Greenhouse gas emissions fell 8.7 percent in 2020

Svenja Schulze bei einer Pressekonferenz
unterseite icon 09.10.2019 | Climate

Federal Climate Change Act

Federal Climate Change Act
Around 739 million metric tons of greenhouse gases were released in Germany in 2020 - around 70 million metric tons or 8.7 percent less than in 2019, according to UBA emissions data.

Positive trend of previous years continues / Emissions down 40.8 percent since 1990

In 2020, Germany emitted around 739 million tonnes of greenhouse gases – approximately 70 million tonnes or 8.7 percent less than in 2019. These figures come from the Federal Environment Agency's (UBA) emissions data, published for the first time in 2020 in accordance with the provisions of the Federal Climate Change Act. The reduction recorded in 2020 is the largest annual drop since 1990, the year of German reunification. This means that the clear reduction in emissions in the two previous years continued in 2020. Emissions in Germany have fallen 40.8 percent compared to 1990 levels. Progress was reported in all areas, in the energy sector in particular. However, the available data also show that almost a third of the reduction, in the transport and energy sectors in particular, can be linked to the impact of the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic.

Federal Environment Minister Schulze commented: "With its 2020 carbon footprint, Germany has made progress on its climate action targets for the third year in a row. It goes without saying that, after this very different year, the impact of the pandemic is reflected in the figures, particularly in the transport sector. However, I would also like to highlight that we have had a first glimpse of structural change and that our economy has started the transition towards climate neutrality. The effects of climate-policy are primarily visible in the energy sector, where we are making progress in phasing out coal. This is a strong motivation to make progress in the sectors where much remains to be done. In my view, the fact that Germany has achieved its climate target for 2020 against all predictions is no reason to rest on our laurels. The more ambitious EU climate target will also require greater efforts here in Germany. This is why the Federal Government should now double the pace of the expansion of wind and solar power envisaged for this decade. Further measures will have to be evaluated for the buildings sector as well, and in short order. This is ensured by the new Climate Change Act and its binding targets for each sector, which are beginning to have an impact."

UBA President Dirk Messner said: "We see that climate policies, in particular the expansion of renewable energy and carbon pricing, are starting to have an impact. Without the COVID-19 pandemic and the ensuing lockdowns, however, which led to restrictions in production and mobility, Germany would have missed its 2020 climate target. This means that emissions will increase as soon as the economy picks up again. This holds particularly true for the transport sector, which must not become complacent now that it has performed fairly well. The clear basis for achieving the Federal Government's climate targets is ambitious climate action and structural change based on accelerated decarbonisation in key economic sectors. In future, we will need far more installed wind power and far fewer combustion engine cars. The Climate Change Act provides a new and innovative framework because in future it will require the Federal Government to implement new measures if annual climate targets are not met."

In 2020, the amount of greenhouse gas emissions produced by each sector was as follows:

The largest decline in emissions was achieved in the energy sector, which emitted approximately 38 million tonnes of CO2, for example 14.5 percent, less than in 2019. At 221 million tonnes CO2 equivalents (t CO2-eq), emissions were well below the annual emission budget of 280 million tonnes stipulated by the Climate Change Act. This positive trend was mainly due to a decline in emissions from lignite-fired power plants (a drop of 23 million tonnes). Emissions from coal-fired power plants decreased by 13 million tonnes even though the coal-fired power plant Datteln 4 went online.

Key reasons for the progress in the energy sector included lower global market prices for natural gas and the successful reform of the European emissions trading scheme, which increased the carbon price. This is why in 2020, despite the economic crisis, the average price per tonne of CO2 remained stable at the comparatively high level of around 25 euros as in the previous year. As a consequence, in 2020, the operation of coal-fired power plants was often more expensive than the operation of less CO2-intensive gas power plants. Renewable energy also played a bigger role than in the previous years, accounting for 45 percent of gross electricity consumption. Another important factor was a 4 percent decrease in gross electricity consumption, which was primarily due to the lockdown restrictions. A number of additional lignite-fired power plant units were put on security standby in the autumn of 2019, a fact which was also reflected in the 2020 figures. At the end of 2020, the first lignite and coal-fired power plants were decommissioned in accordance with the German Act on the Phase-Out of Coal. The impact of these shutdowns will become noticeable in the 2021 carbon footprint.

Greenhouse gas emissions in the transport sector fell by 19 million tonnes (minus 11.4 percent) to 146 million tonnes of CO2, outperforming the annual emission budget of 150 million tonnes stipulated for 2020 by the Climate Change Act. The lion’s share of this reduction can be attributed to the fact that cars were used less during the first lockdown, in particular for long-distance travel. This is reflected in the lower sales figures for fuel and in the data collected at traffic count sites on motorways and federal highways. A smaller share of the reduction, around 2 million tonnes, is linked to new cars emitting less CO2. There was, for example, an increase in new vehicle registrations for electric cars and a higher proportion of biofuels in the fuel mix. Truck mileage was only slightly down on the previous year. The COVID-19 pandemic also had a significant impact on domestic aviation. In 2020, this sector produced 60 percent, for example approximately 1 million tonnes, less CO2 than before.

In the industry sector, emissions dropped by 9 million t CO2-eq (minus 4.6 percent) compared to previous year levels. With an emissions total of 178 million t CO2-eq, the industry therefore outperformed the annual emissions of 186 million t CO2-eq budgeted in the Climate Change Act. The effect of the economic downturn in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic played an important part in this, although the impact varied across sectors. The most significant reduction was recorded in the steel industry where the production of crude steel fell by 10 percent. The manufacturing industry mostly reported slight drops in emissions. Overall construction activity was on the rise. This, in turn, led to higher process emissions in the relevant sectors of the mineral industry.

In 2020, emissions from the buildings sector fell by 3 million t CO2-eq (minus 2.8 percent) to 120 million t CO2-eq. Despite this reduction, the buildings sector still exceeded its annual emissions budget of 118 million t CO2-eq laid down by the Climate Change Act. One reason for this development is a drop in fuel consumption in the business, trade and service sectors (minus 4 million t CO2-eq, for example 13.5 percent). Emissions from private households, on the other hand, have increased slightly.

In the agriculture sector, greenhouse gas emissions fell by roughly 1.5 million t CO2-eq (minus 2.2 percent) to 66 million t CO2-eq. The sector remained below the annual emissions budget of 70 million t CO2-eq stipulated by the Climate Change Act due to a relatively low amount of mineral fertilisers used, a decrease in cattle stocks and the continued dry weather.

Compared to the previous year, emissions from the waste sector shrank by approximately 3.8 percent to just under 9 million t CO2-eq, remaining below the annual emissions budget of 9 million t CO2-eq laid down in the Climate Change Act. This trend is mainly due to reduced emissions in the landfill industry.

In 2020, emissions fell for all types of greenhouse gases. Emissions of the main greenhouse gas, carbon dioxide, dropped by approximately 67 million tonnes (minus 9.4 percent). Overall methane emissions decreased by approximately 1 million t CO2-eq (minus 2.1 percent). Nitrous oxide emissions also declined by approximately 1 million t CO2-eq (-3 percent). In 2020, emissions from fluorinated greenhouse gases were further reduced by 1.3 million t CO2-eq (minus 9 percent) due to a reduction in emissions from existing air conditioning systems and filling air conditioners. 

The emissions data were published for the first time in accordance with the new Climate Change Act, which sets out continuously shrinking annual emissions budgets for the energy, industry, transport, buildings, agriculture, waste and other sectors from 2020 onwards. As prescribed by the law, the newly established Council of Experts on Climate Change is now assessing the data. The Council of Experts has one month to present its assessment of the data. According to the law, the Federal Building Ministry then has three months to present an immediate action programme containing proposals for putting the buildings sector back on track in the coming years.

Quality of the data

The results are the best estimate available to date. However, they do include some degree of uncertainty, in particular due to the limited statistical data basis available at the moment. The results stem from model calculations and trend extrapolations based on the detailed greenhouse gas emissions inventory of 2019, which was published in January 2021.

The complete, official and detailed 2020 inventory data on greenhouse gas emissions in Germany will be published and transmitted to the European Commission by the Federal Environment Agency in January 2022.

16.03.2021 | Press release No. 042/21 | Climate
Joint press release of the Federal Environment Ministry and the Federal Environment Agency (UBA)