Roadmap to a climate-neutral Germany

Climate Action Plan 2050 – Germany's long-term low greenhouse gas emission development strategy

Kompass 2050


The German government adopted the Climate Action Plan 2050 in November 2016, making Germany one of the first countries to submit the long-term low greenhouse gas emission development strategy to the UN as required under the Paris Agreement. The Climate Action Plan 2050 confirms and defines in more detail the German government’s ambitious climate targets.

Germany’s long-term goal is to become largely greenhouse gas-neutral by 2050. This is based on the goal stipulated in the Paris Agreement to achieve global carbon neutrality in the second half of the century. The German target also reflects the country’s particular responsibility as a leading industrialised nation and the EU’s strongest economy.

The medium-term target is to cut greenhouse gas emissions in Germany by at least 55 percent by 2030 compared to 1990 levels. In its Climate Action Plan 2050, the German government also lays down 2030 targets for the individual sectors, describes the necessary development pathways, lists initial measures for implementation and establishes a process for monitoring and updating policies and measures. With this plan, Germany is doing its part to achieve the international target set out in the Paris Agreement to keep global warming to significantly below 2 degrees Celsius or even limit it to no more than 1.5 degrees Celsius.

The Climate Action Plan 2050 maps out the process for achieving Germany’s climate targets for all areas of action in line with the Paris Agreement. These areas of action are energy, buildings, transport, trade and industry, agriculture and forestry. The plan also lays down the first emission reduction targets for individual sectors for 2030, which will provide guidance for strategic decisions over the coming years. In addition, the plan envisages monitoring and public participation. The first programme of measures under the Climate Action Plan 2050 is slated to be submitted at the end of 2018 and will include measures to ensure that the 2030 target is achieved.

Development of the Climate Action Plan 2050

The 2013 coalition agreement stipulated: "In Germany, we intend to codify the further reduction steps in light of European targets and the results of the 2015 Paris Climate Change Conference up to the target value of 80 to 95 percent in 2050, and to back this up with measures (climate action plan) as part of a broad dialogue process."

The dialogue process began in summer 2015 and was concluded in March 2016. In 2016, the German government drew up the Climate Action Plan 2050 on the basis of scientific studies and scenarios and in light of the Paris Agreement, taking into account the proposals from the broadly based dialogue.

Previously, federal states, municipalities, associations and citizens had jointly developed proposals for strategic climate measures up to 2030. In March 2016 they presented the German Environment Minister with the resulting list of 97 proposed measures.

Goals and content

The Climate Action Plan 2050 outlines a modernisation strategy for the necessary transformation towards a low-carbon economy in Germany on three levels:

  • It contains specific guiding principles for the individual areas of action for 2050, leaving scope for innovations and striving to maximise sustainability.
  • It outlines robust transformation pathways for all areas of action, highlights critical path dependencies and describes interdependencies.
  • It underpins goals, in particular the interim GHG target for 2030 of at least a 55 percent reduction in GHG emissions compared to 1990, with emission targets for all sectors, concrete milestones and strategic measures, also taking impact and cost analyses into account.

The management rules and goals of the German government’s sustainability strategy also need to be taken into account when shaping the transition to a greenhouse gas-neutral economy and society. Climate action that is successful in the long run must go hand in hand with sustainable resource use and resource conservation and must not threaten biodiversity conservation. To achieve the 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the focus should be on reducing greenhouse gases by increasing energy efficiency. Social and economic requirements must be considered when structuring the transformation.

Sectoral targets in the Climate Action Plan 2050

The Climate Action Plan 2050 describes the areas of action of energy, industry, buildings, transport, agriculture, land use and forestry. It also sets overarching targets and measures.

Restructuring the energy sector is a key aspect of the plan. The energy transition laid important groundwork in this sector. The further expansion of renewable energies and the gradual phasing out of electricity from fossil fuels will reduce the energy sector's emissions by 61 to 62 percent by 2030 compared to 1990. One measure for this sector involved the establishment of a commission by the German government for growth, structural change and regional development. The government set up the commission in June 2018 as part of the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy with the involvement of other ministries. The commission comprised representatives of the federal states, municipalities, trade unions, affected businesses and sectors and regional stakeholders. To ensure a successful transformation process, it was necessary to develop realistic prospects for the industries and regions affected, to agree on the resulting implementation strategies and to create the necessary financial conditions. The commission presented its final report in January 2019. It recommended the phase-out of coal-fired power generation in Germany by 2038 at the latest, if possible by 2035. The commission also made recommendations on specific prospects for the coal regions.

In 2016 the German government stipulated targets for the greenhouse gas emissions in all sectors for 2030 in its Climate Action Plan 2050.

The reduction target for industry was set at 49 to 51 percent by 2030 compared to 1990. One of the measures for this sector involved the German government joining forces with industry to launch a research and development programme aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions from industrial processes and guided by the target of greenhouse gas neutrality. The option of industrial CO2 recycling (carbon capture and utilisation, CCU) is taken into account in this context. In addition, energy efficiency measures such as tapping the existing potential of waste heat were intended to help reduce greenhouse gases. At present, nearly 70 percent of industry’s final energy demand is for fuel. That is reflected in the large amounts of heat, including waste heat, that are produced. In future, the goal is to use this waste heat consistently and strategically both in industry and homes. All options are being considered, including power generation and use in local heating systems and district heating networks. Existing programmes and measures will be used as a basis.

For the buildings sector, a roadmap has been drawn up for achieving a virtually climate-neutral building stock. As buildings have a very long service life, the foundations for 2050 need to be laid early. The goal is a reduction of 66 to 67 percent by 2030 compared to 1990. Achieving a virtually climate-neutral building stock by 2050 depends on ambitious standards for new buildings, long-term strategies for upgrading existing buildings and gradually phasing out fossil-fuel heating systems. As a result, the zero-energy building standard for new buildings, which will apply from 2021 onwards, will be progressively developed in order to achieve a medium-term standard for new buildings that is virtually climate-neutral. This will make installing new heating systems that use renewable energy sources efficiently a far more attractive option than those that run on fossil fuels. To support this goal, appropriate incentives for using and constructing buildings that generate more energy than they use will be reviewed. By 2050 existing buildings are also due to be upgraded through energy efficiency measures and greater use of renewable energy so that they meet the standards of virtually climate-neutral buildings. The energy requirements for existing buildings will therefore be developed gradually until 2030, also with a view to economic aspects.

The transport sector will contribute a reduction of 40 to 42 percent (compared to 1990) to the 2030 climate target. A number of climate strategies will identify measures for achieving this target. A climate strategy for road transport will outline how greenhouse gas emissions can be reduced by 2030, taking into consideration the corresponding proposals made at EU level. The strategy will address emissions from cars, light and heavy commercial vehicles and issues related to GHG-free energy supply, the requisite infrastructure and the interlinking of sectors (through electric mobility). Alternative drives, local public transport, rail transport, cycling, walking and a digitalisation strategy will also play a key role in the transport sector.

Agriculture will contribute a reduction of 31 to 34 percent (compared to 1990) to the 2030 target. This includes a significant reduction in nitrous oxide emissions arising from over-fertilisation. In addition, the German government plans to advocate in Brussels that EU agricultural subsidies be aligned with the EU climate policy decisions. The mitigation potential is generally limited in the agricultural sector. The German government will work with the federal states to ensure full implementation and consistent enforcement of fertiliser legislation, particularly the Fertilisers Ordinance and the planned ordinance on good nutrient management practice on farms, thereby ensuring that the German Sustainable Development Strategy’s target of 70 kg/N/ha between 2028 and 2032 is achieved.

Emissions in the areas of action contributing to the target

Area of action1990
(in million tonnes of  CO2-Äquivalent)
(in million tonnes of  CO2-Äquivalent)
(in million tonnes of  CO2-Äquivalent)
(reduction in percent compared to 1990)
Total1248902543 to 56256 to 55
Energy sector466358175 to 18362 to 61
Buildings20911970 to 7267 to 66
Transport16316095 to 9842 to 40
Industry283181140 to 14351 to 49
Agriculture887258 to 6134 to 31
Subtotal1209890538 to 55756 to 54

Source: Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety (2016). Climate Action Plan 2050.

For land use and forestry, which are not included in the assessment of whether the targets have been met, the focus is on maintaining and improving the forest’s capacity to act as a sink – for example the reduction of emissions through CO2 sequestration in plants and soils. To achieve this, efforts will be geared towards expanding Germany's forests. Additional aspects include sustainable forestry management and the closely associated use of wood, permanent grassland conservation, protection of peatlands and the potential of natural forest development to mitigate climate change. The German government is also working to ensure that a greater emphasis is placed on combating climate change in the "forests" funding area of the Joint Task for the Improvement of Agricultural Structures and Coastal Protection.

As part of the overarching measures formulated in the Climate Action Plan 2050, the German government will review how the system of taxes and levies can be developed further with a view to achieving the 2050 climate targets. The German government will strengthen economic incentives which encourage polluters to reduce their environmental footprint and move towards more sustainable production and consumption patterns. To this end, taxes that create incentives harmful to the climate will also be reviewed. The effects of any changes on low-income households and on the international competitiveness of the affected industries will also be taken into account. The sectoral targets were subject to an impact assessment as stipulated in the Climate Action Plan 2050.

The Federal Climate Change Act adopted in 2019 made the 2030 sectoral targets more concrete and laid down the annual sectoral emission budgets.

Monitoring and updating the Climate Action Plan 2050

The German government’s Climate Action Plan 2050 will basically be reviewed and updated in line with the stocktake of the NDCs every five years as laid down in the Paris Agreement. Regular updates of the Climate Action Plan 2050 serve to implement the mechanism set out in the Paris Agreement for progressively raising the ambition of national climate policies. The first update of the Climate Action Plan 2050 will most likely begin in 2022 including an increased level of ambition of the joint EU climate target as proposed by the European Commission.

The intermediate targets and milestones, the relevant transformation pathways and the associated measures will be continuously reviewed to ensure that they are consistent with achieving the targets. If necessary, measures will be adapted to keep pace with technological, societal, political, social and economic trends and changes, and with the latest scientific findings. In 2019, the Climate Action Plan 2050 was underpinned with a concrete programme of measures. This programme aims to ensure that the 2030 reduction target is reached and the sectoral budgets laid down in the Federal Climate Change Act are kept. In a first step, possible environmental, social and economic impacts of the proposals for measures were considered. The programmes of measures are being drawn up by the ministries responsible for the energy, transport, buildings, industry, agriculture and waste sectors in coordination with the German Bundestag and with the participation of social stakeholders, for example as part of the Climate Action Alliance.

Reviewing and updating the Climate Action Plan and developing and revising programmes of measures requires scientific analyses of scenarios and of the effectiveness, costs, results and ancillary effects, as well as the economic and social opportunities and risks. The Scientific Platform on Climate Change supports the German government in this endeavour.

The Climate Action Plan 2050 itself will continue to be reviewed and updated in future as part of a public dialogue process with broad participation by the federal states, local authorities, the private sector, civil groups and the public. The participation processes related to the Climate Action Plan 2050 will be regularly evaluated and further developed.