In April, 160 German citizens were selected to represent their people in finding ways for their government to meet its carbon targets under the 2015 Paris climate agreement.
At the end of June, they announced their recommendations. One of their suggestions was to completely cease registrations of combustion engines by 2030 and engineer a full shift to zero-emissions transport.
This is obviously something we deeply resonate with. At least 80% of our market is in Germany and we are proud to be a part of a growing demand for zero-emission vehicles across the country.
So we thought we’d take a deeper look at this initiative and what happens next, and explore what 100% green transport could look like in Germany.
What is the Citizens Assembly?
By definition, a citizens’ assembly is a body of citizens who come together to debate a given issue and provide solutions, options or recommendations to the governing body.
In this case, the assembly was chosen at random across demographic data such as age, education level, state of origin and migration background, etc. and with people holding vastly differing opinions on how to reach a completely “green” economy. The idea was to accurately represent a cross-section of German society. Political views were not a factor in the selection.
With the support of a panel of experts, the assembly was asked to find fair, realistic and practical solutions that met all of their individual needs and views as citizens. They came together for 12 video calls, and they discussed energy, transport, climate, construction issues, and the production and consumption of food.
As one participant, Adnan Arslan, told Deutsche Welle, everyone approached life in vastly different ways and their views on how climate protection could be managed were diverse.
"One person takes the train to work and says train tickets are getting more expensive, even though politicians want him to use public transport," said Arslan. "And another says they like driving their 200hp BMW and don't want to do without it. I'm surprised how people really think about all this."
But after months of deliberation, the assembly managed to land on more than 80 cohesive solutions as June came to a close.
The recommendations they made covered a range of sectors, from a coal phaseout by 2050 to climate-friendly farming. But some of the biggest changes they asked for were in the transport sector, where they were pushing for an expansion of public transport and the banning of fossil-fuels, with rising subsidies for bikes.
What Would a Switch to Green Transport Mean for Germany?
The results of this citizen’s assembly would suggest that much of Germany is ready for a massive “green” shift.
We spoke to our Head of Customer Experience, Jan, based in rural Germany for his opinion on this both as a German citizen and as a member of our MODMO team. “German people have a strong and well-developed mindset for green themes, from producing organic food to favouring a home office as a way to reduce commutes and improve on their work & life balance,” he says.
The automotive industry also has the infrastructure needed to go “green”, he says, and this combined with an environmental mindset is “kicking open doors” in the country’s transport sector.
Recent statistics* support this. A July 2020 survey found that only 29% of Germans interviewed were not at all interested in electric cars. Everyone else was in varying stages of interest, research and investment.
In another study that looked at why German citizens are interested in e-mobility, about 37.6% of respondents cited the environmental friendliness and ecobalance of e-cars. 14.5% also mentioned low operating costs.
Even the statistics for e-bicycles alone clearly illustrate a shift towards eco-friendly transport. Bicycle sales in general have soared across Europe since the pandemic hit, with e-bikes rapidly gaining popularity for their convenience and versatility. In 2020, bicycle sales in Germany amounted to about 5.1 million units, around 2 million of which were e-bikes - the highest value on record.
But what would a shift to green transport look like in Germany and what would the benefits be?
From a big-picture perspective, converting to zero-emission transport would make a huge dent in Germany’s carbon footprint. In fact transport has been one of the country’s only sectors to maintain a steadily high footprint - in 2019 they were at the same level as in 1990, only falling slightly in 2020 as COVID lockdowns slowed travel.
We believe it would also dramatically improve peoples’ quality of life. This is true for any country anywhere in the world - fewer fossil-fueled vehicles pumping out pollution makes for cleaner air. Added to this, if the prevailing number of e-vehicles on the roads were e-bikes, cities would be far less congested, and citizens would have the fat-burning and fitness benefits that come with cycling.
“There are areas and situations where an e-bike can and possibly even should replace a car,” Jan explains. “I guess a classic example is when you live in the city and you work in the city, you don’t need to move a 100K SUV to get the job done, [and] having the infrastructure to park your bike and charge it while you are at work is undoubtedly [convenient].”
“In my part of Germany,” he continues, “you have all those bike lanes in the beautiful countryside with some hills… and people are using e-bikes a lot. Perhaps it is a reflection of the values of people who choose not to live in a big, vibrant city and prefer to live close to nature.”
But there are some contexts in which an e-bike may not be the best option. Long-distance journeys for example, or journeys where you need to bring a large number of people. We do offer MODs to facilitate passengers on our bikes - the child seat for example - and riding bikes in a family group can be much more fun than driving, but we do concede that in some situations you simply need a car.
“[Also],” says Jan, “although a car takes up more space than a bike when being parked in the city, I believe that many people are more concerned about having their bike overnight on the street than their car.”
This last point is something that we have been really conscious about in the development of our bikes - theft. Our IoT team has built a comprehensive long-distance anti-theft feature on our app that not only protects your bike from theft but will also help you track it down. You can read more about it in this blog about MODMO’s anti-theft measures.
So What Next?
While the citizens’ climate assembly has highlighted practical ways for the German government to proceed with climate change mitigation, their recommendations are not binding like an official petition or referendum would be. Politicians are not under any obligation to adopt them.
The assembly will officially hand over its recommendations to the government in September before the federal election, and from there it will be up to the politicians to take the metaphorical wheel.
But consumer demand also has significant power in determining what vehicles dominate the roads, and the more people invest in electric vehicles, the “greener” Germany’s transport sector will become.
This year, we will be continuing to build our presence in Germany with new hires, new events and new services across the country. We currently partner with Yeply to offer servicing for our bikes on the ground and we will be expanding our network within and outside of this partnership.
We’re also looking at pop-up events when COVID passes, and we will be adding more bikes and more models to our current collaboration with List n Ride, and making our products available at more outlets. In fact, we are expanding our operations outside Germany too, with targets to open 40 test-ride locations across the EU by the end of 2021. We will have plenty of news for you over the next few months - watch this space for updates!
* Statistics taken from statista.com