Data on the state of the environment in Germany: a mixed picture

Two engineers discussing in an extensive photovoltaic installationClick to enlarge
Two engineers discussing in an extensive photovoltaic installation
Source: Stefano Lunardi /

The German Environment Agency recently published its Data on the Environment 2017 report. Action is needed with regard to climate protection policy, improvement of resource efficiency and nutrient pollution, good news for recycling rates and drinking water quality.

Climate change is one of the major challenges, and it keeps progressing: 2016 has again been the warmest year since weather records began. In the long-term, we must emit fewer greenhouse gases in Germany. We are on target regarding the development of renewable energies. The share of renewable energies in electricity consumption and final energy consumption has significantly increased since 2000. However, compared to the previous year, 2016 saw a rise in greenhouse gas emissions. There is a need for action, especially in the transport sector, as this is the only sector in which emissions have not decreased since 1990.

The balance is more positive with respect to water: 98 per cent of Germany's bathing waters in 2016 were in compliance with the requirements of the EU Bathing Water Directive. Drinking water is also very good virtually everywhere. In contrast, the ecological status of many rivers and streams does not measure up quite as well: only seven per cent of the natural watercourses in Germany achieved "good" status in accordance with the EU Water Framework Directive in 2015, and not one of the 72 coastal waters along the North and Baltic Seas could follow suit.

The nitrogen surplus from agriculture is a major environmental problem. In the future, slurry must be used more efficiently and mixed more quickly into the soil. It is also important to in-crease the distance between bodies of water and agricultural land in order to decrease the input of nutrients from fields to rivers and lakes.

The Environmental Data report also points to the need for action with regard to efficient use of raw materials. Total raw material productivity increased by 1.57 % annually between 2000 and 2010. In the German Resource Efficiency Programme II (ProgRess II) approved in 2015, the Federal Government announced its target of continuing this growth rate up to 2030. This gives a target value of 159.4 for 2030. But this target is a long way off.

On the positive side, Germans are among Europe's leaders in recycling: 70 per cent of all waste was recycled (2015 data). But it is not enough merely to collect as many reusable materials as possible and subject them to high-quality recycling. It would be better to avoid the generation of waste in the first place. Devices must be designed in such a way as to be durable or at least easy to repair.