German diet is a strain on the climate

Slight rise in CO2 emissions from private motor vehicles

Eine Vielzahl von abgepacktem und rohem FleischClick to enlarge
Less meat consumption contributes to environment and climate protection.
Source: Iurii Sokolov /

Meat and non-seasonal produce with long hauling distances in particular continue to be a strain on the environment and the climate, according to data in the Umwelt, Haushalte und Konsum brochure by the German Environment Agency (UBA). UBA's President Maria Krautzberger said, "We will only be able to achieve our climate protection goals if we reconsider our consumer habits in earnest. That means our well-loved habits, too. The production of animal products, and meat in particular, has a high impact on the environment because of its consumption of resources and land as well as the associated nitrate pollution of soil and waters and high levels of greenhouse gas emissions. All the same, there is some good news: health-conscious nutrition can contribute in positive ways to the protection of the climate."

Meat consumption in Germany has actually dipped: the 2.8 million tonnes still being consumed in 2000 had decreased to 2.6 million tonnes in 2013. Yet Germany continues to export more and more meat: exports rose from .8 million tonnes in 2000 to about 3 million tonnes in 2013. Take the example of production of one kilo of beef: it generates between seven and 28 kilos of greenhouse gases, compared to fruit or vegetables which generate less than one kilo. Furthermore, the cultivation of feed crops – soybeans in South America, for example – requires a large land area which must be supplied by clearing rainforest areas.

German consumers unfortunately continue to discard a lot of food, some of which is still perfectly consumable. This is on a scale of 6.7 million tonnes in German households every year. Ms Maria Krautzberger said: "Every type of food claims land area and water resources, both in Germany and abroad; we consume energy for production and transport, and use fertilizers and plant protection agents which pollute the environment. Food waste must be avoided and is an important means to preserving our livelihoods."

Emissions of food products include those incurred through transport: the long hauling distances of strawberries in winter or fish from overseas are a burden on the climate – and that is especially true for perishable foods transported by air. Rail transport continues to incur the lowest amount of greenhouse gas emissions. Maria Krautzberger said: "Consumers can buy seasonal local products and still enjoy a varied diet while doing something for the environment."

The report's data on mobility shows that the number of cars continues to rise in Germany: 537 for every 1,000 inhabitants in 2013 compared to 521 for every 1,000 people in 2000. On average private motor vehicles generate more greenhouse gas emissions per person kilometre than buses and trains, outdone only by the aviation sector in terms of greenhouse gas record.

However, alternatives to private car ownership are becoming more and more popular. The number of people engaged in car sharing in 2015 was some 37 percent higher than the year before. Sales of e-bikes are also increasing, with more than 2.1 million now owned in German households.

Another trend: about 40 percent of all households are 1-person households (2014). This usually means more living space for the , which is tied to higher energy costs for electricity and heating. The higher the number of households the higher the number of consumer goods such as cars, washing machines, refrigerators, computers and mobile phones. The amount of equipment has grown not only per household but also in absolute terms. Higher levels of materials and energy consumption along with pollution are the result.

The Umwelt, Haushalte und Konsum report focuses on environmental pollution caused by consumer behaviour in the areas "food", "mobility", and "living". The data is based mainly on calculations by the Federal Statistical Office, covering greenhouse gas emissions, energy, land and water consumption.

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 meat consumption  diet  consumer habits  food waste  food production  car sharing