Sustainable development in Germany - 17 Goals to Transform our World

Ecosystems – Protecting ecosystems, conserving ecosystem services and preserving habitats

Indicator 15.2: Eutrophication of ecosystems

(Evaluation of the year 2015 as reporting year from indicator report 2021)


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This overview includes additional information on the indicators presented above, such as a brief definition of the indicator and a description of the politically determined target value, as well as the political intention for selecting the indicator.

Definition of indicators (Taken from the official translation of the German Sustainable Development Strategy)

The indicator depicts the area of sensitive ecosystems where critical ecological loads have been exceeded due to atmospheric nitrogen inputs, as a proportion of the total area of sensitive ecosystems assessed.

Target and intention of the German Government (Taken from the official translation of the German Sustainable Development Strategy)

Critical ecological loads are a measure of the sensitivity of an ecosystem to inputs of a pollutant. If the input of airborne pollutants are below those critical loads, current scientific knowledge suggests that the structure and function of an ecosystem will not suffer harmful effects. Almost half of all the ferns and flowering plants that are included on the red list in Germany are endangered by nitrogen inputs. The aim is to reduce the share of land that is subject to elevated inputs of nitrogen by 35% by 2030 compared with 2005. This means reducing that share to 50% of the area of all the sensitive ecosystems assessed.

Data state

The data published in the indicator report 2021 is as of 31.12.2020. The data shown on the DNS-Online-Platform is updated regularly, so that more current data may be available online than published in the indicator report 2021.

Last modification of code (data) 2020-01-22: see changes on GitHub opens in a new window
Last modification of code (text) 2021-09-10: see changes on GitHub opens in a new window

Taken from the official translation of the German Sustainable Development Strategy

Nitrogen, which escapes into the atmosphere bonded in ammonia and nitrogen oxides, can be introduced into ecosystems in gaseous form, dissolved in rain, or as a component of particulate matter. Emissions of ammonia and nitrogen oxides are depicted as part of indicator 3.2.a on emissions of air pollutants, and developments in that area directly affect the eutrophication of ecosystems. The sensitive ecosystems covered in the calculations for this indicator are forests, natural grassland, wetlands, marshes and heathland.

Excessive inputs of nitrogen compounds from the air into land ecosystems can result in nutrient imbalances. The alterations in nutrient availability can lead, for example, to changes in the species composition of an ecosystem, with organisms which prefer nitrogen-poor locations being driven out in favour of nitrogen-loving species. Meanwhile, many plants can be rendered vulnerable to frost, drought and pests by changes in nutrient availability. The effects of excessive nitrogen inputs often take several years to manifest themselves. Likewise, the positive effects of reduced inputs will become apparent only after an extended period.

For the purposes of evaluating nitrogen inputs, ecosystem-specific critical loads are determined which represent the saturation points below which, based on the latest knowledge available, the structures, functions and biological communities of an ecosystem remain protected. In total, around 11 million hectares, almost one third of the entire land mass of Germany, are assessed in this way.

In 2015, the critical loads for harmful nitrogen inputs were exceeded on 68% of the area of all the sensitive ecosystems assessed in Germany. Excesses were particularly high in parts of northern Germany, where agricultural activity releases large quantities of reactive nitrogen compounds.

Between 2005 and 2011, the proportion of areas in which critical loads for nitrogen were exceeded was reduced by nine percentage points. The indicator rose again slightly in the two subsequent years before returning to the 2011 level by 2015. The share of land where nitrogen was in excess of the critical load has thus not fallen any further since 2011.

The calculations for this indicator are produced by the Federal Environment Agency and derived from two data sets. The first of these is the critical-load data set, which the Federal Environment Agency provides for the purposes of international reporting under the aegis of the Geneva Convention on Long-Range Transboundary Air Pollution (CLRTAP). The tools used to determine that data set include the soil overview map of Germany, the map showing average annual rates of percolation into the soil, the map of land-use distribution and climatological data for Germany. The second data set comprises a time series of nitrogen inputs in Germany and was compiled as part of the PINETI III (Pollutant INput and EcosysTem Impact) project.

This summary table illustrates the evaluations of the indicator by status of previous years. This shows whether the weather symbol for an indicator has been stable or rather volatile in the past years. (Evaluations from the indicator report 2021)


15.2 Eutrophication of ecosystems


Reduction by 35% by 2030 compared to 2005






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