Greenhouse gas-neutral and resource-efficient by 2050

RESCUE study investigates six scenarios of possible transformation pathways to achieving greenhouse gas neutrality and resource efficiency in Germany

in einer futuristisch anmutenden Szenerie mit blauem Licht stehen Solarpanels auf einer Wasserfläche, im Hintergrund Windkraftanlagen und StrommastenClick to enlarge
Germany must reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 95% – with all sectors contributing.
Source: Kalafoto /

In its new RESCUE study, the German Environment Agency (UBA) analyzes how to achieve greenhouse gas neutrality and reduce raw material consumption by 70 percent by the year 2050. The RESCUE study describes six scenarios of possible transformation pathways for which details must be fleshed out. The scenarios are meant to help the federal government achieve the agreed goal of greenhouse gas neutrality in 2050. UBA President Maria Krautzberger said: “The measures agreed in the past fall far short of achieving our aim. As a society, we must learn to transform our GHG- and resource-intensive technologies and products as quickly as possible. Technical innovation is crucial, but we must be open to changing some of our habits.” The scenarios in the RESCUE study describe possible solutions and, as such, are not actual detailed implementation plans associated with any specific instruments or mechanisms. The scenarios also do not involve any economic assessments based on which policy-makers could choose instruments and measures. In a next step, the scenarios must be extended to include an international dimension.

The GreenSupreme scenario describes the fastest possible reduction of greenhouse gas emissions and raw material consumption up to 2050. A quick phase-out of coal use by 2040 is a critical factor. Efficient and resource-efficient technologies such as heat pumps to generate space heat as well as increasing demand for durable, repairable and resource-efficient products are preferred. The scenario succeeds in reducing GHG emissions by about 97 percent by 2050 compared to 1990. If natural sinks are taken into account through sustainable agriculture and forestry (LULUCF), reductions of 100 percent are possible, even sinking carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere. GHG neutrality is possible without nuclear energy and technical sinks such as carbon dioxide capture and storage.

Final energy⁠ demand in the GreenSupreme scenario can be reduced from around 2,500 terawatt hours (TWh) in 2015 to less than 1,100 TWh by 2050 and is covered entirely by renewable energies. Energy efficiency is paramount in every respect, and only efficient technologies (e.g. electric vehicles) are considered instead of conventional technologies (e.g. condensing boilers or combustion engines). The share of renewable energies in electricity supply is set to rise to 86 percent by 2030 and to 97 percent by 2040. This would require a gross expansion of onshore wind energy of at least 5.5 GW and 4.8 GW of photovoltaics per year. Technologies such as the generation of electricity-based sustainable fuels (Power to Gas/Power to Liquid) are put into place at an early stage. As a result, some 63 TWh of such fuels can be imported in 2030. This will require cooperation with countries outside of Europe to ensure sufficient areas for the development and reliable supply of renewable energies. The share of renewable energies in fuel supply is 11 percent in 2030, and 40 percent by 2040. All sectors use zero fossil fuels by 2050.

New lifestyles

Any potential transition depends on the society’s willingness to rethink and change their cherished although now unsustainable habits. The GreenSupreme scenario has less domestic air travel, also due to corresponding pricing signals, and have largely shifted to rail and other forms of land transport in 2050. Urban areas in particular experience a rapid decline in motorized individual transport. Cycle and foot traffic increase as do the use of public transport and car and ridesharing. As a result, car ownership in urban areas becomes the exception by 2050.

Nutrition also reflects greater awareness of the environment and health. Food waste is avoided and regional and seasonal foods are processed. Less meat is eaten and livestock numbers in Germany decrease.

Demand for raw materials sinks in all scenarios

Greenhouse gas neutrality results in a large reduction of raw material consumption (RMC). In the GreenSupreme scenario, RMC in 2050 is reduced by 70 percent compared to 2010. This scenario focuses on technical measures targeting energy- and materials efficiency. Furthermore, lifestyle changes such as choosing more durable and repairable products, space-saving forms of building, tapping the full recycling potential for materials, widespread material substitution such as more wood building and the use of innovative materials such as textile-reinforced concrete can further reduce demand for raw materials. The temporary increased demand for resources to drive the transition of the energy system should be contained by deploying a broad technology mix. For example: the batteries which replace today's conventional lithium-ion batteries can reduce the demand for lithium and cobalt for battery-electric vehicles. Newer generators in wind turbines can reduce their demand for copper and rare earths.

Umweltbundesamt Hauptsitz

Wörlitzer Platz 1
06844 Dessau-Roßlau

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