Indicator: Emission of air pollutants

A graph shows the trend in emissions of five air pollutants and an overall index relative to the 2005 baseline year and between 1995 and 2020. All emissions fall. The graph indicates the targets for 2020 and 2030.Click to enlarge
Index of air pollutant emissions
Source: German Environment Agency Figure as PDF

Table of Contents


At a glance

  • The mean index of five air pollutants shows an average yearly reduction of almost 4 % between 1995 and 2020.
  • The commitments of the Gothenburg Protocol for 2020 are achieved on average.
  • Meeting the commitments of the European NEC Directive for 2030, is a major challenge for the German environmental policy.
  • Ammonia emissions must be reduced significantly to achieve this.

Environmental importance

The indicator is based on the trend of five different pollutants (index) from different sources. Ammonia (NH3) mainly comes from agriculture through livestock farming and fertilisation. Nitrogen oxides (NOx) and sulphur dioxide (SO2) are mainly produced by combustion processes in power stations and engines. Non-methane volatile organic compounds (NMVOCs) mainly arise from the use of solvents in industrial processes. Fine particulate matter with a particle size of less than 2.5 micrometres (PM2.5) is derived from combustion processes in households, road transport and agriculture.

Their impacts on the environment vary. Sulphur dioxide contributes to the acidification of ecosystems by causing 'acid rain’. Ammonia and nitrogen oxides lead to excessive nutrient enrichment (eutrophication). NMVOCs increase the amount of harmful ozone pollution. Among other things, PM2.5 causes respiratory diseases in humans.


Assessing the development

The value of the index has fallen over 60 % since 1995. However, the progress made with the different pollutants vary significantly. Emissions of sulphur dioxide have declined by almost 87 % since 1995. Emissions of ammonia, have declined only by 12 % since then.

Germany has committed to reducing emissions of the five main air pollutants in accordance with the 2012 amendment to the Gothenburg Protocol of the Geneva Convention on Long-Range Transboundary Air (UNECE 2012). Germany must reduce emissions by an average of 21 % by 2020 compared to 2005. This target was achieved. For the five air pollutants, further reduction obligations have also been set in the new European NEC Directive of December 2016. Accordingly, Germany must reduce emissions of the five air pollutants by an average of 45 % between 2005 and 2030. The Federal Government has included this reduction target in the German Sustainable Development Strategy (BReg 2016).

Achieving these targets is a major challenge for German environmental policy. Additional measures are needed, especially to reduce ammonia emissions from agriculture. Significant progress must also be made in the areas of e-mobility and the expansion of public transport, in building modernization, and in particulate matter emissions from small combustion plants (stoves and fireplaces) in order to ensure that the 2030 target values are safely achieved.



The indicator is based on the relative trend of the emissions of five pollutants since 2005. Emissions of that year were set at 100 (indexed). The indicator is calculated from the annual average for the five pollutants. The calculation is based on data from the respective air pollutant inventories calculated by the German Environment Agency. These calculations are described in detail in the UBA’s ’German Informative Inventory Report’ (UBA 2020).

More detailed information: 'Emissionen prioritärer Luftschadstoffe' (in German only).