In 2019, Cologne’s city council declared a “climate emergency”, meaning that the need to combat climate change was to be considered a top priority in all political decisions. In the same year, the city set up a “climate council” with representatives from the business and science communities. At the 2020 local elections, the Klimafreunde (Climate Friends) were elected to the city council and since then the electoral group has been represented by activists from the For Future movement. A climate department was set up in the city administration in 2021. And in the city council, in which the Greens are now the strongest force, there is majority support for plans to make Cologne climate-neutral by 2035.
The growing significance of climate protection – not something that has ever been prioritised in Cologne’s political and administrative circles – is largely thanks to the numerous initiatives and companies that have been working for years to protect our climate, nature and environment. As well as piling pressure on the decision-makers, they have come up with a constant stream of new ideas for local climate protection. These have been taken on board by the city administration and affect various aspects of local life such as mobility, greening, waste avoidance and food supplies.
The sustainability trend is making itself felt in many parts of the city. These days, zero-waste stores are sprouting up everywhere: with no fewer than ten examples, Cologne is Germany’s zero-waste capital! As well as the popular Tante Olga shops owned by zero-waste pioneer Olga Witt in Nippes (Viersener Str. 6, 50733 Cologne) and Sülz (Berrenrather Str. 406, 50937 Cologne), there is now also a zero-waste shop on the other side of the Rhine (U wie unverpackt, Wallstr. 81, 50969 Cologne) and a zero-waste drugstore in the Belgian Quarter (Naturgerie, Lindenstr. 54, 50674 Cologne). Cologne-based zero-waste activists are channelling their joint energy into Zero Waste, an association that has also caught the attention of policymakers: the city administration is currently examining how Cologne could become the first ever German “zero-waste city”.
Elsewhere, other innovative ideas by private individuals and organisations have been integrated into the city’s strategy. In 2015, the Cologne Food Policy Council (Ernährungsrat Köln) was set up with a view to drawing up a holistic nutrition strategy for Cologne. Its highest-profile member is Cologne film-maker Valentin Thurn and its most widely embraced idea is the “Edible City” (Essbare Stadt), which grows food for local people and animals in the heart of the city. These include “Edible Spaces” in the various districts, which can already be found in several prominent locations: you will find figs growing on the edge of Brüsseler Platz in the Belgian Quarter and apple trees on Rathenauplatz, another vibrant square in the city centre. Over the next few years, other food crops are to be planted at central locations and in public green spaces in Cologne. As well as providing food, the Edible City allows people to experience nature at first hand, to learn about the environment and to work together as a community. The aim is to help the people of Cologne identify with food and where it comes from. Although sceptical to begin with, the city is now putting its weight behind the project – as befits its new, climate-friendly outlook.
(by Jan Lüke)