General Information

What is climate action about?

Climate is crucial for the evolution of nature and human life and has always influenced the social and economic behaviour of humans. The Earth’s climate system is highly complex, even small changes impact on the entire system. The climate is changing. The reasons for these changes are greenhouse gases, in particular carbon dioxide (CO2), and other gases such as methane, nitrous oxide and the fluorinated gases HFCs, CFCs and SF6.

CO2 is primarily released from burning fossil fuels for electricity generation, in industry or in transport. The mean global temperature has risen by almost 0.8 degree Celcius since the start of the century. The average temperature of each of the last three decades respectively was higher than any other decade since records began in 1850. During this time, we have also seen sea levels rise by 19 centimetre and extreme weather events become more and more frequent all over the world.

The consequences of climate change are being observed today in ecosystems across all continents and in our oceans, society and industry. Climate change is already having negative consequences for society, for example for food production. Unique ecosystems such as the coral reefs are already under threat. Should climate change continue in the coming decades, heat stress will increase, extreme weather events will likely become more frequent and lead to more negative consequences for societies and ecosystems.


Climate change cannot be reversed. The volume of greenhouse gases released to date is causing a rise in global temperatures. Nevertheless, it is still possible to slow down climate change and limit its impacts on humans and the environment. This is a task for the entire international community.

Already at the Rio Earth Summit in 1992 the international community agreed on stabilising greenhouse gas emissions worldwide under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. Under the convention, representatives of all Parties come together once a year to negotiate the next steps in international climate policy. In 1997, binding commitments concerning greenhouse gas emissions by industrialised countries were set in the Kyoto Protocol. At the UN Climate Change Conference 2010 in Cancún, the Parties agreed to limit global warming to a maximum of two degrees Celsius compared to pre-industrial levels, thus ensuring that the worst consequences of global warming can still be prevented. Today, global warming is already more than 0.8 degrees Celsius.

Under the Kyoto Protocol industrialised countries for the first time made a legally binding commitment to reduce their emissions by a total of five percent in the period 2008 to 2012 compared with 1990. During the first commitment period, Germany set itself the target of reducing its emissions for the 2008 to 2012 period by an average of 21 percent compared with 1990. Germany significantly surpassed this target with a reduction of 23.6 percent (see National Inventory Report). A second commitment period which will run until 2020 was agreed on at the Climate Change Conference in Doha.

With the adoption of the Climate Agreement at the Climate Change Conference in Paris in December 2015, the international community agreed for the first time on a binding set of rules to keep global warming well below two degress Celsius compared to pre-industrial levels. Countries shall also endeavour to limit the global rise in temperature to 1.5 degrees Celsius. In addition to this, all countries – industrialised countries, emerging economies and developing countries committed themselves to making an appropriate contribution to international climate action.

The German Government set out targets for climate action at national level in its 2010 Energy Concept: greenhouse gas emissions are to be reduced by a minimum of 40 percent by 2020, 55 percent by 2030, 70 percent by 2040 and by 80 to 95 percent by 2050, always compared to reference year 1990. The Coalition Agreement of December 2013 reinforces, in particular, the long-term climate target.

At European level, the Member States have made a commitment to binding climate and energy targets within the EU which must be achieved by 2020. The European 20-20-20 targets are as follows:

  • Reduce emissions by 20 percent (reference year 1990)
  • Increase the share of renewable energies in overall consumption to 20 percent
  • Improve energy efficiency by 20 percent

The EU is well on the way to reaching these targets by 2020. However, to achieve the long-term targets by 2050, the EU must agree on a framework for the period from 2020 to 2030.

According to a European Commission proposal, greenhouse gas emissions within the EU are to be reduced by 40 percent by 2030 and the share of renewable energies increased to 27 percent. Germany is advocating further increasing this climate target in the context of an international agreement which would involve high-quality international emission reduction certificates. In the European negotiations, Germany is calling for an ambitious triad of targets to be set Europe-wide which, alongside a climate target, would foresee binding targets of a 30 percent share of renewable energies in final energy consumption and an improvement in energy efficiency. All this would ensure that Europe continues to play a pioneering role in climate action at international level.

National climate policy

Over the past few years the German Government adopted a number of legislative acts and measures to achieve the German climate targets. Such acts and measures include the Renewable Energy Sources Act (Erneuerbare-Energien-Gesetz (EEG)) and support programmes such as the Building Rehabilitation Programme and the National Climate Initiative.

The BMUB supports, in particular, shaping the energy transition adopted in 2011 in such a way as to ensure the achievement of the climate targets. Restructuring energy supply will play an important role in this context in addition to energy efficiency, the transport and buildings sectors as well as agriculture and industry. To this end, the German Government adopted the Climate Action Plan 2050 in late 2016. The plan has developed guiding principles for 2050 for all areas of action and illustrates approaches for the long-term transformation. The plan sets out concrete milestones and strategic measures for the year 2030. Already in December 2014, the German Government adopted a package of short-term measures with the Climate Action Programme 2020 which will contribute to reaching the next interim target in 2020 (reducing greenhouse gas emissions by at least 40 percent compared to 1990).

The Climate Initiative launched in 2008 is a good example of the concrete implementation of climate action using an integrated approach. The comprehensive support programme taps into potential for emissions reduction in a cost-effective way.

The German Adaptation Strategy

Even if we manage to limit the rise in the global average temperature to two degrees Celsius compared to pre-industrial levels, there will be climate change consequences to deal with – also in Germany. In order to be prepared for this we need to take timely measures that will limit the impacts of climate change (for example flooding and storms).

To this end, the German Government adopted the German Strategy for Adaptation to Climate Change in December 2008. The aim of the strategy is to reduce vulnerability to the consequences of climate change, that is to maintain or improve the adaptive capacity of natural, social and economic systems.

Everyone can play a role in climate action

Climate action starts at home. Any avoidance of unnecessary CO2 emission is an investment in our own future. Choosing to cycle or using public transport rather than drive, setting up car pools and buying household devices, light bulbs, heating installations and vehicles that are energy efficient all contribute to climate action. Even consistently switching off the standby mode when not using devices like printers or TV sets would save 14 million tonnes of CO2 in Germany alone and would also mean electricity cost savings of up to 75 euros per year in many households.