Germany country briefing - The European environment — state and outlook 2015

Briefing Published 18 Feb 2015 Last modified 11 May 2020
8 min read
Photo: © Federal Environment Agency, Dessau-Roßlau

The state of the environment in Germany has improved markedly since 1990. Nevertheless, considerable further efforts are needed. Pritorities in environmental policies are set on climate protection, sustainable use of energy and resources, a further reduction of substance inputs to the environment and promoting the transition to a green economy.

Main themes and sectors addressed in the national State of Environment report

State of the Environment reporting in Germany takes place at various levels.

The Federal Government reports to the Bundestag on the state of the environment according to the Environmental Information Act[1]. The most recent edition was presented in 2010[2], the next edition is planned for the first half of 2015.

The Environment Report 2010 provides an overview of the environmental situation in Germany and internationally as well as of the resulting challenges. It takes stock of German environmental policy from 2006 to 2010 and provides a comprehensive synopsis of the Federal Government's activities during this period at both national and international level. It also presents prospects for future action through goals and planned measures.

Detailed data are not included in the Environment Report 2010. To this end, the responsible agencies provide comprehensive, regularly updated overviews. Information on the state of the environment is provided by the Federal Environment Agency, with its "Data on the Environment[3]" (continually kept up-to-date on the Agency's website). The data compare the state of environmental assets and resources with the use of the environment by economic sectors and human activities. Environmentally induced risks to human health are also an important topic.

The Federal Nature Conservation Agency's "Data on Nature" reports[4] (most recent edition from 2012) describe the state and use of the natural environment through data and information on population numbers and threats to plant and animal species, biotope types and landscapes, and uses of land and resources relevant to nature conservation. Another part is devoted to nature conservation instruments and measures.

Key findings of the State of Environment report 

The state of the environment in Germany has improved markedly since reunification, particularly in eastern Germany. Nevertheless, considerable further efforts are required to achieve the Federal Government's goals on time. Action is required in particular in climate protection, in further reducing substance inputs to the environment, and in sustainable energy and resource use.

Emissions of greenhouse gases fell by 23.8% between 1990 and 2013[5].

Figure 1: Greenhouse gas emissions in Germany, 1990 - forecast 2013

Greenhouse Gas Emissions in Germany 1990 - Forecast 2013

Emissions of eutrophying and acidifying air pollutants and of ozone precursors decreased to 60% of their 1990 level by 2012 (mean value of the emissions of SO2, NOx, NH3 and NMVOC).

Nevertheless, concentrations of NO2, PM10 and O3 remain too high. All three are seeing exceedances of the current limit and target values for protection of human health[6]

Although pollution of watercourses has decreased, more needs to be done with regard to some persistant pollutants, heavy metals, pesticides and medicinal products. The goal set by the European Union – a good or high ecological status in all watercourses by 2015 – is met by 8% of watercourses in Germany[7]

There is an urgent need from an environmental perspective to limit the growth in areas for settlement and transport purposes, especially around conurbations. At the end of 2012, they accounted for 13.5% of Germany's total area. Daily consumption of new land for settlement and transport amounted to about 69 hectares in 2012 and 74 hectares averaged over the four years from 2009 to 2012.

One of the goals of the Federal Government's Sustainable Development Strategy is to improve resource efficiency without any losses in prosperity while at the same time reducing the use of raw materials. Raw materials productivity in 2020 is to be double its level in 1994. By 2012 it had risen to 149%. While GDP grew by 28% between 1994 and 2012, the use of raw materials including imports fell by 14%[8].

Energy productivity is considered an indicator of an efficient use of primary energy. The aim is for energy productivity to double by 2020 compared to 1990. It had risen to 145% by 2013, thanks to an increase in GDP to 136 % and a simultaneous decline in primary energy consumption to 93%[9].

In 2013, the share of renewable energy sources in final energy consumption was 12.0%. Renewable energy sources accounted for 25.3% of gross electricity consumption, 9.1% of heat provision and 5.5% of fuel consumption. As a result, about 146 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent greenhouse gas emissions were avoided[10][11].

Main policy responses to key environmental challenges and concerns

As provided for in the agreement[12] of the coalition government elected in autumn 2013, an integrated, long-term environment programme is currently being developed, which sets out a vision for and goals and priorities for environment policy.

Climate protection plays a central role in environment and energy policy. The Federal Government aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by at least 40% by 2020, compared to 1990 levels[15]. Current projections expect that, with an average annual economic growth of 1.4%, a reduction of greenhouse gases by 33% can be achieved until 2020 as a result of the measures resolved and already implemented. Thus, additional measures are required to achieve the 40%-goal – two of the key sectors in this context are energy-saving building renovation and sustainable mobility. The necessary steps have been defined in the national "Climate Action Programme 2020"[13].

Using energy efficiently is an important element of climate protection and one of the key elements of Germany's "Energiewende". This includes energy saving, improving energy efficiency, and expanding renewable energies while maintaining competitive energy prices and a high level of prosperity. The Federal Government has set itself the goal of reducing primary energy consumption by 20% by 2020 and 50% by 2050 compared to 2008. It aims to reduce electricity consumption by 10% by 2020 and 25% by 2050. Final energy productivity is to grow on average by 2.1% annually until 2050. The share of renewables in the electricity sector is to be increased by 40 to 45% by 2025 and by 55 to 60% by 2035.

Even if the rise in the global average temperature can be limited to 2°C compared to pre-industrial levels, there will be consequences of climate change to deal with. The Federal government adopted the German Strategy for Adaptation to Climate Change[14] in December 2008. The aim of the strategy is to reduce vulnerability to the consequences of climate change, i.e. to maintain or improve the adaptability of natural, social and economic systems.

However, there are further challenges and megatrends which must be responded to by an integrated environment policy.

Reducing the consumption of materials and raw materials is one of the central challenges of a sustainable society in the 21st century.

The goal of the German Resource Efficiency Programme (ProgRess)[16] is to make the extraction and use of natural resources more sustainable and to reduce associated environmental pollution as far as possible. The programme attaches particular importance to market incentives, information, expert advice, education, research and innovation and to strengthening voluntary measures and initiatives by industry and society. The resource efficiency policy will help Germany meet its global responsibility for the ecological and social impacts of resource use. The goal is to reduce the use of resource in absolute terms.

A closed-cycle waste management makes a key contribution to this. At the heart of waste management policy in Germany is product responsibility. Producers and distributors must design their products in such a way as to reduce waste generation and allow environmentally sound reuse of waste as raw material or as an energy source both in the production of the goods and in their subsequent use. Ambitious recycling quotas, competition, and product responsibility will be strengthened.

Land take by settlements and transport infrastructure is to be limited to not more than 30 hectares a day by 2020.

Country specific issues

Environmental protection has developed into an important factor in the German economy.

In 2011, Germany produced potential environmental protection products to the value of almost EUR 85 billion. This corresponds to 6.2% of total industrial production. Products which can be used for climate protection purposes accounted for well over 40% of the total production of potential environmental protection products. Since all forecasts are pointing to worldwide expansion of the markets in the years ahead, the economic importance of the environmental sector will continue to grow. German companies continue to lead the environmental goods market at international level. With a 15.2% share of world trade in 2011, Germany again led the world in exports of environmental goods. It was followed by China with a share of 14.5% of world trade and the US with 10.8%[17].

Although German suppliers have been able to successfully utilize their technological advantage on foreign markets, Germany's relative export/import position in potential environmental protection goods has weakened somewhat since the mid-2000s[18]. This is due above all to a sharp increase in competition from imports of climate protection goods (mainly solar energy, but also wind power).


[1] Environmental Information Act of 22 December 2004 (Federal Law Gazette I, p. 3704), accessed 31 March 2014

State of the Environment Reporting Information System (SERIS)

[2] Bundesministerium für Umwelt, Naturschutz und Reaktorsicherheit, Umweltbericht 2010 – Umweltpolitik ist Zukunftspolitik, accessed 31 March 2014

[3] Umweltbundesamt, Daten zur Umwelt, accessed 31 March 2014

[4] Bundesamt für Naturschutz, 2012, Daten zur Natur, Landwirtschaftsverlag, Münster (only available on paper)

[5] Umweltbundesamt, 2014, Treibhausgas-Emissionen in Deutschland (in German only), accessed 28 October 2014

[6] Umweltbundesamt, 2014, Luftschadstoff-Emissionen in Deutschland (in German only), accessed accessed 31 March 2014

[7] Umweltbundesamt, 2014, Ökologischer Zustand der Fließgewässer (in German only), accessed 31 March 2014

[8] Federal Statistical Office, 2014, Sustainable Development in Germany. Indicator Report 2014, accessed 28 October 2014

[9] Umweltbundesamt, 2014, Energieproduktivität und –intensität (in German only), accessed 28 October 2014

[10] Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy (Ed.), 2014, Zeitreihen zur Entwicklung der erneuerbaren Energien in Deutschland 1990 - 2013 (in German only), accessed 28 October 2014

[11] Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy, 2014, Second Monitoring Report "Energy of the future", accessed 28 October 2014

[12] Federal Government, Deutschlands Zukunft gestalten. Koalitionsvertrag zwischen CDU, CSU und SPD. 18. Legislaturperiode, (in German only), accessed 31 March 2014

[13] Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation, Building and Nuclear Safety: Background Paper: Climate Action Programme 2020, accessed 08 December 2014

[14] Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation, Building and Nuclear Safety, Adaptation to Climate Change, accessed 31 March 2014

[15] Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation, Building and Nuclear Safety, Backgroundpaper: The Integrated Energy and Climate Programme of the German Government, accessed 31 March 2014

[16] Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation, Building and Nuclear Safety, German Resource Efficiency Programme ProgRess, accessed 31 March 2014

[17] Birgit Gehrke et al., 2014, Wirtschaftsfaktor Umweltschutz. Produktion – Außenhandel – Forschung – Patente: Die Leistungen der Umweltschutzwirtschaft in Deutschland, Bundesministerium für Umwelt, Naturschutz, Bau und Reaktorsicherheit, Umweltbundesamt, Reihe Umwelt, Innovation, Beschäftigung 01/2014, Dessau-Roßlau, Berlin 2014 (in German only), accessed 31 March 2014

[18] Umweltbundesamt, Hintergrundpapier Die Umweltwirtschaft in Deutschland (in German only), accessed 31 March 2014


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