GERMANY — Two White Bear Lake City Council members spent a week in the sister city of Ludenscheid recently as part of the Climate-Smart Municipalities program. The German city was one of the country's first to define carbon dioxide targets and commit to climate protection.
Asked what most impressed him during the trip, Council Member Doug Biehn said, "The greenery. It's just unbelievably green." Biehn particularly liked the 750-year-old city's walkability, the interactive activities along its trails and the many parks.
Ludenscheid is surrounded by large forests and stands of conifers, added Council Member Kevin Edberg. "Pensioners own small acreages that are planted to these pines and periodically harvested, being managed for long-term asset growth. Climate change has warmed the winters, and a form of bark beetle that affects these species of pine have survived in numbers not seen in hundreds of years," he noted. "The result is massive deforestation. The same thing is happening to pine species in northern Minnesota, Montana and throughout the northern Rockies."
Tree planting programs like the one the delegates participated in help reduce carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and restore landscapes, among other benefits.
Ludenscheid partnered with the city of White Bear Lake in an exchange program two years ago to assist with implementation of environmental projects. Its goal is to accelerate progress toward a cleaner and more efficient energy footprint.
The grant-funded initiative is exploring projects such as solar panels on White Bear's municipal buildings, placement of electric vehicle charging stations and procurement of electric vehicles for its municipal fleet.
This was the second trip for Biehn and Council Member Kevin Edberg. The two city leaders visited Germany in 2019 as well, as part of the exchange program. During that first trip, the delegation, which included Mayor Jo Emerson, were amazed at Germany's waste reduction culture. Styrofoam cups, paper plates and plastic forks were absent at meetings. Coffee and water came in glass. There are no plastic bags for purchases when you shop or plastic water bottles. And recyclables have specific sorting containers to keep them pure and marketable.
In dispatches written by Madeline Lydon, a University of Minnesota Humphrey School of Public Affairs grad student who accompanied the Climate Smart delegation, Ludenscheid Mayor Sebastian Wagemeyer noted his country's challenges with climate change, beetle infestations and recent flooding.
Asked what he liked about working with Americans and Minnesotans, in particular, the mayor said, their "positive outlook on the world." He also liked the delegates’ "huge amount of curiosity."
The progressive German city drastically increased its climate protection goals with a 2019 "Climate Protection Action Program" and in 2020 developed the "Municipal Sustainability Budget". Sustainability goals are now part of all municipal budgeting decisions.
— Debra Neutkens