Last changed: 14/06/13
Environmental protection is an important matter for our society, and this reflects an attitude that is widespread and common nowadays. We now know that neglecting to protect the environment will cost us dearly. At the outset, the industrialisation of the last century occurred without any ecological guidelines. The result was smog, dying forest syndrome, polluted rivers and seas, mountains of waste, and contaminated soil. The clean-up of all this damage to the environment has cost taxpayers billions – much more than any form of precautionary environmental protection would have cost.
In our country today we can look back with pride upon the achievements of four decades of successful environmental policy. The majority of rivers are clean enough to bathe in again, and the entire range of fish species has been restored. Air – even in industrial conurbations – has become significantly cleaner. The announcement made by then Chancellor Willy Brandt that the skies over the Ruhr must turn blue again has come true. Emissions of common pollutants such as sulfur dioxide have declined by more than 90 percent. This development has taken place at high speed in the new federal states – not merely as a result of many shutdowns, but also due to investment in modern environmental technologies.
Nevertheless, some unsolved problems still exist. Many brownfield sites have been identified but remain unremediated. Land consumption continues virtually unbridled at a rate of over 100 hectares per day. Nitrogen pollution – in particular by the agricultural sector – is straining our lakes and seas. The issue of particulate emissions, mainly from transport, has only gained public attention in recent years, and there are great tasks yet to be tackled as concerns the environmental and health risks posed by chemicals.
Climate and resource protection are the focus points of public attention and politics today. We now know that our excessive greenhouse gas emissions from industry, households and transport, as well as from animal farming, and the decimation of forests and moors, are threatening to throw our climate out of balance. Global warming is therefore the most vital challenge facing the world community and us at home.
We must halve global greenhouse emissions by the middle of this century- which means a 95-percent reduction in industrialised countries like Germany. It is a phenomenal task that will require many changes. The same applies to the consumption of resources. Certain raw materials, for instance metals that we need for our communications technology, are now only available in limited quantities; in some cases, supplies will last only a few more years.
Even though environmental protection standards are very high, they can indeed be met. If we take on the challenge we will modernise our economy and society in the process, making them fit for the future. The environmental protection industry is already one of the main pillars of our economy today. Germany is a global market leader in many areas – for example, in renewable energies and in waste and wastewater treatment.
The Federal Environment Agency is the national authority in charge of handling these issues. Its staff does research on the interrelationships of pollution and its impact on the environment and human health. They process existing knowledge in order to derive recommendations for policymakers. Another key task mandated to UBA since its founding in 1974 has been to educate the public on the state of the environment, environmental hazards and possible solutions. Finally, UBA is responsible for the enforcement of legislation in many areas. As such, it serves as the national office for emissions trading.
An intact environment is vital for our society. The government can and must provide a suitable framework, but it is entirely dependent on everyone’s involvement. There are many ways in our private lives that we can do our bit to protect the environment. The UBA website provides examples and ideas in this regard for nearly every aspect of our daily lives.
Umweltschutz – Mach mit! [Environmental protection – join in!] was the motto of the first UBA flyers that appeared in the early 1970s. I encourage you to do the same today!
President, Federal Environment Agency