Statistics show German environment on the up

A report by the governmental statistical office has revealed over the last 10 years the strain put on Germany’s natural environment by economic activities, production and household consumption has decreased.

2001 Environmental-Economic Accounting, compares stress on the environment between 1990 and 2000, and praises increased efficiency for the majority of the reduction in stress on the German environment which include: a 1.9% decline in the consumption of raw materials between 1991 and 2000; a 2% drop in energy consumption over the same period; an 11.4% saving in the amount of water drawn from natural sources between 1991 and 1998; a 15% drop in emissions of carbon dioxide between 1990 and 2000, and; a 65.6% fall in emissions of sulphur dioxide and nitrogen oxides between 1991 and 1999. The one area where the trend was visibly blocked was in the increase of so-called “built-up and traffic areas” which increased by 7.8%, from 40,300 square kilometres (15,700 sq miles) in 1993 to 43,450 sq km (17,000 sq miles) in 2000.

The Office points out that between 1991 and 2000, adjusted for price changes, the increase in the gross domestic product was 15.1%, meaning that with the exception of the increase in the built-up and traffic area, the link between economic growth and the consumption of natural resources was broken. Regarding both water consumption and the discharge of carbon dioxide into the environment, savings were much higher in the production sector than in households. Between 1991 and 1998, the consumption of water was down 8.5% in households, while the corresponding decline in industry amounted to 11.6%. Likewise, CO2 emissions by households, including the consumption of fuel by private vehicles, declined 3.9% between 1991 and 1999, while industry emissions were down 14.5%.

The Office attributes this decreased stress on the environment largely to the increase in efficient use of natural resources. For example, the specific water consumption – the ratio between water input and the amount of goods produced – was improved in almost all sectors of economic activity. Between 1991 and 1998, a particularly strong decline in the specific water input was observed in the manufacture of basic metals, with a 43% decrease, pulp, paper and paper products (35%), other non-metallic mineral products (32%), and in the manufacture of chemicals and chemical products (28%).

These drops were also mirrored in the relationship between CO2 emissions and their traditionally large emitters, the Federal Statistical Office says. Between 1991 and 1999, considerably sharp CO2 emission declines were recorded in the manufacture of chemicals and chemical products, which were 41% down, the manufacture of pulp, paper and paper products (37%), and also in electricity, gas and hot water supply (24%). The Office does admit, however, that structural changes in the economy had an effect almost as considerable as the more efficient energy input on these figures, as CO2 discharges from the far lower emitters, the service industry, actually increased over this time.

Moreover, the Office adds, decreases in CO2 emissions in Germany over the past decade are not the result of relocating emission-intensive production activities to other countries, either. In 1991, the level of emissions recorded in Germany for the production of exported goods was 28 million tonnes higher than the level recorded abroad for the production of imported goods. By 1999, the level rose to 39 million tonnes. Consequently, the emission surplus of the German economy increased slightly.

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