Country profile (Germany)
What distinguishes the country?
Germany is a country in central Europe. As a federal state, the Federal Republic of Germany today consists of 16 German Länder (states). According to its constitution, the Federal Republic is a social and federal constitutional democracy. Through the Treaty establishing the European Coal and Steel Community in 1951 and by its signature of the Treaties of Rome in 1957, the Federal Republic of Germany became one of the founding members of the European Communities.
The partition of Germany came to an end on 3 October 1990 with the accession of the Länder of the German Democratic Republic (DDR), and Berlin became the capital of the reunited Germany. The seat of parliament was relocated from Bonn to Berlin in 1999 in accordance with the 1991 decision of the German Bundestag (Lower House of the German Parliament). The functions of government were divided between Berlin and Bonn. The Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety (BMU) still has its principal seat in Bonn. A quarter of its staff, including the Policy Unit and the European Division, are based in the second seat in Berlin.
The constitution of Germany is its Basic Law. The head of state is the Federal President, and the head of government is the Federal Chancellor.
Germany is organised on a federal basis, with competencies shared between the federal and the Länder level. The municipalities have a constitutionally guaranteed self-governing status. Each level has its own personnel and administrative and financial autonomy. Legislative competence lies with the federal states, unless the Basic Law assigns legislative power to the federal level. The Bundestag (Lower House) and the Bundesrat (Upper House) are the legislative bodies of the federal level.
The legislative responsibilities of the federal level and the Länder are regulated differently in the field of environmental protection. The federal level has competence in so far as the provision of equivalent living conditions throughout the federal territory or the observance of legal and economic unity necessitates federal statutory regulation..The implementation of environmental legislation lies predominantly in the hands of the authorities in the Länder.
Since the 1970s, the environmental policy of Germany has embodied fundamental principles for the protection of the environment:
The precautionary principle, according to which, with a view to prevention, environment-friendly concepts, instruments and measures in accordance with the latest scientific and technical knowledge are intended to prevent potential adverse effects on and damage to the environment.
The ‘polluter pays’ principle, according to which the costs of avoiding or eliminating any adverse effects on the environment are apportioned to whoever caused them.
The cooperation principle, according to which the parties concerned should participate in environmental policy decisions.
Environmental protection was included in the Basic Law as a public responsibility in 1994.
With 82 million inhabitants and an average population density of 230 inhabitants per km2, Germany is one of the most densely populated countries in Europe. A reversal in the demographic trend has been observed in Germany since 2002: whereas the population continued to grow between 1990 and 2002, it has been falling ever since. This is explained by the fact that the surplus of deaths over births is no longer being compensated for by the net migration inflow. The population will decrease significantly and will ‘age’ in the coming decades because of continuing lower birth rates of around 1.4. According to calculations made by the Federal Statistical Office, the total population could, under certain assumptions, decrease to 67 million by the year 2050 (see the graph below).
Climate and land use
All of Germany falls within the temperate climate zone in the west wind zone and the country is located in the transition zone between the maritime climate of western Europe and the continental climate of eastern Europe.
The surface area of Germany in 2004 was 35 704 964 ha, not including the jointly administered German-Luxemburg condominium. The composition and quality of the soils exhibit very considerable regional differences, ranging from fertile soils such as the marshlands of northern Germany, the loess-rich soils in western and eastern Germany and the productive soils along the rivers in southern Germany to very poor soils formed in the Ice Age. In total, 47.4 % of the surface area of Germany is used for agriculture (2008), and forests cover a further 29.5 %. 12.3 % is used as settlement and transport areas (trend still rising). Water areas account for 1.8 %, and the remaining 2.4 % are distributed among other areas, mostly wasteland and open-cast mining.
Economic conditions in Germany are strongly influenced by local circumstances and the population density. Germany’s trade relations benefit from its position at the centre of Europe. The fact that Germany, as one of the most densely populated countries in Europe, possesses only a few mineral resources led to a focus on advanced technology and efficiency. Germany is a highly industrialised country, one of the greatest economies on the planet and a leading export nation above all for industrial goods. A long tradition in the manufacturing of advanced technologies, together with the early introduction of ecological standards, has encouraged eco-innovations. The result is market leadership in a broad range of environmental protection technologies. In recent years, the environmental protection sector has contributed increasingly to growth and employment in Germany.
With a gross domestic product (GDP) of approximately EUR 2.4 billion, Germany is the world’s fourth-largest economy and industrialised nation and has the fifth-largest energy consumption in the world after the USA, China, Japan and India. Measured in terms of its per capita GDP, Germany comes in 19th place in the world, and in 13th place in the EU (OECD statistics, status: January 2009).
What have been the major societal developments?
Ecological rehabilitation of the new Länder
A special feature of Germany is the fact that it was politically partitioned in the period from 1949 to 1989, which gave rise to different political, economic and societal developments. 40 years of planned socialist economy in the former German Democratic Republic (GDR) led to environmental damage on a massive scale. The productivity of the economy in 1989 was just one third of that of the Federal Republic. The capital stock was completely outdated. Urgent investments in the environmental infrastructure had not been undertaken, and there were acute risks to human health because of air and water pollution.
Following the collapse of the political system of the German Democratic Republic and the fall of the Berlin Wall on 9 November 1989, the ecological rehabilitation and development of the new Länder became one of the most pressing environmental policy tasks. The essential provisions of the environmental legislation of the Federal Republic Germany came into force in the GDR as early as 1 July 1990 – at the same time as the economic, monetary and social union took place. Transitional periods were fixed in order to meet the standards involved. Comprehensive aid programmes were set up in order to support ecological reconstruction. The environmental legislation of the Federal Republic also came into force in full in the new Länder with the accession of Brandenburg, Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, Saxony, Saxony-Anhalt and Thüringen to the Federal Republic of Germany on 3 October 1990.
By virtue of the measures that were adopted in order to avert risk and for the modernisation of the infrastructure, the environmental situation in the new federal Länder already improved remarkably quickly in the course of the 1990s. The objective of bringing ecological living conditions in the two parts of Germany into line with one another, as stipulated in the Unification Treaty, was achieved. Specific federal environmental policy measures for the new Länder are today directed towards safeguarding the valuable national heritage of national importance and the transformation of contaminated sites left over from the lignite open cast mining operations in the GDR into new, attractive lake landscapes in ‘Europe’s largest landscaping site’.
In both German States, from 1950 to 1990, the main emphasis of economic activity shifted away from the primary sector (agriculture and craft trades) to the secondary sector (industrialisation) and then to the tertiary sector (service economy). By comparison with the GDR, however, the German Federal Republic was years ahead on the development path towards a post-industrial society: it transformed itself into a service economy in the 1980s. The primary sector in the GDR also declined in the first two decades, and development of all three sectors virtually stagnated from 1970 onwards. Despite slight growth in the tertiary area, the secondary sector still represented the dominant area of employment in the GDR in 1989.
The German economy today is determined predominantly by the secondary and tertiary sectors. The automobile, commercial vehicle, electronic, mechanical engineering and chemical industries are competitive areas of German industry. Although Germany can look back on a long tradition of mining and still possesses significant raw material reserves of coal, salt and building materials, it is dependent as a highly industrialised country on imports of mineral-based raw materials.
In the last 35 years, rising prosperity and consumption have led to an unparalleled increase in the level to which private households are equipped with consumer goods. The technical equipment of private households in the last ten years has gained further momentum as the result of changing patterns of consumption. The current level of equipment of households indicates that the car, domestic appliances of various kinds, consumer electronics, computers and mobile phones, for example, are now taken for granted by a large proportion of German households. Enormous rates of growth for individual consumer goods have been noted between 1993 and 2008: more than 200 % in the case of computers, more than 100 % in the case of dishwashers, tumble dryers and microwave ovens. These rates of growth can be attributed in part to the ‘catch-up development’ in the new federal Länder. The material equipment of households has now more or less equalised 18 years after reunification. New product lines such as devices from the field of information technology and communication are also increasingly finding their way into households, and there is an increasing use of technology in everyday life as the result of an extended range of consumer goods. The result of this, sooner or later, will be the increasing ‘computerisation’ and ‘digitalisation’ of households, which will increasingly impact heavily upon our day-to-day lives as a result of current trends for ‘digital/multimedia networking’ in households (keyword: ‘smart homes’).
What are the main drivers of environmental pressures?
Germany – highly industrialised, densely populated and poor in natural resources – regards itself as being confronted in particular by challenges in working out how to use resources sustainably (natural resources: surface area, materials, energy and water) and how to ensure sustainable mobility.
Day-to-day growth in the settlement and transport area
The day-to-day growth in the settlement and transport area is a measure of the negative impact on areas that are close to nature and on natural soil functions due to land sealing and urban sprawl. In addition, it also points at a highly aggregated level to a deviation from sustainable living, consumption and mobility patterns.
In 2007, the settlement and transport area occupied 13.1 % of the land area of Germany. Of this, 8.1 % accounted for the settlement area and 5.0 % for the transport area. Any growth was achieved largely at the expense of areas used for agriculture. Approximately 46 % of the settlement and transport area of Germany is sealed over. This represents around 6 % of the federal territory. Although day-to-day growth in this area has fallen from 129 ha to 113 ha in the period 2004-2007 compared with the period 1997-2000 as a result of a decline in investment in the construction sector caused by economic conditions, it remains at an unacceptably high level.
Raw materials for production and consumption
The extraction, processing and use of a raw material are always accompanied by the consumption of land, materials and energy, transfer of materials and pollutant emissions. The efficient handling of finite raw materials and their replacement by renewable raw materials, as well as the greater use of secondary raw materials from recycling, are thus central elements in a highly industrialised Germany.
On the whole, the input of materials into the German economy fell between 1994 and 2006. The extraction of materials (without gases and without water), including materials imported from abroad, decreased by 315 million tonnes (around 8 %) from 4 139 million tonnes to around 3 824 million tonnes. The reduction is essentially the result of a significant fall in the excavated quantities from lignite mining resulting from less lignite extraction in the new Länder. This decrease also led to the extraction of non-utilised materials falling by about 10 % between 1994 and 2006.
It also needs to be made clear at this point that a large proportion of the raw materials that are used in Germany are sourced abroad.
The decline in the domestic extraction of recycled raw materials is offset by a dynamic increase in imports of raw materials, semi-finished and finished products. Imports of materials in 2006 were thus 29.4 % higher than in 1994. A significant factor for this increase was above all the rise in energy imports (mainly mineral oil and natural gas), which – when expressed in units of weight – account for more than half of the quantities used. In 2006, 99 % of the mineral ores used in Germany also came from abroad. There was a corresponding increase in non-utilised attendant materials and in environmental pollution, possibly associated with the supply, in the supplying countries, for example negative impacts on landscapes, ecosystems, soils, watercourses and the air. Hardly any data are available in respect of the non-utilised quantities of material arising in overseas countries that can be attributed to German imports.
Despite the decrease in lead, particulates, nitrogen oxides and ozone pollution in particular, the air pollutants caused by traffic continue to endanger the environment and human health to a considerable degree. The proportion of climate-relevant CO2 emissions accounted for by traffic now represents one fifth of total CO2 emissions in Germany. Changes in land use in the form of land utilisation and landscape fragmentation by traffic route construction and the associated destruction and fragmentation of habitats are currently a major cause of the continuing loss of biological diversity. The acidification and eutrophication of ecosystems as well as pollution by ground-level ozone are serious environmental problems all over Europe. In Germany, road traffic in particular contributes to this to a significant extent. Traffic noise is also one of the greatest environmental problems in our densely populated and congested country. Noise substantially restricts the quality of life of many people, and high noise pollution presents an additional risk to health.
In order to achieve the aims of environmental protection, measures are required on three levels. First, it should be possible to satisfy mobility needs with the least possible traffic. Second, traffic should be transferred as far as possible to environmentally friendly modes of transport. Third, all modes of transport should be operated with the cleanest possible technology and environmentally sound behaviour.
What are the foreseen developments?
The continued increase in land use and the volume of traffic, which bring with them a threat to and destruction of the environment and nature and have a negative effect on human health, will continue to be a major challenge in the future. Likewise, Germany will also be obliged to respond to the continued high need for resources and the increasing scarcity of raw materials and energy sources, on which, as a highly developed industrialised nation, Germany relies through environmental policy instruments and measures.
A reduction to 30 ha per day (national target) in the day-to-day increase in the settlement and transport area by 2020 will call for a reversal of settlement and transport policy in many respects. Particularly important factors will be the abolition of damaging subsidies for the construction of new houses and building in the inner parts of towns and villages by taking advantage of the brownfield potential that is available in many places.
In order to assure the sustainable use of natural resources within the meaning of Agenda 21, it will be necessary to disconnect economic growth and the consumption of resources from one another in such a way that the utilisation of natural resources falls in absolute terms. The aim of German environmental policy is to align the German economy increasingly with an environmental and efficiency strategy, in which potential savings on raw material and energy costs are established and incentives for efficient technologies and products are created. A modernisation policy that is understood only from a technical standpoint and is intended to exploit potential efficiencies is not sufficient. Rather, it must be accompanied by societal change towards sustainable production and consumption patterns, lifestyle habits and mobility structures, so as to reduce to an absolute minimum the adverse effects on the environment associated with the extraction and processing of raw materials and the utilisation and disposal of goods.
In order to achieve the aims of traffic-related environmental protection, measures are necessary at various levels: in addition to improvements in efficiency, traffic must be avoided (e.g. by shorter distances), transferred onto more environmentally friendly modes of transport and optimised by the more efficient utilisation of means of transport.
For references, please go to www.eea.europa.eu/soer or scan the QR code.
This briefing is part of the EEA's report The European Environment - State and Outlook 2015. The EEA is an official agency of the EU, tasked with providing information on Europe’s environment.
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