what are the causes of acid rain in germany

What are the causes of acid rain in Germany? The effects of acid rain are a significant concern for the environment, and Germany is not immune to its impact.

Germany experiences acid rain due to a variety of factors, including both local and cross-border sources.  

The country has been making significant efforts to combat acid rain by implementing more stringent regulations, but the question is, “What causes acid rain in Germany in the first place?”

The leading cause of acid rain in Germany is industrial emissions such as sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides, as well as transboundary pollution. 

Understanding More about Acid Rain

understanding more about acid rain

Acid deposition or colloquially, acid rain, is any kind of precipitation falling from the sky to the ground that contains acid, usually nitric acid (HN3) or sulfuric acid (H2SO4).

It is a broad term that includes acidic snow, hail, fog and dust so its deposition can be either wet or dry. And quite like many other countries, you can also witness it in Germany. 

How Often Do You Get Acid Rain in Germany?

Germany has been dealing with the effects of acid rain since it was first noticed in the early 1980s.

It still occurs, but not as frequently as in the 1970s and 1980s after Germany introduced regulations to limit the pollutants added to the atmosphere by its growing industrial sector.

frequency of acid rain in germany

The country is still dealing with its impact on the environment four decades later.

However, by 1984 almost half the Black Forest trees were dead or dying and acid rain had already devastated the soil, lakes and rivers.

Fact: It was not only Germany suffering from acid rain but also the case for Sweden, Great Britain and the Czech Republic. 

What are the Causes of Acid Rain in Germany?

It is hard to pinpoint any single reason for acid rain because several factors play a role here.

Here are some possible reasons why you may notice acid rain in Germany:

Fossil Fuel Combustion

Germany underwent rapid industrial expansion post-war. Most of its industries were and still are, powered by fossil fuels.

Factories burning natural gas and coal create the toxic smoke that travels with the air currents to later dump acid rain, sometimes elsewhere in Europe.

fossil fuel combustion

Germany relies on imports having exhausted its own fossil fuels, at least those that are financially feasible.

Crude oil imports were at 81 million tonnes in 2021 and 1,449 TWh of natural gas in 2022.

Fact: In 2022, more than 80% of Germany’s CO2 greenhouse-gas emissions were the result of fossil fuel combustion.  

Sulfur Dioxide (SO2) Emissions

sulfur dioxide (so2) emissions

In the atmosphere sulfur dioxide, SO2, converts to sulfates, major constituents of fine particle pollution.

SO2 forms when sulfur-bearing fuels such as oil, coal and diesel are burned.

Although there have been strong regulations around the production of SO2 since the mid 1980s, they are emitted by many industry sectors including,

  • Electricity generation.
  • Petroleum refining.
  • Metal processing.
  • Industrial boiler use.
  • By using older diesel engines and equipment including trucks, trains and ships.

SO2 is a harmful gas that causes and exacerbates respiratory issues and since it is airborne people are exposed even when far away from the high-risk areas.

And its high concentrations also play a role in acid rain in Germany. 

Chemical Manufacturing

chemical manufacturing

Germany’s mass expansion has made it a world leader in manufacturing, but it has also increased its chances of getting acid rain.

As of 2021, Germany ranked fourth but in the same year, the German industry was responsible for discharging 181 metric tonnes of carbon dioxide into the skies above Europe.

Chemical manufacturing accounted for 40 m.t. Being a greenhouse gas CO2 emissions are heavily regulated.

And as they are produced by burning fossil fuels, they are also a by-product of the chemical industry.

Germany has around 3000 small to medium chemical companies, but all industries are working towards achieving carbon neutrality by 2050.

Fact: Due to the steps taken between 1990 and 2017, greenhouse gas emissions decreased by 48 percent. 

Nitrogen Oxide (NOx) Emissions

nitrogen oxide (nox) emissions

Nitrogen oxides are highly reactive poisonous gases emitted from fuel burnt at very high temperatures.

They are the brown gas of exhaust fumes, and responsible for acid rain.

There are consequently many sources, including:

  • Vehicles
  • Generators
  • Industrial machinery
  • Kilns
  • Turbines
  • Boilers
  • Boats

Between industry and transport, in 2020 in total Germany released around 978,000m.t. of NOx into the atmosphere.

All the NOx gases cause long- and short-term respiratory problems and react with the water, oxygen and other chemicals in the atmosphere to form the acid rain that is damaging Germany’s sensitive ecosystems. 

Exhaust Emissions

exhaust emissions

Germany’s first environmental policies were put in place in the 1960s amid widespread fears about the health of the nation and the environment.

How to stop the acid rain caused by unhealthy air pollution became a hot political issue forcing change. 

General exhaust emissions were targeted early because SO2 lingers at ground level in smog, foggy air pollution associated with burning coal.

Smog, a feature of many big cities, restricts visibility and is laden with smoke particulates that cause respiratory distress. 

Policies were supported and citizens willing to change because they offered a solution other than nuclear energy which was distrusted at the time. 

Exhaust Emissions by Vehicles

exhaust emissions by vehicles

Germany is the policy setter when it comes to addressing poor air quality and its impact on health and ecosystems.

Things changed after the VW diesel emissions scandal in 2015, where new vehicle exhaust emission tests were found to be manipulated to appear lower than they were.

Following this, the Federal Council approved more stringent regulations for the exhaust gas analysis.

By 2022, 66.6% of the whole vehicle population complies with the higher standards when in 2018 it was just above 48%. 

Instances of acid rain fell accordingly and could fall more as transport switches from combustion engines to hybrid or electric vehicles

Jet Fuel Combustion

jet fuel combustion

The German aerospace industry is huge and a major employer as well as a leading force in the global high-tech sector.

It encompasses all kinds of commercial and military aviation and as the engine of the German economy, influences many other industrial sectors, including:

  • Manufacturing
  • Tourism
  • IT
  • Communications

Planes account for 2% of global CO2 emissions but Germany deals with more air freight than any other EU country and the extra CO2 contributes to the acid rain.

Fact: The aerospace industry in Germany promises a lower carbon footprint by 2050 and is dedicated to offsetting because developing synthetic fuels is proving very difficult. 

Nitrogen-Based Fertilizer Use

nitrogen-based fertilizer use

Germany’s unification and rapid industrialization also changed its approach to agriculture.

It went from a tradition of smallholdings to one of mass production and its laborers migrated into manufacturing and the cities.

Germany has areas of fertile land but the soils of the Central German Uplands and the North Germain Plain are poor.

Typical for the times, farmers added nitrogen fertilizers chasing higher yields. They added more than they needed.

Nitrogen reacts with water producing NOx emissions, part of acid rain.

Since 1995 nitrogen levels have fallen 40% but there are still excessive amounts in Germany’s water, soil and air. 

Volcanic Eruptions

volcanic eruptions

The SO2 that adds to acid rain, is also one of the many dangerous chemical compounds that volcanoes spew out.

There are 30 volcanoes in Germany including the geologically active region, Eifel. 

However, it was not one of their own that prompted Germany, and several other European countries, to consider the role of volcanic ash in acid rain.

In 2010 when Iceland’s Eyjafjallajökull volcano erupted, it was known that acid rain fell downstream of the volcanoes. 

But the threat of the ash stalling aircraft engines downed planes across Europe threatening Germany’s economy.  

Forest Fires

forest fires

Germany is famed for its forests. In all, forest covers 33% of Germany, some 11.4 million acres. But, wildfires are common.

1500 plus break out each year and the resulting wood smoke adds NOx to the atmosphere to form acid rain. Germany is acting with its EU partner countries to work on this issue.

In 1998, the EU Expert Group on Forest Fires was established. Part of its remit is to monitor wildfire trends across the 40 EU member countries.

They warn of an increase in frequency as global temperatures rise.

To be prepared, the EU has doubled its firefighting assets and plans to fight Europe’s wildfires regardless of borders.   


What are the causes of acid rain in Germany? The primary reason behind acid rain in Germany is industrial emissions, discharged from factories and power plants.

When atmospheric moisture mixes with certain pollutants, it creates acidic compounds that can fall to the ground as acid rain.

The issue can also be exacerbated by pollution that crosses borders from adjacent nations.

But, it is important to tackle the root causes of acid rain to work towards a cleaner and healthier environment for current and future generations.