1. June 2023 By Maximilian Hammes, Stephen Lorenzen and Jonas Schnorrenberg
Greenhouse gas emissions in Germany
Are the climate targets still in sight?
Climate change and the associated rise in global temperatures are having a massive impact on people and nature all over the world. To halt this development, or at least slow it down, international and national efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions are indispensable. Germany, as an industrial nation, has a special responsibility in this regard and is setting itself ambitious goals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. But what does the current balance look like and what measures are being taken to reduce emissions? In this blog post, we will look at the current greenhouse gas balance in Germany and provide an overview of the most important facts as well as measures to reduce emissions.
Background information on Germany’s greenhouse gas balance
Germany’s greenhouse gas balance is compiled by the German Environment Agency (Umweltbundesamt, UBA), which compiles and analyses emissions data from various sources such as the energy sector, industry and the transport sector. The annual report provides an overview of the current emission values as well as their development compared to the previous year and the target year of 2030. The balance includes various greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4) and nitrous oxide (N2O), that result from human activities such as energy production, transport or agriculture. From a historical perspective, Germany has had a high rate of greenhouse gas emissions in recent decades (1990: 1.25 billion tonnes of CO2e), whereby energy-related emissions from energy production and transport (1990: 1.04 billion tonnes of CO2e) were responsible for a large portion of the overall emissions. But Germany has made progress in recent years in terms of reducing emissions and has set itself the goal of reducing emissions by at least 55 per cent by 2030, compared to the base year of 1990. To achieve this goal, the country has taken various measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. These measures range from promoting renewable energies to introducing CO2 prices.
Germany’s current greenhouse gas balance
According to the UBA’s latest figures, greenhouse gas emissions in Germany fell by 1.9 per cent in 2022, which corresponds to a decrease of 15 million tonnes compared to the previous year. Germany has been able to reduce its emissions overall by 40.4 per cent since 1990, which corresponds to the target values listed in the German Federal Climate Change Act (Bundesklimaschutzgesetz, KSG). There was, however, an increase of 4.4 per cent in greenhouse gas emissions in the energy sector, mainly due to the increased use of hard coal and lignite for generating electricity, although there were savings in natural gas consumption. Emissions in the land use and forestry sector were able to be reduced from 4 million tonnes to minus 1.8 million tonnes, indicating that Germany is taking reforestation measures in order to store more greenhouse gases. However, this sector only accounts for a small portion of the total emissions. Although our current emissions are above the lows reached in 2020 due to the pandemic, we in Germany are still below the pre-pandemic level of 795 million tonnes from 2019. The goal is to emit only a total of 440 million tonnes of greenhouse gases by 2030.
Causes of greenhouse gas emissions in Germany
The largest sources of emissions in Germany are the energy sector (34 per cent), industry (22 per cent) and the transport sector (20 per cent). In 1990, the largest emitters in Germany were the energy sector (38 per cent), industry (22 per cent) and buildings (17 per cent). The shares of emissions from agriculture and transport have increased over the years, which suggests a slower rate of reduction compared to the other sectors.
In the energy sector, CO2 is released primarily through the combustion of fossil fuels, such as coal, oil and gas. This also produces emissions in the form of nitrogen oxides, sulphur dioxide and particulate matter, which can negatively impact the environment and health. The increased use of coal for power generation has contributed to a rise in greenhouse gas emissions in the energy sector in recent years.
In industry, greenhouse gases are emitted due to the manufacture of products and the associated use of energy. Industry produces a wide range of goods, from food and clothing to machinery and electronics. Each of these steps require a certain amount of energy in order to extract, transport, process and manufacture raw materials. The cement industry in particular accounts for a very large share of total emissions, at around two per cent.
In the transport sector, emissions result from the combustion of fuels such as petrol and diesel. Road traffic particularly contributes to the emission of greenhouse gases. Emissions in this sector have risen in recent years due to the increasing amount of traffic on roads.
Measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions
In order to reduce emissions in the energy sector, at the beginning of July 2022, the German government passed the largest energy policy-related legislative package in decades. The package makes provision for the comprehensive acceleration of the expansion of renewable energies, on water, on land and on roofs. By 2030, at least 80 per cent of Germany’s gross electricity consumption is to be sourced from renewable energies. The share in 2022 was 46 per cent.
With regard to industry, the German government is focusing on increasing the use of hydrogen technologies. However, rapid expansion by 2030 must be viewed critically, as there is hardly any infrastructure for hydrogen at this point and most hydrogen is currently still obtained from natural gas. One alternative is carbon capture and storage (CCS), which is rather controversial in Germany.
The focus in the transport sector is on electric cars. To this end, the EU Commission has decided to phase out traditional combustion engines as part of the ‘Fit for 55’ package. E-fuels are alternatives that should be used particularly in large-scale transport. In the private sector, public transport should be boosted via things such as the €49 Deutschland-Ticket (a single-price ticket for transport throughout Germany in all regional and local trains and public transport) and ‘sharing’ offers. The increased expansion of heat pumps is expected to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the building sector.
In 2022, greenhouse gas emissions in Germany fell by 1.9 per cent. Since 1990, Germany has achieved an overall emissions reduction of 40.4 per cent. The energy sector, however, recorded a 4.4 per cent increase in emissions, mainly due to the increased use of coal. The largest sources of emissions are the energy sector, industry and the transport sector. In order to reduce emissions, Germany is relying on measures such expanding renewable energies, increasing the use of hydrogen technologies and promoting electric cars.
For the future, Germany must take stronger action against climate change and further reduce its emissions. In doing so, the country needs to ambitiously implement the energy transition and do so with greater speed as well as realise a transition in the transport sector. Industry also needs to further reduce greenhouse gases. Across all sectors, cutting red tape can have a huge impact in terms of facilitating expansion. More and more people are becoming actively involved in climate protection, which creates political pressure to implement the necessary measures. Germany has the potential to assume a pioneering role in climate protection and thus to make an important contribution to protecting our planet.
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