General Information

What is sustainable development?


Today, the earth's resources are being used at a faster rate than ever before. And that is happening despite the fact that often those resources are finite. Sustainability means economising on available resources. People living in one part of the world today should not live at the cost of people in other regions of the world nor at the cost of future generations. Sustainability affects all areas of our everyday life and economic activity and is, as a consequence, a task for the whole of society. This guiding principle calls for society to strive to become environmentally sound, socially just and economically productive. We only have this one world. We need to keep it inhabitable for everyone for a long time to come. The environment is the primary limiting factor in the concept of sustainability - not only at national but also at international level.


International goals

At the 1992 UN Conference on Environment and Development in Rio de Janeiro the international community for the first time committed itself to the general principle of sustainable development. In particular, the international community pledged to stop the growing social divide between industrialised nations and developing countries widening and to better protect the disappearing natural bases of living. The Agenda 21, a programme of action for the 21st century, was adopted at the Rio Conference to that end.

At the UN Summit on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) in September 2010, the UN General Assembly called for the creation of a development agenda for the period after 2015. In this context, the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20 Conference) in 2012 issued two mandates (among others); the first that an open working group draw up a report by September 2014 with concrete proposals for sustainable development goals and the second that a committee of experts on sustainable development financing draw up a report with proposals on how to approach sustainable development financing. The Rio+20 Conference decided on the preparation of the post-2015 development agenda - a system of universally applicable goals for all countries, which addresses aspects of development and sustainability. The post-2015 agenda was renamed the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development with the conclusion of intergovernmental negotiations on 2 August 2015. The 2030 Agenda brought two UN negotiation processes together which were previously separate, namely the Rio process launched at the Earth Summit in 1992 and the Millennium Development Goals. These processes have now been merged together under the heading "Transforming our World".

The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, previously called the post-2015 agenda, was adopted on 25 September 2015 at the UN Sustainable Development Summit of heads of state and government and will decisively shape international cooperation in key areas of policy over the coming decades. These goals, mostly to be achieved by 2030, will give a powerful boost to the long overdue transformation of our economies towards significantly more sustainable development worldwide. The need for change at global level is underlined by climate change, the loss of biodiversity, poverty, hunger and economic practices involving high resource consumption.

Goals of Germany's National Sustainability Strategy

Germany's National Sustainability Strategy, which was adopted in 2002, sets out quantified goals for 21 key areas related to sustainable development. Reliably measurable indicators and concrete years for target achievement have been stipulated for them. The German government and the Federal Statistical Office regularly review to what extent these targets have been achieved and where further action is needed.

The following goals of the National Sustainability Strategy are particularly important for environmental policy:

  • To double raw material productivity between 1994 and 2020.
  • To double energy productivity between 1990 and 2020.
  • To reduce primary energy consumption by 20% by 2020 compared to 2008, and by 50% by 2050.
  • To reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 21 percent (compared to 1990 levels) by 2010/2012. This goal was already achieved in 2008. To reduce the emissions of climate gases by 40 percent by 2020 and by 80 to 95 percent by 2050 (compared to 1990).
  • To raise the share of renewable energies in final energy consumption to 18% by 2020 and to 60% by 2050.
  • To increase the share of electricity from renewable sources in total electricity consumption to at least 35% by 2020 and at least 80% by 2050.
  • To limit, by 2020, the use of undeveloped land in Germany to 30 hectares per day. In comparison: for the period between 1993-1996 it was 140 hectares per day; in 2012 74 hectares.
  • To increase biological diversity in Germany to an index value of 100 by 2015. Over the past 10 years of observation (2001 - 2011) the indicator value deteriorated to only 63 percent (2011) of the target value.

Germany's National Sustainable Development Strategy is an essential framework for implementing the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development at national level. For the 2016 progress report on the National Sustainable Development Strategy the further development of goals and indicators is planned, which will also include the goals of the 2030 Agenda.

Policy of the Federal Government

Federal Government policy is guided by the principle of sustainability. It emphatically supports the process initiated in Rio de Janeiro in 1992.

National Sustainability Strategy

The National Sustainability Strategy "Prospects for Germany" is continuously being taken forward. The strategy is based on four core principles: intergenerational equity, quality of life, social cohesion and international responsibility. Taking the strategy forward includes implementing the strategy in political decision-making processes and in the German government's everyday activities. The guiding principle of sustainable development is thus applied to government action and in other areas, such as public procurement and business trips. Federal Government’s “Sustainability Measures Programme”.

National Sustainability Strategy progress reports

The Federal Government regularly publishes progress reports on the National Sustainability Strategy. With its progress reports produced every four years, it helps to make oversight of the strategy credible and comprehensible. The most recent progress report was published in 2012.

The Indicator Reports, which have been published every two years by the Federal Statistical Office since 2006, are a key element of that reporting process. They provide detailed information about developments in the 21 core areas of the sustainability policy. Since 2008 the Federal Statistical Office has also assessed trends associated with these indicators and depicts the result using weather symbols to make them easier to understand.

The most recent report was published in the summer of 2014.

Sustainability check for draft laws

Since May 2009 ministries have had to carry out a sustainability check (an impact assessment from the point of view of sustainability) for each draft law or ordinance. The Parliamentary Advisory Council on Sustainable Development is responsible for reviewing these results.

Federal Committee of State Secretaries for Sustainable Development

The Federal Committee of State Secretaries for Sustainable Development, which comprises permanent state secretaries from all federal ministries, is an important committee when it comes to the German government's sustainability policy. The Federal Committee is responsible for all important decisions concerning the Sustainability Strategy. It plays a key role in implementing the National Sustainability Strategy and ensures that it is continuously updated. Its findings are published on the committee's internet page.

Consumer information

Sustainability is not only a task of the state. Each and every citizen can help to strengthen the principle of sustainability in our society. For instance when buying everyday foodstuffs or clothes, when it comes to energy consumption or when choosing where to go on holiday. The focus is on environmentally friendly and resource-saving consumption and investment. By consciously deciding to buy sustainable products consumers can motivate companies to apply the principle of sustainability to their production procedures. Sustainability benefits all of us. Curiosity and creativity are needed when it comes to mainstreaming this idea in our society.