Joint press release by the German Environment Agency and the Federal Ministry for the Environment

Germany's greenhouse gas emissions down 8.7 percent in 2020

Positive trend of recent years continues / 40.8 percent decrease since 1990

dampfende Kühltürme eines Kraftwerks und HochspannungsleitungClick to enlarge
The energy sector accounts for the majority of energy-related emissions
Source: Tom Bayer / Fotolia.com

Germany produced about 739 million tonnes of greenhouse gases emissions in 2020 – roughly 70 million tonnes (8.7%) less than in 2019. These are the conclusions drawn from emissions data from the German Environment Agency (UBA) which were submitted according to the specifications of the Federal Climate Protection Act for the first time. The cut in emissions achieved in 2020 is the largest since German reunification in 1990. The significant decrease in emissions of the two previous years thus continued in 2020. Emissions in Germany have fallen by 40.8 percent since 1990. Progress was made in all sectors, especially in the energy industry. However, the available data also shows that around one third of the reductions is a reflection of the consequences of the coronavirus pandemic, especially in the transport and energy sectors.

Federal Environment Minister Svenja Schulze commented, "As concerns the climate footprint for 2020, Germany continues to make progress in climate protection for the third year in a row. Of course, pandemic effects are also noticeable in this special year, especially in the transport sector. But it is important to me that structural changes are also evident in the transformation of our economy towards climate neutrality. The effectiveness of climate policy can be clearly seen in the energy sector, where the phase-out of coal is making good progress. This is encouraging for other areas where there is still much to be done. The fact that Germany has now achieved its climate target for 2020 is no reason to let up on our efforts. The higher EU climate target will also demand more of Germany. That is why the German Government should immediately double the planned pace of expansion for wind and solar power in this decade. Further measures will also have to be examined quickly in the building sector. This is ensured by the new Climate Protection Act with its binding targets for each individual sector, which are now taking effect for the first time."

⁠UBA's President Dirk Messner said, "We can observe that climate policy instruments are beginning to have an effect, especially the expansion of renewable energies and carbon pricing. But Germany would have missed its 2020 climate target had it not been for the pandemic-related lockdowns and restrictions on production and mobility. This means that emissions will rise again when the economy picks up. This is especially true for the transport sector, which cannot afford to rest on its comparatively good figures. It is therefore clear that only ambitious climate action and structural change oriented towards accelerated decarbonisation in the key economic sectors can lead to achieving the Germany's climate targets. Thus, significantly more wind turbines must be installed in the future and the number of combustion cars must be massively reduced. The Federal Climate Protection Act creates a new and innovative framework for this because the federal government will have to implement new measures in the future if annual climate targets are not achieved."

Greenhouse gas emissions in 2020 are distributed across the sectors as follows:

The energy sector recorded the greatest emissions reduction: nearly 38 million tonnes of CO2, which is 14.5 percent less than in 2019. The sector's some 221 million tonnes of CO2 equivalents in annual emissions allowed by the Climate Change Act of 280 million tonnes are well below the 280 million tonnes (per annum) permitted by the Federal Climate Protection Act. The largest share of this positive development is due to the decrease in emissions from the lignite-generated electricity (-23 million tonnes). Emissions from the generation of electricity using hard coal fell by 13 million tonnes of CO2, despite the commissioning of the Datteln 4 power plant.

Among the most important reasons for the progress in the energy industry, besides low world market prices for gas, is the successful reform of European emissions trading, which has led to higher CO2prices. Thus, despite the economic crisis, the average price of about 25 euros for one tonne of CO2in 2020 remained at the same similarly high level of the previous year. As a result, coal-fired power plants were usually more expensive to operate in 2020 than gas-fired power plants, which emit less CO2. Renewable energies were also used more than in previous years, accounting for 45 percent of gross electricity consumption. An additional factor was the decline in gross electricity consumption by more than four percent - mainly due to the lockdown measures. In 2020, another noticeable factor was the transfer of additional lignite-fired power plant units to security standby in autumn 2019. The first shutdowns of lignite and hard coal-fired power plants at the end of 2020 in the course of the coal phase-out programme will only begin to have a significant impact on the climate footprint in 2021.

Transport sector emissions fell below the previous year's level, recording 146 million tonnes of CO2, or 19 million tonnes less than in 2019 (-11.4%) – and thus also below the annual emission level of 150 million tonnes of CO2 specified in the Climate Protection Act for 2020. The bulk of this reduction is due to the fact that fewer cars were driven during the first lockdown, especially long-distance routes. This is confirmed by lower fuel sales figures and data from count sites on motorways and federal highways. A smaller part of the reduction, around 2 million tonnes, can be attributed to lower CO2 emissions from new passenger cars, partly due to the increase in new registrations of electric cars, and to more biofuels as a result of the higher blending rate. Vehicle mileage of HGVs was only slightly lower compared to the previous year. Domestic aviation also showed considerable impact of the coronavirus pandemic: almost 60 per cent less CO2 was emitted in 2020, or a total of around 1 million tonnes less.

Industry emissions decreased by just under 9 million tonnes of CO2 equivalents compared to the previous year (-4.6%). Emissions of around 178 million tonnes of CO2 equivalents were below the annual emission limit of 186 million tonnes of CO2 equivalents stipulated in the Climate Protection Act. Economic effects as a result of the coronavirus pandemic play an important role here, although they differed from sector to sector. The most significant reduction was in the steel industry, where crude steel production fell by about 10 %. The manufacturing industry saw mostly slight decreases in emissions. The strong construction industry, for its part, led to higher process emissions in the relevant sectors of the mineral industry.

Emissions in the building sector were cut by roughly 3 million tonnes to 120 million tonnes of CO2 equivalents (-2.8%). Despite this emissions reduction, the building sector has exceeded its annual emission volume as defined in the Climate Protection Act (118 million tonnes of CO2 equivalents). One reason for this development is lower fuel consumption in the commercial, trade and services sector (-4 million tonnes of CO2 equivalents, i.e. minus 13.5%). In contrast, emissions from households rose slightly.

Emissions in the agriculture sector shrank by roughly 1.5 tonnes (-2.2%) to 66 million tonnes of CO2 equivalents. The sector thus remains below the annual emission quantity of 70 million tonnes of CO2 equivalents set for 2020 in the Climate Protection Act. The causes for this are a relatively low use of mineral fertilisers, declining cattle stock and the renewed dry weather conditions.

Emissions in the waste management sector dropped by about 3.8 percent from the previous year's level to just under nine million tonnes of CO2 equivalents. This means that the waste sector remains below the annual emission quantity of nine million tonnes of CO2 equivalents stipulated in the Climate Protection Act. The trend is essentially determined by the decreasing emissions from landfilling.

On the whole, 2020 emissions of all greenhouse gases decreased. The major player – carbon dioxide – experienced a decline of nearly 67 million tonnes (-9.4%). Total methane emissions decreased by around 1 million tonnes of CO2 equivalents (-2.1%). Nitrous oxide emissions also declined by about 1 million tonnes of CO2 equivalents (-3%). Total emissions of F gases in 2020 sank by 1.3 million tonnes of CO2 equivalents (-9%), due to decreasing inventory and filling emissions.

For the first time, emissions data was submitted in the context of the new Climate Protection Act which sets annual, steadily decreasing annual emission levels for the energy, industry, transport, buildings, agriculture and waste management and other sectors as of 2020. The data will now be reviewed by the newly established Council of Experts on Climate, as envisaged in the legislation. The Council of Experts submits an assessment of the data within a period of one month. After that, the law provides that the Federal Building Ministry has three months to submit an immediate action programme containing proposals for measures to bring the building sector back on the intended target path in the next few years.

Further information:

Accuracy of the data
The results represent the currently best possible estimate. As such, there are corresponding uncertainties, in particular due to the very limited statistical calculation bases available at the present time. The calculations are derived from a system of model calculations and trend updates of the detailed inventories of greenhouse gas emissions for 2019 published in January 2021.

Treibhausgasemissionen in Deutschland 2020 Schätzung

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