Germany: Environmental Issues, Policies and Clean Technology

Welcome to Germany

Germany has a diverse range of ecosystems: coastlines along the Baltic and North seas, fertile plains, highlands, forests, and the mountainous Alps in the southern part of the country. Despite being surrounded by an array of breathtaking ecosystems and scenery, Germans tend to live in urban areas, with around 86 percent of the population living in cities. Germany also has one of the lowest birthrates in the world.

With a population of 80,716,000 (2014 estimate), it is the 16th most populated country in the world and the most populous state of the European Union (62nd in the world). Second only to the United States, Germany is also a very popular destination for migrants. Four years after the Second World War, Germany was effectively split in two – West Germany and East Germany – eventually being officially reunited on October 3, 1990.

Germany's climate can be desribed as a temperate seasonal climate and it is dominated by humid westerly winds. The Northern extension of the Gulf Stream, the North Atlantic Drift, moderates Germany's climate and as a result the north and northwest coastal regions have an oceanic climate.

Environmental Issues of Germany

Like many industrialized nations, Germany has a significant air pollution problem, but unlike other Western countries it has worsened in recent years.

After the Fukushima nuclear disaster of 2011, Chancellor Angela Merkel and the German government adopted a policy of phasing out the country’s nuclear power plants. To do so, the government allowed for utilities to burn more coal and as a result, the air pollution levels in 2012 and 2013 were two of the highest since the 1980s.

Nuclear power plant in Grohnde near Hameln in Lower Saxony, Germany.
Image credit: Thorsten Schier /

In addition to air pollution, decades of open-cast mining in East Germany has resulted in significant water pollution in some rivers. During mining days, the areas around the mine were drain of water, but now that the mines are no longer in operation – water levels have risen and caused a brown sludge to start filling up the Spree River, killing wildlife in the popular tourist attraction and UNESCO biosphere reserve.

Environmental Policies of Germany

Germany, like the rest of the world, faces the consequences of global warming and the country has been one of the global leaders in battling carbon emissions.

One effort involves the increasing the efficiency of the use of resources. The German government has set a goal of trying to use fewer resources while maintaining the same amount of prosperity and according to a 2014 report, efficient use of raw materials in 2020 is expected to be double that of 1994.

Germany's Renewable Energy Revolution
Video credit: Germany Trade & Invest (GTAI) / YouTube

The Germany government has also aggressively pursued the implementation of renewable energy production. In 2013, 12 percent of final energy consumption came from renewable energy sources, according to the European Environmental Agency. Renewables also accounted for 9.1 percent of heat and 5.5 percent of fuel consumption.

Germany also made headlines in 2015 when its cabinet passed some of the strictest standards in the world for fracking. Some observers say if the law passes German parliament, it could set the stage for a nationwide fracking ban.

Clean Technology in Germany

Germany is often mentioned among the world leaders in clean technology and according to the United Nations Framework for Climate Change, the number of German clean technology patents more than tripled between 2007 and 2013. The UNFCC said the spike in German innovation is largely driven by the country’s Renewable Energy Act, which includes tariffs specifically for clean technology.

The country is currently embracing its Energiewende, or "energy turn,” policy as it tries to position itself as a future provider of renewable energy technology to the rest of the world.

Solar power plant under construction in Germany, Saxony, near Gera.
Image credit: anyaivanova /

Solar energy makes up a large part of Germanys renewable push, responsible for more than 900 patents in 2013. German innovators are pursuing two types of solar energy: conventional photovoltaics and concentrated solar power (CSP). As the name implies, CSP involves using mirrors atop a tower to bundle together the sun’s rays on a single, central receiver. The technology generates heat, which can either be stored or used to create electricity through a standard turbine.

Germans are also intently focus on wind power innovation, with 800 patents in 2013. These patents involve aspects of rotor blades, integration into the grid, offshore wind farms and electricity storage.

A Clean Future?

Germany clean tech innovation took a significant downturn in 2013 due to economic forces, signifying the importance of a healthy economy when it comes to clean technology. In keeping with this relationship, the prospects of a clean future for Germany are somewhat tied to the overall health of the Eurozone.

However, reports indicate that Germany is on target to reach the government’s goal of 35 percent of all electricity to be from renewable sources by 2020. Furthermore, consulting firm Roland Berger Strategy Consultants has projected green technologies to comprise 14 percent of Germany’s gross domestic product by 2020.

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  1. Jacob Jake Grimme Jacob Jake Grimme United States says:

    Germany sucks

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