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Climate change and natural hazards in Germany:
strategies against floods, droughts and heatwaves

Dialogue Forum in cooperation with acatech - National Academy of Science and Engineering

30 January 2024, 18:00

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    People in Germany are increasingly feeling the effects of climate change in the form of floods, droughts and heatwaves. Where are the consequences particularly serious and what adaptation strategies are sensible? What challenges do local authorities face? The panel guests at the Dialogue Forum, which was held in cooperation with acatech, the German Academy of Science and Engineering, engaged in a lively discussion with the audience.
    In dialogue with Rauch (German)
    In dialogue with Außendorf (German)
    In dialogue with Wörner (German)
    "Climate change is here. We must do everything we can to make it manageable," said acatech President Prof. Dr.-Ing. Jan Wörner in his opening statement. However, a variety of additional challenges such as the energy transition or the war in Ukraine make it more difficult for people to adapt to climate change. "We in Germany can still consider ourselves relatively well prepared, but we don't live on an island!" he warned.
    DF 2024 Außendorf
    © Munich Re Foundation / Oliver Jung
    Many people in Germany are already dying from heat, largely unnoticed by the public.
    Michael Außendorf
    Klimazentrum am Bayerischen Landesamt für Umwelt
    Stellvertretender Leiter

    Climate parameters set the course

    The decisive factor for many disastrous consequences of climate change is not the slowly rising average values, but the increasingly frequent extreme situations, explained Michael Außendorf. He is deputy head of the Climate Center at the Bavarian State Office for the Environment. Climate parameters such as the frequency of hot days, precipitation levels or the intensity of dry periods can be used to identify trends and make projections for the future. Depending on the scenario - meeting the Paris climate targets or continuing as before - this would result in very different values. For example, there could be up to 22 additional hot days (days with a maximum temperature of over 30 degrees) in Bavaria in 2085, compared to a reference period from 1970 to 2000. In these years, there were just four hot days. "This is very stressful for the body. Many people in Germany are already dying from heat, largely unnoticed by the public," he explained. Plants and animals also react sensitively to warming temperatures.

    Local authorities are particularly addressed when it comes to adapting to climate change. "They know the local conditions, have decision-making powers and are close to the people," said Außendorf. There are many ways in which local authorities can become active. For example, by creating infiltration troughs for heavy rainfall, providing more greenery on roofs or creating cooling fresh air corridors. Obstacles include conflicts of interest, land pressure in many cities and legal hurdles. This is where the federal states and the federal government come in. "There has been no legal framework so far. I hope that the federal government's Climate Adaptation Act will make decision-makers at all levels take responsibility," says Außendorf. However, the question of where the necessary financial resources for the municipalities will come from remains unresolved. The Climate Adaptation Act was passed at the end of 2023 and is due to come into force in mid-2024.

    Wörner, Präsident acatech
    © Munich Re Foundation / Oliver Jung
    Climate change is here. We must do everything we can to make it manageable!
    Jan Wörner

    Time is running out

    Every euro invested in damage-reducing climate adaptation is money well spent. "In 2023, natural hazards such as storms and floods caused insured losses of just under five billion euros in Germany, while the economic losses were two to three times higher," explained Ernst Rauch, Chief Climate and Geo Scientist at Munich Re. Rising losses are only partly due to socio-economic factors such as rising asset values. "An analysis of Munich Re's loss database, which has been built up over 50 years, shows that natural hazards such as too much or too little precipitation are the main factors influencing loss trends. This reinforces the chain of evidence that climate change plays a role, if not the decisive role." Rauch pleaded for more attention to be paid to questions of adaptation. Because time is running out. Climate change will continue for decades to come, even if we were to stop all climate-harming emissions today. "The climate reacts very slowly. We will no longer be able to prevent many extreme weather events".
    Panel Dialogue Forum
    © Munich Re Foundation
    Together with our experts, we discussed the challenges of adaptation in Germany.

    Taking citizens along instead of demanding acceptance

    "We know what needs to be done," agreed Außendorf. Insurers, politicians and local authorities need to think about how they can convince people of the necessary measures. It is important to communicate that climate adaptation does not come at the expense of quality of life. "If the municipal leadership communicates well, the citizens will also join in," he is convinced. Wörner added: "Demanding acceptance is the wrong approach. You have to get people to actively support the necessary measures." During the mediation process for the controversial construction of a new runway at Frankfurt Airport, he said he had experienced that conflicts can be resolved to everyone's satisfaction with good communication and a willingness to compromise.

    One way to better protect ourselves from the consequences of climate change is climate-friendly construction. "This starts with the choice of materials, continues with the right neighborhood development and also includes technical innovations to save energy," acatech President Wörner made clear. In addition, more flexible solutions are needed to meet changing needs. The classic single-family home with a relatively large area and little volume is no longer up to date if only the parents live in it instead of a family.

    Df 2024 Rauch
    © Munich Re Foundation / Oliver Jung
    In 2023, natural hazards such as storms or floods caused insured losses of just under five billion euros in Germany, with the economic damage being two to three times higher!
    Ernst Rauch
    Munich Re
    Chief Climate and Geo Scientist

    From knowledge to action - but how?

    Rauch warned that the choice of location comes before climate-friendly construction, citing the Ahr valley, which was flooded by a tidal wave a good two years ago, as a negative example. "With the exception of 34 houses, all the buildings were rebuilt on their original sites," confirmed moderator Renate Bleich from the Munich Re Foundation. Munich Re's chief climatologist lamented the frequent discrepancy between deeds and facts. "In the face of climate change, we need to rethink and find new solutions to well-known problems, but we haven't got there yet." Insurers can only make a small contribution to climate-adapted reconstruction through the design of their policies. The far greater levers can be found elsewhere. Site closures and the designation of new, safe building areas are certainly possible if politicians and local authorities want to do so. This is demonstrated by the resettlement programs for opencast coal mining. Ultimately, it is a question of priorities. And risk-conscious action unfortunately does not yet have the priority it should have at many levels. 

    With more and better information about risk avoidance and prevention in the media, we could try to shake people up and encourage them to take more precautions, even if, according to Außendorf, the scope for action in a rented apartment is limited. However, by influencing MPs in their own constituency or getting involved in non-governmental organizations, individual citizens already have opportunities to steer policy in the right direction. "You shouldn't feel powerless as an individual.  Decisions are made when society stands behind politics. I'm very optimistic about that," said Rauch with conviction.


    2 February 2024

    Further information on the forum

    Panel guests:

    Prof. Dr.-Ing. Jan Wörner

    President acatech

    Ernst Rauch

    Chief Climate and Geo Scientist at Munich Re Group

    Michael Außendorf

    Climate Centre at the Bavarian State Office for the Environment



    Renate Bleich, Chair of Munich Re Foundation