Greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture

Facts & Figures

In 2019, German agriculture was responsible for the emission of about 56.1 million tons of carbon dioxide equivalents. This corresponds to 7.7 % of the greenhouse gas emissions in Germany. Main sources are emissions of methane from animal husbandry and nitrous oxide from agricultural soils.


The share of nitrous oxide (N2O) from soils (including emissions due to spreading of digestate from energy crops) was 42.5 %, whereas the share of methane (CH4) from enteric fermentation was 33.7 %. The remaining 23.8 % of the emissions from agriculture came from manure management, storage of digestate from energy crops, liming and the application of urea.

Emissions of N2O from manure management as well as emissions of CH4 from enteric fermentation and manure management have decreased significantly since 1990. In 2020, the emissions of N2O were lower than those in 1990 by about 25.7 %, and the CH4 emissions by about 29.4 %.

94 to 95 % of the overall emissions of CH4 and N2O from livestock originate from digestion and manure management (stable, storage) of cattle and pigs, 2 to 3 % from other animals (poultry, sheep, goats, horses). These figures are largely constant over the years (2020: dairy cows 50.5 %, other cattle 33.3 %, pigs 10.8 %, other animals 2.5 %). The remainder of the overall emissions (2020: 2.9 %) are N2O emissions resulting from soil after deposition of nitrogen previously emitted as NH3 and NO from all stables and manure stores.

The decline of emissions compared to 1990 can be attributed to the reduction of livestock in the new federal states up to 1992. A slightly decreasing trend of animal numbers continued until 2005 for dairy cows and other cattle, and beyond that for other cattle. In the case of pigs, on the other hand, the number of animals has slightly increased since 1995.

Another reason for the decrease of emissions of methane and nitrous oxide since 1990 lies in the growing importance of anaerobic fermentation of manure in digesters and the partially gastight storage of digestate.

Klimaschutzgesetz und Vorjahresschätzung

Im Klimaschutzgesetz ist für jeden Emissionssektor ein Minderungspfad der Treibhausgas-Emissionen festgelegt, dessen Überschreitung Sofortmaßnahmen im jeweiligen Sektor zur Folge hat. Das Gesetz sieht vor, dass bis zum Jahr 2030 im landwirtschaftlichen Sektor nur noch 56 Millionen Tonnen CO2-Äquivalente emittiert werden dürfen.

Der Sektor „Landwirtschaft“ des Klimaschutzgesetzes ist nicht komplett deckungsgleich mit dem gleichnamigen Sektor der Emissionsberichterstattung: Hinzu kommen die Emissionen aus dem Brennstoffeinsatz in Land-, Forst- und Fischereiwirtschaft, die vom Umweltbundesamt berechnet werden. Die restlichen landwirtschaftlichen Emissionen werden vom Thünen-Institut mit den Methoden der Emissionsberichterstattung ermittelt.

Die Einhaltung des Minderungspfades wird anhand der sogenannten Vorjahresschätzung geprüft, die zum Teil auf vorläufigen Daten beruht. Die diesjährige Vorjahresschätzung für das Jahr 2021 ergibt eine landwirtschaftliche Treibhausgas-Gesamtemission von 61,1 Millionen Tonnen CO2-Äquivalenten (54,8 Mio. Tonnen Landwirtschaft im engeren Sinn + 6,3 Mio. Tonnen Brennstoffverbrauch) und liegt unterhalb der nach Minderungspfad erlaubten 70 Millionen Tonnen CO2-Äquivalenten. Gegenüber den Emissionen für 2020 bedeutet das einen Rückgang, der vor allem auf gesunkene Rinder- und Schweinezahlen zurückzuführen ist.

Die Einhaltung des Minderungspfades wird in den nächsten Jahren zu einer erheblichen Herausforderung, der mit den Maßnahmen des Klimaschutzprogramms begegnet werden muss.

Abatement potential

Other than for ammonia emissions there are as yet only a few technical options for abatement measures regarding emissions of methane and nitrous oxide. The highest abatement potentials are associated with:

  • A low-emission  fertilisation based on plant needs, which avoids nitrogen surpluses and therefore emissions of nitrous oxide from agricultural soils and
  • Digestion of animal excrements in biogas plants and subsequent gastight storage of the digestate.

Overall emissions versus product-related emissions

Due to performance enhancement, emissions per animal are increasing. For example there was often an increase of the overall emissions of dairy cows despite decreasing numbers of dairy cows. This is caused by the continuous increase of milk yield. However, from a product-related point of view, the increasing milk yield leads to a decrease of emissions per kg milk. This is due to the fact that the energy requirements for maintenance of a dairy cow are independent of milk yield and hence do not increase along with increasing milk yield. In principle a similar picture is found with the performance-related greenhouse gas emissions of fattening pigs.

Download

Thünen Report 84
Calculations of gaseous and particulate emissions from German agriculture 1990–2019: Report on methods and data (RMD) Submission 2021

The report file with input data and emission results can be found here.