Germany’s CO2 share: A look at the contribution to global warming

When talking about the biggest “climate sinners,” China is often used as a negative example.We very rarely see ourselves in a similar role; instead, it seems a lot is being done for the climate in Germany – or is it?


When talking about the biggest “climate sinners,” China is often used as a negative example.We very rarely see ourselves in a similar role; instead, it seems a lot is being done for the climate in Germany – or is it?

Germany’s role in global CO2 emissions

A report by Wirtschaftswoche summarizes findings from the latest studies and statistics (Global Carbon Budget 2022, EDGAR Emissions Report 2023), placing Germany’s contribution to global CO2 emissions between 1.76% and 1.82%.

Compared to countries like China (30.9%) or the USA (13.49%), this might initially seem insignificant. However, when considering the size and population of Germany, this percentage gains more relevance. More telling is the per capita CO2 consumption: in 2021, according to Wirtschaftswoche, it was 8.1 tons. This figure places Germany behind countries like China or the USA globally, but still within the top 10, and even in the top 7 within Europe.

Despite a relatively low absolute contribution to global CO2 emissions, Germany is far from being a minor player that can avoid responsibility and leave actions to other countries. Particularly, the high per capita consumption calls for action; moreover, as one of Europe’s leading economies, Germany plays an exemplary role, as detailed by websites like Klimafakten and Quarks.

Current developments in renewable energy in Germany

Fatih Birol, the Executive Director of the International Energy Agency (IEA), in his guest article in the Financial Times, views the world at a historical turning point. He predicts a short-lived rise in the demand for fossil fuels in the near future, followed by a sustainable shift to renewable energies.


One of the most crucial steps in reducing CO2 emissions for Germany is the energy transition, or “Energiewende.” This term encompasses not only the shift to renewable energy sources but also includes increasing energy efficiency and expanding power grids, as explained by the Federal Environment Agency (Umweltbundesamt).

According to a report by Tagesschau, the specific shares fluctuate, but roughly speaking, about half of the electricity consumed in Germany now comes from renewable energy sources like solar or wind power. By 2050, this figure is expected to reach 80% according to the Renewable Energy Sources Act (EEG).

While solar installations are currently popular in private households (e.g., in the form of small balcony power plants), solar energy, unfortunately, remains the only area in which Germany is meeting or even exceeding its targets, as reported by Die Zeit.

Furthermore, to fully utilize both solar and wind installations, an expansion of the existing power grids is necessary. In this context, the controversial construction of the Suedlink electricity connection began in September 2023, aiming to transport wind energy from Northern to Southern Germany. However, the completion of this major project is expected to take several more years.

Image by Moritz Kindler via Unsplash
Image by Moritz Kindler via Unsplash

Challenges and opportunities for the German economy in relation to climate change

According to the “Energiewende-Barometer 2023” of the German Chambers of Industry and Commerce, many of the companies surveyed are skeptical about the energy transition and the associated measures. Among other things, they complain about the lack of predictability, fear relocation to other countries, and call for reliance on voluntariness instead of mandatory requirements. Overall, more than half of the companies foresee negative consequences of the energy transition for their own business.

The concern about the competitiveness of German companies is certainly not unfounded in the context of developments over the past few years, starting with the Corona crisis, the Ukraine war, and the energy crisis. However, it is also clear that doing nothing is not an alternative – at least not in the long term.

Under the guiding question “Isn’t the energy transition becoming too expensive?“, the federal government explains that the financial damage expected from the advancing climate change would be far higher than the current costs and efforts for the energy transition.

One of the reasons why this often-cited argument is not “heard” lies in the way the human brain functions: future, abstract dangers like climate change are not seen as equally important as tangible, current dangers – for example, in the form of a company bankruptcy – and therefore are automatically “filtered out.” This is also influenced by the so-called “optimism bias,” where the brain considers positive events for one’s own future more likely than negative ones, and “apocalypse blindness,” which makes it seem almost unimaginable to face the negative consequences of one’s own actions in the future.

Based on these psychological insights, it thus seems little promising for the government to frame the measures for the energy transition only with the fear of a climate catastrophe, especially since these measures actually do lead to financial and organizational additional burdens, particularly from a short-term perspective. As logical and necessary as the implementation of these measures is from a scientific standpoint to prevent worse, this is ultimately not internalized by the population to the last consequence.

The potential of renewable energies for a sustainable economy in Germany

However, there are also plenty of other good arguments to make both companies and citizens switch to renewable energies with concrete positive and tangible effects, as explained by Greenpeace:

Renewable energies from our own German sources provide independence from the limited availability of fossil fuels, supply security, and stable costs for consumers – the German Environment Agency states that electricity from fossil fuels will be more than twice as expensive by 2050 compared to electricity from renewable sources. The advancement of technologies and the associated increase in efficiency are also likely to reduce energy costs for manufacturing companies in the long term. Regional energy production also leads to job creation and strengthens the local economy.

Image by onlyyouqj on Freepik

Measures and strategies to reduce the share of CO2 in Germany

Although the political discourse is lively and all interest groups view the situation from different perspectives – it is now clear that the energy transition must come. The only question is, how?

There are many directives from the EU that need to be implemented. In this context, the EU has committed itself through the European Climate Law to become climate-neutral by 2050. On an international level, there is also the Paris Climate Agreement from 2015, in which nearly 200 states agreed, among other things, to limit global warming to 2.0 or 1.5 degrees.

In this context, Germany has enacted, among other things, the Climate Action Plan 2050 in 2016, which sets out measures to achieve climate protection goals in a comprehensive concept. In addition to the transition to renewable energies, for example, the energy demand of buildings is to be massively reduced.

In addition, the Climate Action Programme 2030 was adopted in 2019, which provides for various measures to reduce CO2 emissions. In addition to incentives, binding targets and control measures, the programme is primarily concerned with financial redistribution based on the taxation of CO2.

The immediate climate action programme for 2022 and the Federal Climate Change Act from 2021 made it a bit more concrete, mainly providing funding. Currently, there is also a draft of the Climate Action Program 2023.

It quickly becomes clear: the political measures are just as complex as the problem they are trying to solve. And above all, not sufficient: NDR reports that neither the targets Germany has set for itself are enough to keep the 1.5-degree limit of the Paris Climate Agreement, nor are the measures of the Climate Action Program 2023 sufficient to achieve these targets, as determined by the expert council on climate issues. Especially in the areas of transport (keyword speed limit) and buildings, there is still a need for action according to the report.


There’s still a lot to do. Germany has made some progress in reducing CO2 emissions and switching to renewable energy, but it’s not enough. Even if our contribution to global CO2 consumption is seen as minor, this argument should not lead to inaction. Every contribution and political stance towards a more climate-friendly future matters.



Annika Rischmüller

Usually to be found at home and practising introversion at its best, including writing, reading, listening to podcasts, watching nerdy films and doing weird movements on the living room carpet that were originally supposed to be yoga. Occasionally being lured out of the house with the prospect of cute little dogs or a particularly good frozen yoghurt.
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