A compass for a sustainable future

A future in which nature and the climate are protected, fewer people suffer hardship and social cohesion is strong – this is the vision that Germany's Sustainable Development Strategy is working towards. The strategy's recent update presses ahead with the energy transition and climate action.

Girl planting a green plant© Abobe Stock / pingpao

The purpose of the German Sustainable Development Strategy is the national implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development that was adopted by the United Nations in 2015. Its overarching goal is to 'permanently secure the natural foundations of life on Earth, and to enable a life of dignity for all people, now and in the future' (German Sustainable Development Strategy, Principles of Sustainable Development). Just like the 2030 Agenda, the Sustainable Development Strategy contains 17 social, ecological and economic sustainable development goals (SDGs) relating to aspects such as the fight against poverty, education, health, decent work and economic growth, clean and affordable energy as well as climate change mitigation – to name but a few examples.

Revision of Sustainable Development Strategy adopted

Since 2016, the German Sustainable Development Strategy, which had first been adopted in 2002, has been oriented to these global goals. This means that Germany is not only committed to meeting its targets by 2030 within its own boundaries, but also embraces its responsibility at global level. On 10 March 2021, the Federal Cabinet adopted a current revision of the national Sustainable Development Strategy, which is to be updated at regular intervals. The comprehensive strategy provides a policy framework for sustainable development and outlines important instruments (such as monitoring) for its implementation. It impacts all policy areas and contains ambitious environmental, economic as well as social goals for the period from 2020 to 2030. The 17 SDGs and their indicators are at the heart of the Sustainable Development Strategy.

New indicators and areas of transformation for a broader perspective

The revision of the Sustainable Development Strategy takes account of the effects of the coronavirus pandemic and contains a set of new indicators relating, for example, to Germany’s contribution to global pandemic preparedness, to empowering women in executive positions, and to global consumption. Another novelty is the designation of six ‘areas of transformation’, including ‘energy transition and climate action’ and ‘circular economy’. These areas of transformation establish links between individual goals and explore their interconnections.

The revision clearly strengthens the economic perspective on sustainability with a view to reconciling economic development with climate change mitigation. This is of particular significance to the goals on ‘energy’ (SDG 7), ‘economic growth’ (SDG 8) and ‘climate action’ (SDG 13). While highlighting the necessity of economic growth, the strategy also points out that it is the quality of the growth that matters. The task is to sever the link between economic growth on the one hand, and use of resources and harmful emissions on the other. In mid-September 2020, Economic Affairs Minister Peter Altmaier put forward a proposal for an alliance of society, business and government to promote climate neutrality and prosperity. The paper contained twenty specific suggestions for boosting climate action and economic strength. They have also been taken up by the Sustainable Development Strategy.

An array of important tools for ambitious climate action

Germany’s energy transition paves the way for a sustainable energy supply system, and it also helps the country to achieve its goals in terms of economic growth and climate action. The energy transition is based on three pillars – efficient energy use, reducing energy consumption and expanding the use of renewable energy. The goal of reaching greenhouse gas neutrality by 2050 – and the resultant imperative to decarbonise energy supply – provides a major guideline for national and European climate and energy policy. Germany’s efforts to achieve its domestic and international climate targets are supported by the 2030 Climate Action Programme (in German only), which contains specific measures for all areas and sectors, and the Climate Action Act, adopted in 2019, which establishes decreasing annual emission budgets for the period leading up to 2030 and provides the framework for future climate action policy in Germany.

Launched in 2021, the national fuel emissions trading scheme is to speed up the decarbonisation of the heat and transport sectors. In addition to the expansion of renewable energy (in line with the revised Renewable Energy Sources Act), important measures in the energy sector include the coal phase-out (regulated by the Act on the Phase-out of Coal-fired Power Plants), the enhancement of combined heat and power, the conversion of heating networks to renewables, energy research conducted in the 'regulatory sandboxes for the energy transition', and the 2050 Energy Efficiency Strategy (in German only).

Key indicators for measuring progress on the sustainability goals in the field of energy include the share of renewable energy in gross final energy consumption and the share of electricity from renewable sources of energy in gross electricity consumption. In this regard, Germany has been able to surpass its goal. While the target set in the Federal Government’s energy concept had been to increase the share of electricity from renewables in gross electricity consumption to at least 35% by 2020, this share actually rose to 45.5% in 2020, clearly exceeding the target for that year. The Renewable Energy Sources Act (EEG 2021) provides for a further increase to 65% by 2030. By 2050, all electricity generated and consumed in Germany is to be greenhouse gas neutral.

These and many other measures are also outlined in the revised Sustainable Development Strategy.