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Words of the Years – From Wavebreaker to Carbon Neutrality?
© Amanda Carden; beeboys; lianez; Yuttapong

Words of the Years – From Wavebreaker to Carbon Neutrality?

By Apurva Gosalia - Jan 20, 2022

In its latest annual linguistics review, the Society for the German Language (GfdS) chose Wellenbrecher, orwave breaker,” as its word of the year. It describes all the measures that have been and will be taken to dissipate the fourth wave of the seemingly endless coronavirus pandemic.

At the end of each year, the GfdS publishes a Wort des Jahres, or “word of the year,” in which it ranks those words or phrases that defined the public discourse over the previous 12 months. 

The very first word chosen in 1971 was aufmüpfig, or “rebellious,” to describe the tumultuous politics that swept through Germany starting in 1968. The term “climate protection” made it into third place that year, which suggests that Germany, at least, had nearly the same awareness of what is also at stake globally today.

Incidentally, 1971 was the same year in which the first observable Earth Overshoot Day was measured, as well as the year of my birth, although these two events are coincidental and I had nothing to do with either of them coming to pass.

Indeed, over the past half century, there have been other words connected with climate change and the environment in the GfdS’ review. In 2007, the term was “climate catastrophe.” In 2019, the Oxford University Press, which conducts a similar poll, chose “climate emergency” in the United States and United Kingdom. Ironically, Germany’s 2019 Unwort, or “worst word of the year,” was “climate hysteria.”

I also think “wave breaker” is an ideal expression for the climate emergency programs that Germany’s new Minister for the Economy and Climate Robert Habeck launched at a press conference last Tuesday.

At the presentation of the so-called opening balance sheet of climate protection on January 11, Habeck outlined Germany’s current shortfall in its efforts to reduce emissions in energy supply, industry, construction and transport. Between 2010 and 2020, CO2 emissions had dropped by 15 million metric tons per year in Germany. 

“This is not enough, after all, a reduction of 36-41 million metric tons per year is needed by 2030 to achieve the climate protection targets,” Habeck said.

Outlining the situation, Habeck said Germany was falling behind and that, in all likelihood, its 2022 climate targets would not be met. He also said it would be difficult to meet them in 2023.

Without serious changes, the minister said, Germany would also fail to meet its target of reducing greenhouse gases by 65% by 2030 compared with 1990. Habeck said Germany planned to phase out coal-powered electricity generation by 2030 and that it would fill the gap with less polluting natural gas until renewable energy could meet demand.

Habeck wants an “immediate climate protection program,” with laws, regulations and other measures in place by the end of the year to increase Germany’s share of renewable energy sources to 80% by 2030 and become climate neutral by 2045. 

“All of this is a mammoth task. And it will take several years until we will see success,” he said.

Among the measures mentioned so far are:

  • More wind turbines and solar plants to be encouraged by an increase in tendering for renewable energy, including a “wind on land” law requiring an average of 2% of state and community land to be used for wind power and a “solar acceleration package” that could mean all new buildings would need to be fitted with solar panels.
  • A reliable subsidy system for the introduction of climate-neutral industrial production processes. This also concerns the chemical sector and hence also the lubricants industry.
  • New investment in green hydrogen.

A first package of urgent laws and plans is expected to be approved by the cabinet by April and put into law by the time parliament breaks for the summer. A further package is expected to be drafted over the summer in time for approval by the end of the year.

One day after Habeck’s press conference, the GfdS announced the “worst word of the year” of 2021 in Germany – “pushback” – referring to pushing migrants back from the borders of their destination or transit country.

I think that also regarding the path and the measures to achieve carbon neutrality, there can be no further pushback anymore. And who knows, maybe in one year from now the “word of the year” in 2022 will be “carbon neutrality.”


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