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Last update: 29.12.2014

General information Sustainable development

What is sustainable development?

Today, the earth's resources are being used at a faster rate than ever before. And that is happening despite the fact that often those resources are finite. Sustainability means economising on available resources. People living in one part of the world today should not live at the cost of people in other regions of the world nor at the cost of future generations. Sustainability affects all areas of our everyday life and economic activity and is, as a consequence, a task for the whole of society. A society that is based on this guiding principle must strive to be environmentally sound, socially just and economically productive. We only have this one world. We need to keep it inhabitable for everyone for a long time to come. The environment is the primary limiting factor in the concept of sustainability - not only at national but also at international level.


International goals

At the 1992 UN Conference on Environment and Development in Rio de Janeiro the international community for the first time committed itself to the general principle of sustainable development. In particular, the international community pledged to stop the growing social divide between industrialised nations and developing countries widening and to better protect the disappearing natural bases of living. The Agenda 21, a programme of action for the 21st century, was adopted at the Rio Conference to that end.

Goals of Germany's National Sustainability Strategy

Germany's National Sustainability Strategy, which was adopted in 2002, sets out quantified goals for 21 key areas related to sustainable development. Reliably measurable indicators and concrete years for target achievement have been stipulated for these areas. The German government and the Federal Statistical Office regularly review to what extent these targets have been achieved and where further action is needed. The following goals of the National Sustainability Strategy are particularly important for environmental policy:

  • To double raw material productivity between 1994 and 2020.
  • To double energy productivity between 1990 and 2020.
  • To reduce primary energy consumption by 20 percent by 2020 compared to 2008, and by 50 percent by 2050.
  • To reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 21 percent (compared to 1990 levels) by 2010/2012. This goal was already achieved in 2008. Climate gas emissions are to be cut by 40 percent by 2020 and by 80 to 95 percent by 2050 (both compared to 1990 levels).
  • To raise the share of renewable energies in final energy consumption to 18 percent by 2020 and to 60 percent by 2050.
  • To increase the share of electricity from renewable sources in total electricity consumption to at least 35 percent by 2020 and at least 80 percent by 2050.
  • To limit, by 2020, the use of undeveloped land in Germany to 30 hectares per day. In the period between 1993 and 1996 that figure was 140 hectares per day, in 2012 74 hectares per day.
  • To increase biological diversity in Germany to an index value of 100 by 2015. In the last 10 years of observation (2001 - 2011) the indicator value deteriorated to only 63 percent (2011) of the target value.

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Government policy

Government policy is guided by the principle of sustainability. The German government emphatically supports the process initiated by the United Nations in Rio de Janeiro in 1992.

National Sustainability Strategy

The National Sustainability Strategy "Prospects for Germany" is continuously being taken forward. The strategy is based on four core principles: intergenerational equity, quality of life, social cohesion and international responsibility. Taking the strategy forward includes implementing the strategy in political decision-making processes and in the German government's everyday activities. The guiding principle of sustainable development is thus applied to government action and in other areas, such as public procurement and business trips. (cf. Federal Government’s programme of measures on sustainability, in German only)

National Sustainability Strategy progress reports

Every four years the German government publishes progress reports on the National Sustainability Strategy. It thereby helps to make oversight of the strategy credible and comprehensible. The latest progress report (in German) was published in 2012.

The Indicator Reports, which have been published every two years by the Federal Statistical Office since the year 2006, are a key element of that reporting process. They provide detailed information about developments in the 21 core areas of the sustainability policy. Since 2008 the Federal Statistical Office has also assessed trends associated with these indicators and depicts the result using weather symbols to make them easier to understand.

The latest report was published in summer 2014.

Sustainability check for draft laws

Since May 2009 ministries have had to carry out a sustainability check (an impact assessment from the point of view of sustainability) for each draft law or ordinance. The Parliamentary Advisory Council on Sustainable Development is responsible for reviewing these results.

Federal Committee of State Secretaries for Sustainable Development

The Federal Committee of State Secretaries for Sustainable Development, which comprises permanent state secretaries from all federal ministries, is an important committee when it comes to the German government's sustainability policy. The Federal Committee is responsible for all important decisions concerning the Sustainability Strategy. It plays a key role in implementing the National Sustainability Strategy and ensures that it is continuously updated. The working results are published (in German) on the Committee's Website.

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Consumer information

Sustainability is not only a task of the state. Each and every citizen can help to strengthen the principle of sustainability in our society. For instance when buying everyday foodstuffs or clothes, when it comes to energy consumption or when choosing where to go on holiday. Sustainability is about environmentally friendly and resource-saving consumption and investment. By consciously deciding to buy sustainable products consumers can motivate companies to apply the principle of sustainability to their production procedures. Sustainability benefits all of us. Curiosity and creativity are needed when it comes to mainstreaming this idea in our society.

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