Mixed picture of the state of the environment in Germany

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

The German Environment Agency has published its Data on the Environment 2015 report. Action is needed with regard to greenhouse gases, raw material efficiency and nutrient pollution, good news in recycling and drinking water quality.

Germany reduced its greenhouse gas emissions by 27 per cent between 1990 and 2014. The largest emitter of greenhouse gases, at 39 per cent, is the energy sector. The transport sector is currently responsible for about 18 percent. It is, however, the only sector in Germany which has failed to reduce its emission since 1990. Unlike the energy and industrial sectors, transport sector emissions have actually increased since 1990 (by 0.6 per cent up until 2004). Road traffic accounts for 95 per cent of the transport sector's greenhouse gas emissions. Road freight traffic volume is still too high, and grew by about 31 per cent between 2000 and 2013. The German Environment Agency strongly urges a shifting from road freight to the railways and ships – the German government’s Climate Action Programme emphasises this point appropriately. It would also be wise to extend the HGV toll to vehicles with a gross weight of 3.5 tonnes and more. And there must finally be a more intensive discussion about CO2 limit values for HGV. In this area as well, we need ambitious regulation. Heavy goods vehicles in Germany emitted roughly 38.7 million tonnes of CO2 in 2013.
The balance is more positive with respect to water: 98 per cent of Germany's bathing waters in 2014 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 ten per cent of the natural watercourses in Germany achieved "good" status in accordance with the EU Water Framework Directive, and only one of the 72 coastal waters along the North and Baltic Seas could follow suit. Fish, plants and benthic invertebrates like mussels and snails are struggling with nitrogen in particular. Nitrogen inputs to rivers and lakes occur from the overuse of fertilisers in agriculture, leading to algae growth and depriving fish and other aquatic organisms of oxygen.

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 and economical use of raw materials. Only about half of the objective to double resource productivity between 1994 and 2020 has been achieved. A major part of these gains in efficiency are due to the transfer of resource-intensive production abroad. In effect, every tonne of imported goods carries an average ecological rucksack of an additional 2.5 tonnes of raw materials from abroad.

On the positive side, Germans are among Europe's leaders in recycling: 70 per cent of all waste was recycled (2012 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.

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