status every ten years. In Germany, there were 18 such reserves. Schaalsee was dealing with bog protection; aside from mesotropic lakes like the Schaalsee itself, there were also swamp areas. The reserves had to involve the local population and all interested stakeholders in planning and management. Their three functions were compiling natural diversity, economic development with social and environmental sustainability as well as logistics support for research, monitoring, education and training. Nature conservation and the development of the landscape was a particular focus, with the restoration of bog areas the primary concern of the last 30 years. 1,000 years ago, there had been a lot of wetlands in the area many of which had been drained to allow for agriculture, transportation ways and the like. A canal had been dug to connect the Schaalsee to the Baltic Sea, also lowering the water level. Ms Hollerbach differentiated several types of bogs, such as raised and intermediate bogs. Peatland restoration assisted in climate protection, in terms of carbon sequestration, water and soil protection as well as biodiversity. The process of rewetting the areas was still in progress. The speaker underlined that this was a difficult and long-term undertaking, requiring studies on impacts to surrounding areas – including agriculture and forestry – and planning. The most complex aspect was the implementation. Normally, the respective area was privately owned so the land had to be purchased or compensated. To that end, owners’ resistance and lack of comprehension had to be overcome. Public relations thus were vital throughout the process. Financing was equally relevant. Ms Hollerbach also stressed the importance of having experts on site, networked with the local population – such as the Schaalsee Biosphere Reserves. Only these contacts allowed them to tackle each following project.
On the question if there was a national coordination authority, Ms Hollerbach noted that peat restoration was handled at the level of the federal state rather than the federal government. Mr Andreas Schoop asked if the compensation was long-term which Ms Hollerbach confirmed as a thirty-year time frame. That applied mostly to forest areas while agriculture lands were usually purchased outright. With respect to the Oder river pollution, Mr Johannes Schraps inquired about Ms Hollerbach’s contacts to Poland. The speaker pointed to the biosphere reserve network, noting that they were in touch with others on special topics. Apart from that, there were other contacts within Germany but also with e.g., Ghana and along the Elbe river. She cautioned there could be no preparation for disasters like the Oder.
Dr Franziska Tanneberger, landscape ecologist at Greifswald University, Director of the Greifswald Mire Centre and Chairwoman of the “MV Future Council“ 2020/21, said that the Mire Centre was preparing the global peatland maps for the first ever global peatland assessment. She defined peatland as an area with a naturally occurring accumulated layer of peat at the surface that can be several metres thick, some up to 160 metres. In Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, the average thickness was 10 metres. Peat was formed from the lower parts of plants, thus binding carbon. If drained, CO2 was released. A mire was a “living” peat where new layers of it were being formed. A thorough survey of peatlands in Europe had been compiled over the course of 26 years. She highlighted the biodiversity of peatlands, not just at the species level but at that of the ecosystem. Sadly, many of the peatlands were in bad condition all over the continent: 25 % of the area was degraded. Often, this was due to agriculture. After Indonesia, the European Union was the second-largest emitter of greenhouse gases in the world from this source, with Germany leading in peatland emissions. Roughly 5 % of the total greenhouse gas emissions of the European Union came from drained peatlands, making it an important issue. Dr Tanneberger stressed that peatland conservation was most cost-effective: The peats that had not yet been drained needed to be protected. Rewetting the degraded peats stopped the subsidence and substantially reduced greenhouse gas emissions as well as nutrient release, with nitrogen of particular relevance. If peat had to be used for agriculture, that had to be adapted for it being wet.
She pointed out that for most countries, peatland rewetting and paludiculture were the most important climate protection measure in this sector. Although peat only accounted for 3 % of the agricultural area of the EU, it produced 25 % of the greenhouse gases. Changing agricultural processes on a small proportion of the land thus could have a substantial effect for climate protection. Implementing this change and the rewetting of most peatlands would help achieve carbon neutrality by 2050 but would require massive state funding. The German government had assigned two billion euros for peatland protection in the current legislative period, half the overall climate protection budget. Furthermore, the establishment of a peatland rewetting authority was being discussed, following the example of Indonesia. Dr Tanneberger underscored the importance of involving the private sector which was keen to achieve climate neutrality. She further suggested alternative land uses, such as building solar panel installations on highly degraded peatland. The harvest from peatlands could serve such uses as construction or insulation materials. For Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, agriculture and land use were by far the leading greenhouse gas emitters, culminating in the federal state having the highest per capita emissions in Germany. The federal state had instituted a group from various backgrounds to develop a programme for the future of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern to start the transformation across all sectors as soon as possible.
Mr Bodo Bahr was interested in Dr Tanneberger’s view of the present implementation of that future programme. The speaker said that some areas were going well, but more discussion would be needed in others. To questions by Mr Alexander Mohrenberg, Dr Tanneberger replied that some bogs were fed water through rain, others through ground water. Peatlands only developed in areas with excess water. Agriculture on rewetted peatlands became possible after one year, though monoculture crops would take a while longer. Ms Tenfjord-Toftby noted that agriculture was very conservative. Dr Tanneberger confirmed her side’s frequent discussions with farmers’ associations from the European to the German level. She pointed out that farmers understood the importance of curbing carbon emissions but wanted some freedom to do what they wanted on their wetlands. That should be reflected in legislation.
Dr Jenny Schulz, CEO, PaludiMed GmbH, worked on medical applications of plants grown in peatland. In particular, she was focusing on sundews, a plant group that had been used to treat asthmatic bronchitis and the like for centuries, dating back at least to the Middle Ages. She pointed out that plant medicine commonly did not have just one active ingredient but a combination of several. Such plants were also imported from China although it had been found that many of those had very little or no pharmacologically active substances left after having dried out. The sundew species native to Germany though had a much higher content and were available fresh or frozen. These were protected, though, making trade across borders difficult. At the same time, that also made the supply unstable. When collecting in the wild, it was difficult to control the circumstances. Cultivation trials so far had proven unsuccessful or very expensive.
Given the high market potential, paludiculture could stabilise the supply under controlled conditions. The peat layer was conserved and did not degrade any further. The moss layer could even expand and form new peat. Paludiculture areas provided a habitat for many species. She explained that her own field was within the biosphere reserve, in a former peat mine so that the area was bare and thus not protected. Conflicts with nature conservation had to be avoided in such efforts. Although her company was a private enterprise, it had been supported as a start-up with a state loan. Dr Schulz underlined that the conditions in peat areas differed, so much that their early attempt to adopt a cultivation method from Saxony-Anhalt had failed at this site. Rainwater should have been enough to supply the field, but precipitation had been below average the last few years. Chalk prevented the construction of a well. Ditches had been dug to channel water into the area and retain it. The sundew population was planted through seeds. Frogs, grass snakes and adders as well as cranes and other birds had come back to the area. Wildlife in general, including plants, had increased. Regarding research, she mentioned that the species had different active ingredients, with one species providing antibacterial qualities. It was necessary to make sure phytotoxins would not remain in the final product.
Ms Simona Jakaitė asked about the scaling up potential. Dr Schulz noted that sundew did not grow in many areas, and most of those were currently protected. Their field was a peat mine on state land; other possibilities were former sand mines. Lower Saxony had plenty of dried peatland for this purpose, though. She cautioned that harvest was costly as it was done by hand and resulted in only three kilogrammes per day. Furthermore, the economic inflation was one obstacle, exacerbated by the lengthy permission process for medical use. Mr Johannes Schraps wondered about the federal protected species list and whether a special permission had been needed for cultivation. Dr Schulz confirmed that. Her project was paludiculture – as opposed to wild growth – wherefore she was allowed to collect the sundew.
Mr Bodo Bahr asked the three experts about the intensity of cooperation in the Baltic Sea region. Ms Hollerbach replied that her exchange was very limited. Dr Tanneberger had intensive contacts through the international mire conservation group, although there was space for more cooperation. Dr Schulz ran her own little company so there was not much call for exterior nature conservation contacts.
The Working Group on Climate Change and Biodiversity had conducted a survey among governments on important questions, receiving very informative answers from Denmark, Estonia, Hamburg, Germany, Finland, Latvia, Lithuania, Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, Poland, Schleswig-Holstein and Sweden. These have been published on the BSPC website. The Working Group forwarded an additional question to governments to the Standing Committee regarding the impact of the war in Ukraine and related changes in political priorities on climate policy goals and their implementation.
Mr Jarek Wałęsa extended an official invitation to host the Working Group in May 2023 in Gdańsk. Ms Lene Westgaard-Halle of Norway suggested hosting a meeting in her country in February/ March 2023 but further out in the wintry countryside rather than Oslo. This would mean additional travel time, though. Ms Anna Kassautzki, Mr Johannes Schraps, Ms Silke Backsen, Ms Tenfjord-Toftby and Mr Bodo Bahr discussed the issue. BSPC President Schraps proposed another meeting of the Working Group in-between this one and the next scheduled one in March, perhaps in digital form at the end of 2022. Secretary General Bahr agreed that this was a possibility, especially as a digital meeting, and could be discussed further.
Since Chairwoman Cecilie Tenfjord-Toftby will be leaving parliament after the autumn elections in Sweden, Mr Philipp da Cunha has been appointed her successor by the BSPC Standing Committee as per the wishes of the Working Group. Ms Tenfjord-Toftby said her good-byes to the group, pointing out that many of the members were young people representing the future. She was sure they would deliver a good report. With all that they had heard in the group, now it was time for the politicians to implement these measures. On behalf of the members, Secretary General Bodo Bahr and Chairman-to-be da Cunha thanked Ms Tenfjord-Toftby for her work.