The 2012 Progress Report

Sustainability The 2012 Progress Report

The National Sustainable Development Strategy was first presented at the UN World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg in 2002. Through a total of three extensive reports (2004, 2008, 2012), this strategy has been continuously updated.

Checking the progress

Checking the progress

Photo: BilderBox / Erwin Wodicka

On 15 February 2012, the German government published the most recent Progress Report of the country’s National Sustainability Strategy. Sustainability is becoming increasingly important as the principle that guides our actions throughout society. This is reflected in both the indicators and in political structures.

Is Germany now more sustainable? What is the German government planning in order to forge ahead with sustainable development? The 2012 Progress Report has the answers.

To enable us to objectively verify where Germany stands in terms of sustainability, the German government uses a set of indicators. For every one of the 38 indicators, which are broken down into sections (Intergenerational equity, Quality of life, Social cohesion and International responsibility), the government has identified a specific target that is to be achieved. The Federal Statistical Office is responsible for calculating precisely what progress has been made.

Balanced trends

For 2012 we can firstly say that of the 38 indicators, progress made on 19 was judged to be largely positive by the statistical experts. Achievements in reducing greenhouse gas emissions and expanding the use of renewable energies demonstrate that it is worthwhile making an effort. Positive trends were identified in the fields of climate change mitigation, renewable energies, economic performance, student enrolment and the number of older members of the workforce still in employment.

In other fields, however, progress is still not satisfactory. These include land use, mobility, species diversity and equal earnings for men and women.

The government has concluded that politicians and society alike will have to weather further major changes if sustainability targets are to be realised.

Sustainability will require us to rethink economic activity

2012 marks Germany’s second year of efforts to put its energy supply on a more sustainable footing. This year, the principle of sustainability figures high on the international political agenda, because 2012 also marks the twentieth anniversary of the birth of the concept of sustainability at the 1992 Earth Summit. This is why the United Nations staged a second international conference this year (Rio+20, the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development) to look at the green economy and the international framework for sustainable development.

Against this backdrop the Progress Report on sustainability focuses on the following topics:

  • The green economy
  • Climate and energy
  • Sustainable water resources management policy

The green economy

The green economy depends on entrepreneurial activities that take place within a framework put in place by the government, and on the decisions made by consumers on what to purchase. It is particularly important to note that more and more consumers are basing their decisions not only on the price, brand name and quality of a product, but also on whether or not the product has been produced in line with environmental and social standards. This impacts production methods in Germany and around the globe.

The German government will continue to help strengthen the green economy at both national and international levels. This also includes supporting and promoting the concept of corporate social responsibility (CSR), which brings together independent entrepreneurial actions and acceptance of the social responsibility of private-sector businesses. It is a voluntary commitment that goes beyond legal requirements. The German government

  • supports small and medium enterprises in their CSR activities;
  • pools the information available on CSR and the support available from individual ministries;
  • raises the awareness of the general public;
  • devised a concept “CSR – Made in Germany”;
  • integrates CSR into education, training, academic work and research;
  • steps up the importance of CSR at international level and in the development context.

At the international level too, Germany is working towards robust, sustainable, balanced growth. The G20 is an important forum in this context.

The financial sector also needs a sustainable framework

The financial and economic crisis hit in the period under review. It opened our eyes to the importance of gearing financial policy towards a guiding vision of sustainability and long-term viability.

In the Progress Report, the German government reaffirms that we cannot simply return to business as usual. The regulatory principles of the social market economy must be beefed up and the vision of sustainable development translated into practice. It is up to politicians to put in place an enabling environment such that businesses can take the opportunity to strike out along new paths and embrace innovations, while accepting responsibility for the consequences of their actions. The German government is working at a European and international level to achieve this.

Climate and energy

The German government’s 2010 Energy Concept already pointed the way towards an era of renewable energies. In 2011 the government, along with the German parliament, the Bundestag, and the Bundesrat, representing the individual German federal states, adopted another far reaching package of measures. The Fukushima disaster taught us that speed is of the essence as we endeavour to put our energy supply on a more sustainable footing.

In 2011 the German government once again reaffirmed ambitious reduction targets for greenhouse gas emissions: by 2020 they are to be cut by 40%, by 2030 by 55%, by 2040 by 70% and by 2050 by as much as 80 to 95% – taking 1990 as the base year in each case.

The German government’s energy concept – objectives and the way forward

The use of renewable energies is to be stepped up such that renewables account for a major percentage of power generated. The percentage of the country’s gross final energy consumption generated from renewables is to rise from about 10% in 2010 to 60% in 2050. By 2050 at the latest, a minimum of 80% of the electricity supply is to be generated from renewables (the target was updated in the 2012 Renewable Energies Act, EEG).

Reduction of energy consumption in the long term

By 2050 primary energy consumption is to be cut by 50% in comparison to 2008. If we are to achieve this, energy productivity must rise by an average of 2.1% per annum, in terms of final energy consumption.

Electricity consumption is to be cut by 25% by 2050, as compared to 2008; even by 2020 it is to be cut by 10%.

The renovation of older buildings to make them more energy efficient is to be stepped up. Currently about 1% of the building stock is renovated per annum; this is to be doubled to 2%.

The final energy consumption in the traffic and transport sector is to be cut by about 40% by 2050, compared to 2005 levels.

Germany has made significant progress on expanding the plants available to generate power from wind, solar energy and biomass. More than 20% of electricity is now generated from renewable energy sources. This progress is largely attributable to the Renewable Energies Act (EEG), which provides fixed rates for producers of green energy. The secure framework for investment thus created has triggered dynamic growth in many fields of renewables.

Energy efficiency is another key to ensuring that renewable energies account for a high percentage of the power supply and achieving the targets laid out in the Energy Concept, while ensuring that the economic side of progress is also rational.

In Germany there is still a huge potential for saving energy and electricity. These options should be maximised, as far as economically and technically possible. The German government is placing its faith in the willingness of industry and individual citizens to accept their responsibility and do their bit.

New, more efficient power grids

In Germany today, most power is still generated relatively close to where it is used. In future a lot more power will be generated at sea and along the coast. In addition to this a large number of decentralised generating plants, including solar power plants and biomass plants, will be feeding electricity into the national grid. This makes a modern, effective grid a crucial precondition for raising the percentage of the electricity supply generated from renewables.

The government aims to make Germany one of the most progressive and energy-efficient economies on the planet with competitive energy prices, a secure energy supply and a high level of prosperity.

On the way to a sustainable future, we must be open and learn from new findings. The events of March 2011 in Fukushima demonstrated only too clearly that even a high-tech country cannot neutralise all the risks involved in the use of nuclear power. This is why the German government has decided to phase out the use of nuclear power by 2022.

The effort to put Germany’s power supply on a new and more viable footing is a huge challenge for private business and citizens alike, while also calling for massive investment in infrastructure. One thing is clear. Decades will be needed to complete the shift to alternative power sources. We will only succeed if there is broad support within society for the shift and for all it will entail.

Above all, we must not lose sight of the positive prospects – the technological and economic opportunities for competitiveness and for protecting the global climate and the natural resource base on which we all depend.

Sustainable water resources management policy

A water resources management policy based on the principles of sustainability will ensure that the generations to come have the water resources they need and will preserve or restore the ecological balance of our water resources. Water resources management policy is then a cross-cutting permanent issue that calls for our continuous and determined commitment.

While we might think it quite normal to have adequate supplies of good quality water, many countries are finding it increasingly difficult to ensure affordable access. Rising populations, the expansion of farmland, the increasingly intensive farming methods used, and economic growth have, in global terms, led to the worsening pollution and contamination of water resources. The lack of any adequate access to a reliable supply of drinking water and the lack of sanitation and of sewage treatment facilities are in many places a major cause of poverty, malnutrition and disease. This is why the sustainable management of water resources, water supplies and sanitation are a priority area of German development policy.

The global trade in goods and services is also pushing up the consumption of water resources that are urgently needed elsewhere. German development policy is working, for instance, with water-guzzling industries like cut flower growers and the beverages industry, to identify and present their water footprint, and thus make them aware of their water consumption. The next step is then to reduce consumption and help avoid conflicts over the allocation of scarce water resources.

Spotlight on other aspects of the progress report

Mobility: The planning of roads must better harmonise the demand of society for mobility and the imperatives of protecting the environment, natural resources and landscapes. Contiguous areas must be preserved, and bio-corridors restored. Mobility concepts are also needed that take into account social and demographic trends as well as the rising number of older members of society. This will call for more efficient regional and settlement planning.

The German government aims to support research and development, and help get innovative engine technology and fuels ready for the market, on a technology-neutral basis, supported by a broad-based mobility and fuel strategy. The government aims to get more of the general public back on their bikes in future; pilot projects are already helping to make cycling a more attractive option.

Forests: The German government would ideally like to see all of Germany’s forests managed in as natural a way as possible. The aim is to achieve a viable balance between the rising demands made of forests and what they can sustainably be expected to produce.

Health: Nursing care insurance must be further supported, so that all citizens will in future be able to claim their entitlement to care with dignity.

In-company health promotion schemes: The government makes a significant contribution to supporting older members of the workforce.

Social integration, demography and migration: A separate demography strategy presented in April 2012 provided the response of the German government to the radical changes in the country’s population structure.

Global challenges: Parallel to climate change negotiations at UN level, the German government is placing its faith in concrete cooperation with developing countries and emerging economies. Over the last few years it has steadily stepped up its commitment to climate change mitigation and adjustment to climate change in developing countries. Since 2011, all official development cooperation measures have been subjected to an environmental and climate assessment.

Under the provisions of the International Climate Initiative, projects have been promoted in developing countries and emerging economies since 2008. The government provides more than 700 million euros every year to improve the health situation in developing countries.

Germany is also calling for sustainable environmental and development policy at international level. The United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development held in June 2012 in Rio de Janeiro offered an opportunity to make genuine progress. Germany worked with the EU to achieve ambitious goals.

The German government has affirmed its commitment to the goals laid out in the Millennium Declaration, and the commitments it has accepted in this regard. Germany will also be actively involved in thrashing out a model to replace the Millennium Development Goals as of 2015.

Sustainable development policy: The German government aims to enhance the effectiveness of development cooperation. That is why it has merged the three technical cooperation institutions, GTZ, InWEnt and DED, to form the GIZ. Parallel to this we have concentrated Germany’s development work on key sectors, stepped up the human rights approach, entered into more development partnerships with the private sector, and strengthened the role played by civil society.

General education and vocational training: The German government is working to facilitate access to good education and training, to improve vocational training and to foster life-long learning.

Research and development: The German government has made 2012 the science year of sustainability under the banner “Project EARTH: Our Future”. Various major research initiatives in the field of sustainability are also ongoing:

  • The High-Tech Strategy
  • The framework programme “Research for Sustainable Development”
  • The master plan for environmental technologies
  • The energy research programme.

Sustainability and its path through German institutions

Sustainability is a guiding principle which calls for changed behaviour patterns across all policy fields.

To enable us to live up to this demanding policy approach, the German government has taken certain specific steps since the last progress report was published in 2008:

  • Sustainability is now a criterion against which all draft legislation is checked. Since 2009 every bill submitted by the government is reviewed to ascertain what impacts it is likely to have in terms of sustainable development. The Parliamentary Advisory Council on Sustainable Development then checks whether or not the review is appropriate.
  • The State Secretary Committee for Sustainable Development, which reviews the implementation of the national sustainability strategy, has been beefed up. All ministries are represented and provide information on their activities for sustainability in separate ministerial reports.
  • Cooperation with the individual federal states has been stepped up, for instance in the fields of procurement and land use.
  • At the Federal Chancellery a sectoral division is primarily responsible for managing the realisation of the national sustainability strategy.