Preserving nature, protecting the environment

Preserving nature, protecting the environment

Keeping nature intact as a place for living and relaxing – participants in the national dialogue felt this was important for wellbeing. Protecting the environment, sustainable production and conscious consumption were all important issues. People were concerned about climate change and the impact of air, noise and water pollution on their health.

Keeping nature intact as a place for living and relaxing – participants in the national dialogue felt this was important for wellbeing. Protecting the environment, sustainable production and conscious consumption were all important issues. People were concerned about climate change and the impact of air, noise and water pollution on their health.

Sustainable use of resources and sustainable management are the alpha and omega of long-term wellbeing.
from an online response submitted on 11 July 2015

A clean environment for a healthy life

In the national dialogue people frequently mentioned what they believe is important for a healthy life. This includes clean air and water, uncontaminated food and low levels of noise pollution. Clean air was particularly important for participants in the national dialogue. Scientists have proven a direct link between air quality and people's health.

We need our environment to be intact and healthy food – which is growing increasingly difficult.
from the national dialogue event at VHS Gifhorn on 29 September 2015

Air pollution is a recognised indicator for a healthy environment.

Air pollutants combined (index)

Here we look at emissions of the five main air pollutants: sulphur dioxide (SO2), nitrogen oxide (NOX), ammonia (NH3) non-methane volatile organic compounds (NMVOC) and particulate matter (PM2.5). They are weighted equally in a combined index.

The indicators show that there is some good news, but there is still a lot to do. Overall air quality in Germany has improved over recent years. Total annual emissions have gone down.

When we look at each of the five main air pollutants separately we find that throughout Germany emissions of four of the five pollutants have fallen significantly since 2000 – only ammonia emissions remain largely unchanged since the turn of the millennium. Ammonia emissions are mainly produced in the agricultural sectoral and here especially by by large livestock farms.

Even though Germany agreed in 2010 not to exceed the maximum amount of emissions of 550 kilotons per year, it never complied since then and exceeded the mark by more than 20 per cent. In order to meet the EU-wide emission reduction commitments of 29 per cent by 2030 compared to 2005 levels, substantial efforts are required.

However, total emissions only provide limited information about local air quality. There are localised problems with excessively high concentrations.

Different air pollutants (index)

Limits are regularly breached in conurbations and around key transport routes– with negative consequences for human health and the environment.

The concentration of nitrogen dioxide in the air is measured by the 536 monitoring stations that make up the air monitoring networks of the federal states and the Federal Environment Agency. The map shows average annual amounts of nitrogen dioxide pollution in 2018. The legal limit is 40 µg/m3.

The legal limit of 40 µg/m3 was exceeded at 21 per cent of monitoring stations. For nitrogen dioxide, the 1-hour level of 200 µg/m3 was exceeded in nine locations in 2018. In the previous year, this was true for 17 locations. At the monitoring station Stuttgart Neckartor the 1-hour level of 200 µg/m3 was exceeded on 11 days.

The annual average amounts of nitrogen dioxide pollution range from below 10 µg/m3 to just above 70 µg/m3 in some cities.

Select your city or municipality to see the level of nitrogen dioxide pollution in your local area:

A distinction is drawn between monitoring stations close to traffic (traffic), stations close to industrial plants (industry) and monitoring stations in the background. Background means that the monitoring station is not located close to a busy road or industrial plant.

All breaches of the annual nitrogen dioxide limit occurred in stations close to traffic. Traffic plays a major part in air pollution, and not only through the emission of nitrogen oxides from combustion engines. For particulate matters, traffic (including mobile machinery and equipment) is responsible for one quarter of all emissions.

In 2018, the annual limit was exceeded at 109 of the 260 monitoring stations that were close to traffic.

Source: German Environment Agency 2017.Updated data

The limits for concentrations of air pollutants apply to the whole European Union but they are exceeded in many countries. Compared to other EU countries Germany is among the countries that perform worst with respect to nitrogen dioxide.

EU comparison of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) 2016

For particulate matters Germany is in the mid-range for EU countries.

EU comparison of particulate matter (PM2.5) 2016

What Does the Government Do?

A package of measures in the Climate Action Programme 2030 promotes electric mobility. In the future,the federal government wants more electric vehicles to drive on Germany's roads, thereby also reducing emissions. The federal government promotes the expansion of the charging infrastructure and increases the purchase premium and introduces tax breaks to encourage more people to switch to electric, hybrid or fuel cell driven cars. Anyone who travels long distances by train will do so more cheaply due to a reduced value-added tax on train tickets from 19 to 7 per cent starting 2020.

Keeping forests, bodies of water and agricultural land in equilibrium

Keeping nature intact was one of the most frequently mentioned issues in the national dialogue. Healthy forests, clean water, good air quality and natural areas for relaxation close to cities were very important to many participants. People had a wide range of opinions about the state of the natural environment in Germany, as is shown by the following quotes:

No one is interested in environmental protection. Everywhere, our beautiful natural landscapes are facing increasing neglect.
from an online response submitted on 10 June 2015
We have beautiful landscapes and cities [...], a temperate climate and a reasonably clean environment.
from an online response submitted on 7 July 2015

Varied and diverse landscapes with forests, meadows and fields are very valuable for people's relaxation and recreation, compared to densely populated regions. People are very aware of their value and understand the complexity of environmental correlations. Strong biodiversity is therefore a key condition for a strong ecosystem and is an important basis of our existence.

The indicator for biodiversity and environmental quality, also known as the bird index is used to measure the state of agricultural land, forests, settlements, inland waters, coastlines and seas. The bird index is one out of many potential indicators to measure environmental quality. The index includes 51 selected bird varieties that can be found in the main types of landscape in Germany. Changes to the population numbers of these bird varieties make it possible to draw indirect conclusions on environmental quality and the sustainability of land use. This is because birds are very sensitive to changes in their ecosystem.

Biodiversity and environmental quality, aggregated

Trends in Biodiversity and the state of the environment in Germany are far from positive. In recent years, the indicator remained at a low level in Germany. This holds true for the average of all forms of land use – agricultural land, settlements, forests, etc. It is worth emphasizing that the indicator increased for the first time in three years.

Biodiversity and environmental quality, aggregated and sub-indicators

Nevertheless, the indicators only reached 70 per cent of the target set by the federal government in its Sustainable Development Strategy (Nachhaltigkeitsstrategie) and in the National Strategy on Biological Diversity (Nationale Strategie zur biologischen Vielfalt). The state of agricultural land, coastlines and seas is particularly critical, even though a slight upward trend was reported for the last year. Biodiversity and the quality of forests is much better, with slightly more than 90 per cent of the target being hit in 2015.

What Does the Government Do?

The federal government is keen to improve biological diversity and to stop the massive decline in insect populations. The Action Programme for Insect Protection aims for these goals. The Masterplan Green in the City (Master Plan Stadtnatur) supports communities to promote biological diversity and green infrastructure in neighborhoods.

Progress and productivity through energy efficiency

In the national dialogue there was some criticism of wind turbines and new power lines. However, most participants were in favour of the energy transition in Germany. They believe it is a major contribution to protecting the environment and is a pioneering project that is respected around the world.

Germany should set an example in terms of a clean environment.
from an online response submitted on 13 August 2015

The energy transition – switching to energy production from renewables and reducing energy consumption – aims to combat climate change and reduce reliance on fossil fuels. All this improves wellbeing in Germany in the long term.

Using energy more efficiently, so producing more with the same amount of energy is also a way of protecting the environment while at the same time reducing costs. This applies to the heating and electricity bills of private households, businesses and factories. It also makes Germany more competitive. The relationship between gross domestic product (GDP) and primary energy consumption is an indicator for efficient energy use**.

Energy productivity (GDP (2010) per unit of primary energy consumption, adjusted for price changes)

Germany has made great strides in energy productivity.

Since 1990 the German economy has grown by almost 47 per cent. Thanks to innovative technology and state incentives, energy consumption has fallen by more than 9 per cent in the same period. This represents a 65 per cent increase in energy productivity. In 2017, energy productivity has improved by another 1.4 per cent compared to the previous year. Uncoupling economic growth from energy consumption is a major step forward for prosperity. The decoupling is due to efficiency gains in the transformation sector, the more efficient use of energy sources in consumption sectors and structural changes in the economy towards less energy-intensive industries and more services.

But the federal government is looking to achieve more. Its goal is for energy in Germany to be used twice as efficiently by 2020 as it was in 1990.

What Does the Government Do?

In order to reduce energy consumption and CO2-emissions, the federal government introduced tax deductibles for energy-efficient refurbishments. To encourage people to replace their older oil and gas central heating systems with more climate-friendly models or switching directly to renewables, receives a „replacement bonus“ of up to 40 per cent of the incurring costs. To make it easier for companies, professional service providers and municipal companies to invest in new, energy-efficient technologies, the federal government started a funding programme for energy efficiency in commerce.

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