German Chancellor Angela Merkel has placed global warming high on the agenda for the upcoming G-8 summit, due to begin in the Baltic Sea resort of Heiligendamm, Germany, early next week.
If Merkel, who currently holds the rotating G-8 chair, has her way, the leaders of the world's leading industrial nations will agree on a binding commitment to reduce greenhouse emissions.
The United States, among other countries, has so far resisted any such commitment and has refused to agree to concrete emissions reduction goals, making it very difficult, if not impossible, for Merkel to reach a joint G-8 position on that subject.
But while tensions between the United States and Germany are rising rapidly because of fundamental disagreement on how to tackle global warming, how to protect the climate and how to save energy, one small town in the Black Forest is way ahead of the curve.
Car-Free Lifestyle in an Auto Mecca
Welcome to Quartier Vauban -- a new 2,000-home development on a piece of land formerly used by French military in the medieval town of Freiburg, Germany. It has been the country's ecological capital since the first anti-nuclear, pro-environment movements in the early 1970s.
"The old town offers no space for growth whatsoever, so when 38 hectares of a former military area became available in 1998, the city management instantly decided to buy it and use it for this future-oriented pilot project -- a low-energy standard housing area with perfect infrastructure for young families with kids, which nowadays houses some 4,700 residents," explained Petra Zinthaefner, a Freiburg city spokesperson.
Ever since the first buildings were planned, Vauban has been promoting a car-free lifestyle that is pretty unique for Germany, a country that produces some of the finest cars in the world. The residents at Quartier Vauban have managed to turn the neighborhood into a model for modern, urban, ecological living.
"We'd like to call it a car-free community, though some of our neighbors are somewhat dependent on their cars. But if that is the case, they try and reduce the use of their cars as much as possible. After all, what we're aiming for is a healthier air and a solid infrastructure for young families," Hannes Link, one of the residents, told ABCNEWS.com.
Link, his wife and his two teenage kids moved in eight years ago and are very happy there, he said.
Cars are kept on the outskirts of the living quarters, so the narrow streets become playgrounds for the kids and spaces for public interaction. Most of the residents don't even own cars. Those who have a car must buy space in a garage located about a five-minute walk away, and at $25,000 the space does not come cheap.
"This is the ideal world for our children," said Ursula Huber, a local mother of two school children. "It's almost like it was 30 years ago, when I was a kid and we were playing in the street, because there was hardly any traffic then."
Sharing Cars, Riding the Tram
"Schools, kindergartens, a farmer's market, a shopping center, a good store which sells organic products only, and a recreation area -- you name it, it's all in walking or cycling distance," resident Sabine Burgermeister said. "And it's a much better quality of life here than it is in downtown Freiburg. And if we need to go there, there's always the option to take the tramway."
The free tramway passes generously provided by the city of Freiburg are helping residents of Vauban to become less car-dependent and, if need be, there's also a perfect car sharing service available for those who occasionally do need a car.
"This has been a very successful experiment aimed at families with kids to live without cars," said Lord Mayor Dieter Salomon. "The city of Freiburg has managed to create a very decent neighborhood for young and old, keeping in mind the ecological, social, economic and cultural structures as well as reducing energy levels and developing a tailor-made community that is fairly unique in Germany."
The city of Freiburg itself has taken quite a few steps toward a healthier environment for its 215,000 residents. It made its medieval town center more pedestrian-friendly, laid down a lattice of bike paths and introduced a flat rate for tramways and buses. And many residents say they prefer the public transportations system over driving into town.
There's parking for those who need to travel downtown by car. Parking is not cheap, but for those who do drive there are about 300 solar-powered parking meters for short-term parking in use in downtown Freiburg.
"It's a success story," Salomon told ABCNEWS.com. "It proves that if you think globally and act locally, every little step helps not only just the people but the environment, too."
It's an old city experiencing the latest when it comes to issues such as global warming, climate change and energy saving.