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 shows 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. In 2015, German ammonia emissions were 38 per cent higher than the national emissions maximum set by EU law. Ammonia emissions are mainly produced by large livestock farms.

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 517 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 2016.The legal limit is 40 µg/m3.

The legal limit of 40 µg/m3 was exceeded at 28 per cent of monitoring stations. For nitrogen dioxide, the 1-hour level of 200 µg/m3 was exceeded in 24 locations in 2016, and at two locations the legal limit was breached on more than 18 days. This value dropped relative to the previous year when the legal limit was exceeded at five stations. The annual average amounts of nitrogen dioxide pollution range from below 10 µg/m3 to above 80 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 2016 the annual limit was exceeded at 144 of the 246 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's monitoring stations are in the bottom third for nitrogen dioxide.

EU comparison of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) 2013

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

EU comparison of particulate matter (PM2.5) 2013

What Does the Government Do?

More electric vehicles are required on Germany's roads in order to reduce emissions. The federal government and automotive industry provide incentives in this respect. The federal government is also planning to expand the charging infrastructure with funding of 300 million euros.

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. The indicator deteriorated in Germany between 2003 and 2014. This negative trend has been statistically significant. This holds true for the average of all forms of land use – agricultural land, settlements, forests, etc.

Biodiversity and environmental quality, aggregated and sub-indicators

The targets set by the federal government in its Sustainable Development Strategy (Nachhaltigkeitsstrategie) and in the National Strategy on Biological Diversity (Nationale Strategie zur biologischen Vielfalt) were missed by one third. The state of agricultural land, coastlines and seas is particularly critical, but biodiversity and the quality of forests is much better, with 84 per cent of the target being hit in 2014.

What Does the Government Do?

The federal government is keen to improve biological diversity. It is working to improve agricultural structures and coastline protection. At European and international level it is lobbying for sustainable land use. The federal government is working to promote nature conservation within the framework of the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity.

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.

Over the last 25 years the German economy has grown by more than 37 per cent. Thanks to innovative technology and state incentives, energy consumption has fallen by 9 per cent in the same period. This represents a 63 per cent increase in energy productivity. Uncoupling growth from energy consumption is a major step forward for prosperity.

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 2014, with its National Energy Efficiency Action Plan (Nationaler Aktionsplan Energieeffizienz), the federal government set out a broad package of measures. 17 billion euros of funding has been earmarked for energy efficiency measures between 2016 and 2020.

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