What are the impacts of climate change?
The climate is changing already and will continue to change in the future. A significant percentage of the observed and predicted changes can be attributed directly to greenhouse gases emitted by humans. Climate change manifests itself both in long-term changes in the climate such as slowly increasing average temperatures as well as in an altered climate variability, i.e. greater climate fluctuations and more frequent extreme weather events such as storms, drought or heat-wave summers.
The impacts of climate change are manifold and influence our everyday lives. Some examples are:
- Health: heat waves affect humans, animals and plants. Elderly and sick people in particular may suffer from serious health problems.
- Agriculture: A shift in the vegetation periods – i.e. those periods during which plants grow, blossom and bear fruit – influences agricultural production.
- Energy production: Many power plants extract water from nearby rivers and feed in hot water. Due to river water that is already too warm or because of low water levels in summer, a lack of sufficient amounts of cooling water may be the result. In extreme cases, affected power plants have to be shut down. Furthermore, the flora and fauna of rivers are endangered if the rivers' water is too warm.
Further impacts of climate change can be found on the following pages.
Does climate change involve chances, too?
Yes, because milder winters can, for example, reduce health effects of cold spells, downtimes in the construction industry or our demand for heating energy. Other areas may benefit from positive effects, too. However, actual beneficiaries are a minority. As far as most of the examined regions, industrial sectors or also ecosystems are concerned, the few positive effects are not capable of outweighing the numerous negative implications.
Due to the fact that climate change will have both positive and negative effects, it is important to take potential risks as well as chances into account when planning adaptation measures.
How does one know which consequences climate change will have?
In order to assess the possible consequences of climate change one can resort to impact models.
In a first step, results produced by climate models, the so-called climate projections, provide the knowledge required in order to estimate how the climate will develop in the future. Impact models use these climate projections and connect them with existing knowledge about the relationship between climate change and its influence on humans, nature and the economy. Thereby the impact models provide an insight in future or also projected climate effects.
Also past events provide information about possible climate impacts. Thus, for example, the Elbe flood in Germany in 2002 caused economic losses amounting to 9.4 billion Euros. The hurricanes "Lothar" and "Martin" in 1999 caused total damages amounting to 14 billion Euros. Statisticians have found that there were approximately 7,000 more deaths during the hot summer in 2003 in Germany than usual in summer. The knowledge that climate change affects the occurrence of extreme weather events, and experience with such events help to meet future extreme weather events effectively.
How can climate impacts be met?
Potentially occurring damage can be reduced or limited if preparations for climate impacts are carried out as early as possible and in a targeted manner. At the same time, potentially existing chances can be exploited. Reaching this goal is, however, a collective challenge. In order to meet the impacts of climate change effectively, politics, economy and society have to cooperate. A comprehensive assessment of potential climate effects that is based on climate and impact models is the cornerstone for this adaptation. Subsequently, adaptation measures can be planned in accordance with the respective findings. Due to the German Strategy for Adaptation to Climate Change (Deutsche Anpassungsstrategie an den Klimawandel, DAS) and the Adaptation Action Plan (Aktionsplan Anpassung, APA) as well as the Progress Report to the Adaptation Strategie, Germany is in a good starting position as far as dealing with climate impacts is concerned.
So-called ´impact chains´ provide a basis to analyse the impacts of climate change. Impact chains depict the cause-effect-relations of climate and possible climate impacts. Basic elements are climate and non-climate influences, so-called sensitivities, as well as climate impacts.