A Resource-Efficient and Greenhouse-Gas-Neutral Germany 2050

picture symbolizing the interdependencies between greenhouse gas emissions and raw material useClick to enlarge
Raw material use effects greenhouse gas emissions – but low carbon technologies need resources, too.
Source: Umweltbundesamt

In this project, the German Environment Agency explores the nexus between greenhouse gas (GHG) abatement measures and associated resource requirements. Using five scenarios, different development paths are explored and insights gained on how to reduce future resource use and GHG-emissions.

Table of Contents


Dependencies between climate protection and resource requirements

A systems approach is required to explore the mutual dependencies and feedback loops between climate protection policies and associated resource requirements.  The production and subsequent consumption of goods and services are the main driving forces behind energy and resource demands. Extraction and use of fossil and nuclear energy carriers can have negative impacts on the quality of our environment in several ways.  A conventional energy system requires not only raw materials for power plant construction, but a large amount of fossile or nuclear fuels as primary energy carriers which make up for a large share of current raw material consumption. Once used, they can not be recovered. Other than that, in an energy system based on renewables most raw materials required remain in the anthropogenic stock and can be recycled for further use: flow resources such as wind or solar energy are used for energy generation, thus no raw materials are consumed for the operation of wind or solar power plants. Most of the materials embodied in wind or pv installations can be recovered at the end of life. This gives the opportunity to increase the creation of value in an economy, if materials can be recycled within the same economic system and less raw material needs to be imported.


The starting point: A scenario on low-carbon development

How an industrialized country like Germany can cut its GHG emissions by 95 per cent, was illustrated by the German Environment Agency in 2014 in the scenario study „Germany in 2050: a greenhouse-gas neutral country“. Inducing such a transition process will require measures that go beyond immediate GHG abatement. Understanding the resource and raw material demands for the transition appears just as important. In this context, relevant resources and raw materials include space, water, soil, air, flow resources like wind or solar energy, ecosystem services, next to biotic and abiotic raw materials. Raw material demands should be analyzed with regard to the absolute amounts required and how this demand changes over time. Another interesting aspect is how a transition of the energy sector effects other branches of the economy, and vice versa.


Research questions

Against this background, a set of research questions has been defined for the new project:

  • Which plausible transition pathways could turn Germany into a GHG neutral and resource efficient economy, without negative impacts on the environment?
  • What individual measures are required?
  • How does raw materials demand develop in the course of the transition?
  • How are raw materials demand and GHG emission abatement interrelated?
  • What approaches to a low-carbon economy result in less resource use and GHG emissions?

The five scenarios

To explore these issues, five scenarios are developed and constructed in the course of the project. They share the assumption that GHG emissions in Germany will be reduced by 95 per cent in 2050, compared to 1990 emission levels. Raw materials demand and the GHG emission reduction up to 2050 vary between the scenarios.

Scenario 1:  Germany – resource efficient and greenhouse gas neutral – Energy efficiency (GreenEe)
The development of GHG emissions and raw materials demand is modelled on the basis of assumptions made in the previous project “Germany in 2050: a greenhouse gas neutral country”. Raw materials demand simulations include materials such as biomass, fossil fuels, metal ores and non-metallic minerals. The ambitious increase of energy efficiency, including the tapping of yet unrealized energy efficiency potential throughout all economic sectors, is the main characteristic of this scenario.

Scenario 2: Germany – resource efficient and greenhouse gas neutral – late transition (GreenLate)
Greenhouse gas emissions are cut by 95per cent in that scenario as well. However, the transitions process sets in at a later point in time compared to GreenEe. Also, energy efficiencies are raised in a less ambitious manner. Consequently, GHG emissions have to be reduced more radically and within a shorter period of time.

Scenario 3: Germany – resource efficient and greenhouse gas neutral – Material efficiency (GreenMe)
This scenario focuses on raising material efficiency in an ambitious manner and throughout all economic sectors.

Scenario 4: Germany – resource efficient and greenhouse gas neutral - lifestyle changes (GreenLife)
GreenLife analyzes how changes of lifestyle and behaviour, in addition to technical measures, influence GHG emissions and raw material consumption. Current trends as well as smaller niche tendencies for a more environmentally friendly behavior will be scaled up to build this scenario.

Scenario 5: Germany – resource efficient and greenhouse gas neutral – Minimizing future GHG emissions and raw material consumption (GreenSupreme)
An ambitious transition pathway will combine the most effective measures from the previous scenarios in order to reduce cumulated GHG emissions and raw material demand up to 2050.

Results and conclusions from the GreenEe scenario have already been published. The remaining scenarios are currently being developed and will be presented at an international conference in autumn 2019.


Initial Results

In GreenEe, greenhouse gas emissions are reduced by 95 per cent in 2050 compared to 1990, while at the same time primary raw material demand can be reduced by 60 per cent in 2050 compared to 2010. Primary raw material demand is calculated for biomass, metal ores, non-metallic minerals and fossil fuels. This way, the scenario confirms that GHG abatement measures can enhance resource efficiency policies, and vice versa. The phasing-out of fossil fuels has a particularly strong impact. Stepping up targets for renewable energy thus makes sense for climate and resource policy objectives at the same time. With regard to resource demand, the expansion of renewable energies should happen at a steady pace.