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In 2020, Germany emitted a total of 728.7 million tonnes of CO2 equivalents. This is roughly 71 million tonnes or 8.9% less than in 2019 and 41.3% less compared to the figure for 1990. These are the results of the finalised calculations that the Federal Environment Agency has submitted to the European Commission. The energy industry is the sector to have posted the largest decrease in emissions. The 407.4 million tonnes of CO2 equivalents emitted in 2020 in areas not covered by European emissions trading (i.e. especially transport and buildings) are within Germany’s budget allowance according to the effort-sharing decision (ESD). However, the small surplus of 3.5 million tonnes is not enough to balance out the deficit accumulated in the preceding years. Germany therefore has to purchase emission certificates from other Member States.

Patrick Graichen, State Secretary at the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Climate Action, comments: “We are confronted with an enormous challenge in the field of climate policy. We must speed up and actively shape the transformation of our economy and of our society. The climate targets for 2030 demand that we almost triple the present rate at which we are reducing our emissions.
If we are to comply with the annual caps of emissions set out in the Federal Climate Change Act, we must take additional measures that will affect all sectors.
The start of the Immediate Climate Action Programme paves the way for all the necessary legislation and measures.”

Says Dirk Messner, President of the Federal Environment Agency: “The COVID-19 crisis brought down our emissions quite considerably in 2020. This change is not to last, though, as our initial projections for 2021 suggest that emissions have been rising again. If we are to make Germany climate-neutral by 2045, we therefore need more wind and solar energy, more electric mobility, and a transition towards renewables in the heating sector, as well as a fundamental transformation in industrial production. Now that the first steps have been taken, all ministries must start to implement these changes.” The Federal Environment Agency will publish its full projection concerning Germany’s CO2 emissions in 2021 on 15 March 2022.

In 2020, the energy industry was able to considerably reduce its emissions, down 38.1 million tonnes or 15.2%. Hard coal and lignite, in particular, were used to a much lesser extent. By the same token, natural gas, which is lower in emissions, was used to a slightly higher degree, as a result of falling gas prices and comparatively high prices for emission certificates. Favourable conditions for onshore wind energy also meant higher levels of electricity generation from renewables. At the same time, electricity consumption dropped due to the COVID-19 crisis. Together, all these factors caused emissions to fall by unexpected margins – despite the fact that the Philippsburg 2 nuclear power plant was disconnected from the grid at the end of 2019, meaning lower levels of electricity from nuclear energy. The most pronounced reduction was recorded in the lignite segment, with several lignite-fired power plants moved into security stand-by mode in 2019. This still had a positive effect on emissions in 2020. Following a significant increase in the preceding year already, electricity generation from hard coal fell once again in 2020, even though the Datteln 4 power station entered into service.

Emissions from private households were up 0.3 million tonnes of CO2 equivalents (or 0.3%), whereas emissions from commerce, trade and services fell by 2 million tonnes of CO2 equivalents (or 7.0%). With restaurants, theatres, swimming pools etc. closed during lockdown, this also brought down emissions. By contrast, sales of fuel oil saw a slight rise sparked by comparatively low prices and the announcement of the start of national emissions trading for emissions from fuel as of 2021. That said, this stockpiling effect was considerably less pronounced than in 2019.

Emissions from transport fell considerably in 2020 compared to 2019, despite another increase in the number of vehicles on Germany’s roads for the 13th consecutive year. At 147.2 million tonnes of CO2 equivalents, emissions from transport are almost eleven per cent below the level of 2019, which is back below the figure for 1990. Emissions from passenger cars dropped by as much as 13 per cent compared to the preceding year. To a large extent, these reductions are the result of a fall in mobility caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. An increase in the number of electric cars and higher proportions of biofuel had a much smaller effect on emissions. As for trucks, despite the pandemic, their combined distance travelled was not much less than during the preceding year, with emissions from commercial vehicles falling 5%. Emissions from domestic aviation went down considerably (-53%).

So-called ‘fugitive’ greenhouse gas emissions, e.g. from mine gas, fell by 0.4 million tonnes of CO2 equivalents or 5.1% compared to the preceding year.

Emissions from industrial processes also saw a considerable decline, falling by more than seven per cent or 4.3 million tonnes of CO2 equivalents. This had a lot to do with economic developments caused by the COVID-19 crisis, which affected different sectors to varying extents. The most drastic decline in emissions was seen in the steel industry and caused by a strong fall in crude steel production. Overall, the goods-producing sectors posted slight reductions in emissions.

Similarly, greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture also experienced a slight decline, falling by 0.8 million tonnes to 56.1 million tonnes of CO2 equivalents. This marks a continuation of the trend seen in previous years, resulting from a comparatively mild use of mineral fertilizers, a drop in cattle herds and another year of dry weather.

Emissions by type of greenhouse gas
Accounting for almost 88% of Germany’s greenhouse gas emissions, carbon dioxide – mostly released during the burning of fossil fuels – continues to be by far the most important greenhouse gas in Germany. Methane (CH4) and nitrous oxide (N2o) account for 6.7% and just under 4% respectively and are largely generated in the agricultural sector. Emissions of carbon dioxide have fallen by 39.2% compared to 1990, methane by 58.7% and nitrous oxide by 51.4%.

Fluorinated greenhouse gases, whilst accounting for only approx. 1.7% of all greenhouse gas emissions, tend to have a very high greenhouse effect nevertheless. These emissions have fallen by 28.9% compared to 1995.

Context: effort-sharing decision (ESD)
The regulations on effort-sharing put in place binding annual targets for the EU Member States on the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions in the periods of 2013-2020 and 2021-2030. These targets cover emissions from most sectors that are not subject to the EU Emissions Trading System, including transport, buildings, agriculture, waste management and parts of the industrial sector.

The exact calculations of the emissions relevant under the ESD and, by extension, of the need for purchases of certificates from other Member States are done by the European Commission. Bonuses from preceding years, a purchase of certificates and emissions avoided in 2020 can be used to offset excess emissions.

Further information
The changes compared to the first published estimate of greenhouse gas emissions in 2020 (cf. press release 07/2021 from 15 March 2020) result from updates of the provisional statistical data.

In line with the Federal Climate Change Act, the official estimate of greenhouse gas emissions in 2021 will be presented by the Federal Environment Agency in March 2022.

Further information can be found here.