Germany – Country profile


Germany is a Central European country and a founding member state of the EU. In 2017 Germany had nearly 83 million inhabitants and is the largest national economy in the EU with a GDP in PPP of USD 3.67 trillion in 2017. In the same year, the service sector represents about 69 per cent of GDP, while industry accounts for 25.6 per cent and agriculture 0.7 per cent of GDP respectively [1]. Coal (hard coal and lignite) represents the most important energy source, accounting for 37 per cent of total gross electricity production in 2017. Electricity production from nuclear power has dramatically decreased from 28 per cent of total electricity production in 1990 to 12 per cent in 2017. Within the framework of Germany’s Energiewende (energy transition), the share of electricity production from renewable energy sources has increased from 4 per cent in 1990 to 33 per cent in 2017 [2]. In 2019, Germany is greener than ever, with an estimated 39 percent of the total electricity generation coming from photovoltaics [3]. The maximum share of solar energy in the total daily energy of all electricity sources was 22.6% on 6 May. From April to August 2018, the monthly power generation of PV systems was higher than that of coal-fired power plants. Energy produced by wind is also on a steady rise, making it the second strongest source of energy after lignite, but ahead of hard coal and nuclear energy. In ten months, wind power generation exceeded generation from hard coal and nuclear energy. Together, solar and wind turbines produced approximately 157 TWh in 2018, putting them ahead of lignite, hard coal and nuclear energy. On average, Germany has an export surplus of electricity of 38.5 TWh and income worth 1.38 billion euros. The World Bank found CO2 emissions per capita (8.9 metric tons in 2011-15) remained above the EU average. It is estimated that Germany generated 23 percent of total CO2 emissions in the EU in 2017, making it the largest emitter of the EU [4].  Germany achieved a reduction of 385.4 million tonnes CO2 eq., or 30,8 percent, on 1990 emission levels by 2018 [5]. Compared to 2017, the preliminary 2018 figures showed a 4.5 percent decline in emissions, after a period of stagnation between 2014 and 2017. The decline was mainly due to reduced emissions in the energy industries sector where higher CO2 prices (EU ETS) increased costs for coal and power plants were retired. Moreover, warmer weather and increases in oil prices trigger cuts in heating oil use. More than 40 per cent of Germany’s total area is under some form of protection, and the intensity of forest resource use has gradually decreased. Despite strict water regulations and the modernisation of wastewater facilities, 82 per cent of surface water and 36 per cent of groundwater bodies are not likely to achieve water quality objectives set in the EU Water Framework Directive by the end of 2015 due to excessive nutrient loads and micro-pollutants [6]. In fact, in 2016 the Water Framework Directive management objectives for Germany had been reached in just under 10 percent of surface water bodies and in 62 percent of groundwater bodies. For the major part of German water bodies deadline extensions or exemptions were invoked [7]. Due to remaining high nitrate levels (28 per cent of groundwater measuring stations above the EU-mandated threshold in 2016), the European Commission brought Germany to the European Court of Justice, which ruled that the German government had not taken sufficient action in this regard [8].

Overall Fiscal Profile

Germany’s economy experienced consistent growth between 2004 and 2008 with GDP increasing annually by an average of 2 per cent in real terms, prompted by a series of reforms to address high unemployment and low growth in the aftermath of reunification. The 2008-09 financial and economic crisis led to a decrease in the country’s GDP by 5.1 per cent in real terms (the country’s worst economic performance since the Second World War). An extensive fiscal policy stimulus package (around EUR 50 billion) was launched in 2009 to deal with the effects of the crisis and supported a return to pre-recession rates of GDP growth in 2010 and 2011. The stimulus package included investment in infrastructure, tax cuts, some social benefits, and a ‘cash-for-clunkers scheme’ to support the car industry. These stabilization measures led to an increase in Germany’s total budget deficit to 4.1 per cent in 2010. The deficit was reduced to 0.8 per cent in 2011 and budget surpluses were achieved each year since 2014 due to higher tax revenues because of a robust economic development. In 2017, Germany had a budget surplus of 1.3 per cent and gross public debt accounting for 64.1 per cent of GDP, which means the country is within reach of the upper limit of 60 per cent stated in the Maastricht Treaty [9]. Germany’s GDP growth slowed down to 1.5 per cent in 2018 and is expected to slow down further in 2019 to 1 percent due to tightening conditions in the German labor market, slowing construction activity and weakening global trade [10]. Germany’s leading economic institute have even revised down their 2019 growth forecast to 0.8 per cent [11]. Other factors said to have contributed to the slowdown of GDP growth are the cooling of the global economy, as well as increased trade conflicts and Brexit, which is affecting Germany’s exports [12]. Its manufacturing sector is in recession as exporters bear the brunt of weaker demand. Inflation was 1.7 per cent in 2017, and the unemployment rate was 3.5 per cent in September 2018, decreasing further in the first quarter of 2019 to 3.2 percent (OECD Data).

Policy and Legal Framework for a Green Economy

Historically Germany has played a proactive role in the environmental policy arena domestically, within the EU and at the global level. In 2002, Germany adopted its national strategy for sustainable development – “Perspectives for Germany – Our Strategy for Sustainable Development” – that promoted the concept of intergenerational responsibility for economic, ecological and socially sound development. The country’s progress towards sustainability has been monitored six times through periodic progress reports since 2006 [13]. Germany has subsequently launched several cross crosscutting initiatives on climate change, energy and resource efficiency, linking a strong environmental protection framework with the potential benefits of cleaner, low-carbon economic growth. In 2007 Germany adopted the Integrated Energy and Climate Programme which aims to support Germany’s efforts in reducing GHGs emissions by 40 per cent by 2020 (1990 levels) and launched its Strategy for Adaptation to Climate Change in 2008. However, the German government has already admitted that it will not be able to achieve this target (at best, it will achieve 32 per cent) for 2020 [14]. In 2010, German federal ministries of environment and economy jointly designed and implemented the Energy Concept, which focuses on renewable energy and energy efficiency as tools to achieve environmentally friendly, reliable and affordable energy supply. The Energy Concept aims to increase the share of renewable energy in electricity production to more than 80 per cent by 2050 and gradually eliminate electricity production from nuclear power plants. Supportive measures include consideration of lifecycle costs when awarding public contracts and energy performance labelling of cars and buildings [15]. In 2012, Germany launched the German Resource Efficiency Programme (ProgRess) which aims to decouple economic growth from resource use, reduce the burden on the environment, support a sustainable and more competitive economy, and promote stable employment and social cohesion. ProgRess identifies 20 strategic approaches and related measures concerning market incentives, information, expert knowledge, education, research and innovation, and voluntary approaches. In particular, ProgRess places emphasis on strengthening efficiency in small and medium-sized enterprises, by supporting environmental management systems, the use of resource efficient products and services in public procurement, the adoption of voluntary product labelling and certification schemes, and technology-transfer to developing countries and emerging economies [16]. In 2016, Germany adopted its Climate Action Plan 2050 that confirms and specifies Germany’s long-term goal to become extensively greenhouse gas-neutral by 2050. The medium-term target is to cut greenhouse gas emissions by at least 55 per cent by 2030 compared to 1990 levels. In its Climate Action Plan 2050, the German government also lays down 2030 targets for individual sectors, describes the necessary development pathways for them, lists initial measures for implementation and establishes a process for monitoring and updating policies and measures [17]. According to the sector breakdown in the Climate Action Plan 2050, between 1990 and 2018, most major German sources of emissions achieved reductions. The energy sector, responsible for the largest share of Germany’s GHG emissions, fell by around 33 percent. While emissions from buildings fell by 44 percent and industry emissions fell 31 percent and agriculture emissions 22 percent. In contrast, emissions in the transport sector fell only by 0.6 percent [5].

Fiscal Measures for a Green Economy

A programme of Ecological Tax Reform (ETR) was officially launched in Germany in 1999 and implemented through several steps until 2003. Revenue neutrality was an underlying principle of the German ETR. By cutting social security contributions to the pension fund, the tax burden on labour was reduced and shifted to the use of environmental resources and fossil fuels through increased fuel taxes on transport and heating and the introduction of an electricity tax. Higher taxes on energy consumption were seen as an economic incentive to energy savings and efficiency, and thus to innovation in new technologies, while lower labour costs were seen as a tool to support employment [18]. It has been estimated that the ETR not only led to a decrease in CO2 emissions that would have been 2-3 per cent higher without such green taxes, but also led to a series of socio-economic co-benefits including fiscal savings from avoided imports of fossil fuels, an increase in public transport users and the creation of up to 250,000 new jobs by 2010 (19; 18). Excise duties on fuels (petrol and diesel) were gradually increased between 1999 and 2003 under the ETR. Although the tax rates for motor fuels have not been modified since 2003, they are still higher than the EU average rate. In 2006, Germany introduced a tax on coal consistent with the EU Energy Taxation Directive. Tax rates for heating purposes are lower than the EU average (except for kerosene, which is not extensively used in Germany) with heating for business purposes taxed at lower rates than heating for households [20]. Currently, no overarching policy framework regulates environmental fiscal reform in Germany [6]. Environmental tax revenue has constantly decreased over the past century and only amounted to 1.86 per cent of the country’s GDP in 2016, which represents a 10 year minimum for Germany [21]. Energy taxes account for the majority of this revenue (accounting for 1.54 per cent of GDP), while transport taxes (excluding fuel) amounted to 0.32 per cent of GDP, while the revenues from the pollution and resource taxes  are almost negligible [22]. In 2009 Germany introduced an annual circulation tax for cars, which consists of a base tax (EUR 2 per 100 cm3 petrol, and EUR 9.5 per 100 cm3 diesel) and a linear carbon tax set at a rate of EUR 2 g/km. Cars below 95 g/km are exempted from the circulation tax. With CO2 emissions in the transport sector remaining high and air pollution frequently exceeding the legal limits in cities, the German government introduced subsidies for electric vehicles in mid-2016. Paid equally by the government and car manufacturing companies, electric and fuel cell cars are subsidized by EUR 4000 and plug-in hybrid electric cars by EUR 3000, however uptake has not been as high as expected to date [23]. In addition, from 2019 onwards, electric and hybrid vehicle company cars that are used privately will be taxed less than cars with combustion engines. The ‘Lkw-Maut’, a road user charge for heavy-goods vehicles on motorways introduced in 2005, was extended gradually to all federal roads in 2018 and has prompted the diffusion of low-emission vehicles [6]. In October 2018, the German parliament also increased toll rates, for the first time taking into consideration the trucks’ noise and weight and exempted electric trucks and gas-powered vehicles from the tolls [24]. Germany also planned to introduce a time-dependent charge on passenger vehicles (PKW-Maut) from 2016. The main feature of this measure would be that only foreign vehicles are charged for the use of Germany’s roads, as a form of relief from the above-mentioned annual circulation tax [20]. However, the European Commission had first declared that such a tax design would violate the EU principle of non-discrimination, and thus blocked the introduction of the PKW-Maut. In 2016, however, both sides reached an agreement that introduces five categories of vehicles (instead of the three current categories), which will allow for a better differentiation of the road charge based on environmental criteria [25]. Even though Austria and the Netherlands decided to sue Germany at the European Court of Justice as a result, the German government currently still plans to introduce the motorway toll in 2021. In 2011, Germany introduced a passenger aviation tax with tax rates calibrated according to flight distances. In 2012, the aviation tax rates were slightly decreased with the inclusion of aviation in the EU Emissions Trading Scheme [20]. Moreover, the tax attracted significant criticism from industry groups, particularly as some airports recorded losing customers with passengers diverting to airports in neighbouring countries [26]. A federal tax on nuclear fuels (Brennelementesteuer) was in place from 2011 to 2016, being applied to nuclear power stations that have had their lifetime extended. This tax applied a rate of EUR 145 per gram of plutonium or uranium and its generated annual revenue of about EUR 1.7 billion was supposed to contribute to the storage costs of nuclear waste. However, according to a decision of the Federal Constitutional Court in 2017, it is incompatible with the Basic Law and the German government had to pay back a total of EUR 6.3 billion to nuclear companies [27]. A waste water tax (Abwasserabgabe) applies to direct discharges to surface waters from industries and sewage treatment plants and is implemented and managed at the level of the federal states (Bundesländer). Rates are uniform across all Länder. Revenues generated from the taxes (approximately EUR 300 million p.a.) are generally used to support projects aimed at improving water quality. A volumetric water abstraction levy is applied under the Federal Water Law with rates ranging between EUR 0.05 and EUR 0.30 per m3 across different Länder. Annual revenues from the levy amount to EUR 200-400 million and are generally used for regional compensation schemes. Fiscal support to renewable energy was introduced in Germany through the Stromeinspeisungsgesetz (StrEG) in the early 1990s. In 2000, the Act on Granting Priority to Renewable Energy Sources (EEG) led to the implementation of an extensive programme of feed-in-tariffs (FITs) for electricity generation from renewable sources, which targets hydropower, landfill gas, mine gas, sewage gas, biomass, geothermal energy, wind power and solar radiation energy. The EEG guarantees fixed FIT rates over a set period (20 years from the start of operation), with regular reviews of the FIT rates every three to four years. Plant owners (e.g., solar arrays and wind farms) have guaranteed access to the grid as grid operators are required by law to purchase renewable power [28]. These measures have led to an increase in the volume of electricity produced from renewable sources from about 13.6 TWh in 2000 to roughly 217 TWh in 2017, when public support to the renewable energy sector amounted to EUR 30 billion. Although continued cost declines are making solar PV, wind, and biomass increasingly competitive with traditional sources of electricity, electricity prices have been increasing since the launch of the EEG (German electricity prices for households are among the highest in Europe – [29]. Through the EEG surcharge (EEG-Umlage), the costs of the EEG programme are distributed to electricity supply companies and then passed onto consumers, which has led to distributional concerns and growing public opposition. In 2017, funding for renewable energies was fundamentally changed as rates for renewable electricity are no longer fixed by the government, but determined via a market-based auction scheme [30]. This has led to a drastic reduction of the FIT rates. In October 2018 Germany announced it will cut a green energy surcharge on consumers’ electricity bills by 5.7 percent next year. Considering that Germans pay one of the highest electricity bills in Europe, as state-induced taxes and fees account for over 50 percent of power bills [31]. In addition, over the course of 2019 the surcharge under the renewable energy act will fall to 6.405 euro cents per kilowatt hour (kWt). The EEG fee makes up around 23 percent of consumers’ final bills making it the biggest and most symbolic spending under Germany’s Energiewende policy to transition to renewables. The German Environment Agency (UBA) produces regular reports on environmentally harmful subsidies (EHS). The latest report estimates that EHS amounted to EUR 57 billion in 2012 [32]. According to the report, EUR 28.6 billion in EHS were provided to the transport sector, especially in the form of tax exemptions for aviation. The energy sector received EHS amounting to EUR 20.3 billion compared to only EUR 11.6 billion in 2006, in particular due to higher benefits of the EEG surcharge for electricity-intensive companies and railways. In the construction and housing sector, EHS have dropped significantly from EUR 10.3 billion (2006) to EUR 2.3 billion (2012), which is mainly due to the expiry of tax breaks for new home owners. Tax breaks granted to the manufacturing, agriculture and forestry sectors cost taxpayers three billion euros and do not provide incentives for energy saving. The report also identifies tax privileges that apply to products of animal origin as an environmentally harmful subsidy, worth EUR 5.2 billion. By September 2019, the German government wants to agree on a final draft for the upcoming climate protection law but members of the ruling coalition appear to be divided. A draft has been proposed for a carbon price for non-Emissions Trading Scheme sectors, namely transport, buildings and agriculture, yet no agreement appears to be made. Other members of the conservative union ask that the existing EU-ETS be extended to the fields of transport and buildings.

Fossil Fuel Subsidy Reform

Germany’s efforts to support renewable energy are proving to be effective as hard coal is being squeezed out the energy mix, falling to its lowest level since 1949 and accounting for only 10 percent of primary energy consumption in 2018 [33]. The situation is different for lignite, which remained almost unchanged, accounting for 22.5 percent of German electricity generation. Natural gas, hard coal and lignite still receive significant public subsidies. According to its peer review of fossil fuel subsidies under the G20 published in November 2017, twenty-two measures that favor fossil fuels in the form of tax breaks and direct budgetary transfers, totaling EUR 14.9 billion in 2016, had been identified. Only two of these measures with a value of EUR 1.4 billion, however, were classified as being inefficient subsidies and thus will be phased out in 2018 as part of the existing EU-wide commitment to end subsidies to hard coal [34]. Significant support is provided to energy-intensive industries (especially, steel and chemical industries) through reduced energy-tax rates. Other support measures include exemptions from energy taxes normally applied to the use of coal, natural gas, and petroleum products, which target companies using energy for processing purposes. Moreover, Germany provides tax privileges on heating oil, natural gas, and LPG to several users in the agriculture, forestry and manufacturing sectors as well as tax relief on the use of diesel fuel for agricultural purposes. The drought of summer 2018 prompted the German government to give hundreds of millions of euros to German farmers; on top of the €11 billion German farmers already receive each year from the European Union and the German State [35]. This makes farmers the biggest recipients of state financing in Germany and in the European Union. Support to fossil fuel producers is also significant and above the OECD average. Relatively large endowments of crude oil, natural gas and coal has led Germany to provide 71 per cent of the total cumulative support to coal production in Europe (i.e. EU-28) in 1970-2012 [36]. For years, one of the most significant measures is financial assistance to the hard-coal industry, particularly those located in North Rhine-Westphalia. Germany’s public expenditure supporting coal has historically been higher than other EU countries and the cost of producing coal domestically is far higher than the price of imported coal. These large budgetary transfers have dramatically declined in recent years from EUR 4.8 billion in 1998 to about EUR 1 billion in 2018 [33] and will be entirely phased out by 2018 in line with EU state aid guidelines. In 2007, the Federal Government and the Länder together with mines and relevant trade unions agreed on a road map for ending subsidies and scaling back coal production subject to the retirement of coal miners [37]. Germany’s last hard-coal mine was officially closed in 2017, eliminating completely subsidised coal in the country, which had cost the government EUR 12 billion between 2010 and 2017 [38]. Germany also plans to phase out its coal-powered power plants by 2038. References and additional reading [1] Destatis (2018a). Bruttoinlandsprodukt 2017 für Deutschland. Federal Statistical Office of Germany. [2] Destatis (2018b). Bruttostromerzeugung 2017: 33 % stammten aus erneuerbaren Energien. Federal Statistical Office of Germany. [3] Presentation by Dr. Burger (2019), “Net Public Electricity Generation in Germany in 2018” at the Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems ISE Available at: [4] Aguilar, Carmen (2018) “Carbon emissions in the EU on the rise”, from the European Data Journalism Network, Available at [5] Appunn & Wettengel (2019) “Germany’s greenhouse gas emissions and climate targets”, from Clean Energy Wire, Available at [6] OECD (2012). OECD Environmental Performance Reviews – Germany 2012. Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. [7] Umbweltbundesamt and the Federal ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservations, Building and Nuclear Safety (2016) “Water Framework Directive: The Status of German Waters 2015”, Available at: [8] Euractiv (2018). EU court condemns Germany for exceeding nitrate limits. [9] Eurostat (2018a). Euro area and EU28 government deficit at 0.9% and 1.0% of GDP respectively. European Statistical Office. [10] BMWi (2018a). Wirtschaftliche Entwicklung und Konjunktur. Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy of Germany [11] Shalal, Andrea (2019) “Germany to halve 2019 economic growth forecast to 0.5 percent: Spiegel” from Reuters, available at [12] DW (2019) “Germany lowers 2019 growth forecast to 0.5 percent”, available at [13] Destatis (2017). Sustainable Development in Germany. Indicator Report 2016. Federal Statistical Office of Germany. [14] Handelsblatt (2018). Germany will miss its 2020 climate goals, now sights turn to 2030. [15] BMU (2011). Energy Concept for an Environmentally Sound, Reliable and Affordable Energy Supply. Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety. [16] BMU (2015). German Resource Efficiency Programme (ProgRess). Programme for the sustainable use and conservation of natural resources. Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety. [17] BMU (2016). Climate Action Plan 2050. Principles and goals of the German government’s climate policy. Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conversation and Nuclear Safety of Germany. [18] Schlegelmilch K., (2014). How an Environmental Fiscal Reform Can Contribute to a Green Economy with Jobs, Welfare and a Clean Environment? Policy Lessons Learnt in Europe and Beyond. Cyprus Economic Policy Review, Vol. 8, No. 2, pp. 125-133 (2014) 1450-4561. [19] Ekins P., (2015). Implementing environmental fiscal reform in Europe. A presentation to the Green Budget Europe event ‘Greening the European Semester’. Brussels, DG Environment January 28, 2015. per cent20event.pdf [20] Eunomia and IEEP (2015). Study on Environmental Fiscal Reform Potential in 14 EU Member States: Main Report. Study on No 07.0201/2014/685390/ENV.D.2. Final Report to DG Environment of the European Commission. [21] Eurostat (2018b). Environmental tax revenues. European Statistical Office [22] Eurostat (2018c). Environmental tax statistics. European Statistical Office. [23] ACEA (2018). Overview on Tax Incentives for Electric Vehicles in the EU. European Automobile Manufacturers Association. [24] Welt (2018). Bundestag erhöht die Lkw-Maut. [25] EC (2016). European Commission and Germany reach agreement on a fair and non-discriminatory road charging scheme. European Commission. [26] IEEP (2014). Environmental Tax Reform in Europe: Opportunities for the Future. Annexes to Final Report. Institute for European Environmental Policy. [27] Financial Times (2017). Germany’s highest court rules nuclear fuel tax unconstitutional [28] BMWi (2017). Renewable Energy Sources Act (EEG 2017). Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy [29]Eurostat (2017). Electricity price statistics. European Statistical Office [30] BMWi (2018b). Renewable Energy. Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy of Germany. [31] Eckert, Vera (2018) “Germans to pay slightly lower levy for renewable energy in 2019”, Available at [32] UBA (2016). Umweltschädliche Subventionen in Deutschland. Aktualisierte Ausgabe 2016. German Environment Agency. [33] Graichen, Sakhel, Podewils (2019) “The Energy Transition in the Power Sector: State of Affairs in [34] OECD (2017). Germany’s effort to phase out and rationalise its fossil-fuel subsidies. Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. [35] Kreijger (2018) “Why Germany keeps wiring billions to its farmers”, Available at: [36] Ecofys (2014). Subsidies and costs of EU energy – Final report. 2018”, Available at [37] OECD (2011). Inventory of estimated budgetary support and tax expenditures for fossil fuels. Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. [38] OECD/IEA (2019) “Update on Recent Progress in Reform of Inefficient Fossil-Fuel Subsidies that Encourage Wasteful Consumption”, Available at