Risks and Vulnerability

Historic city center with houses floodedClick to enlarge
Floods frequently endanger settlements.
Source: Hendrik Schwartz / Fotolia.com

Climate change poses risks, especially for very vulnerable people, regions or systems. The vulnerability depends on physical and socio-economic factors. Settlements in flood areas, for example, are threatened by the floods. Bed-ridden people or those who are cut off from information about the flood situation are deemed to be particularly vulnerable.

Concept of Vulnerability

There are different approaches for the analysis and evaluation of the vulnerability of people, regions or systems to possible impacts of climate change. One of the best-known concepts is the vulnerability concept of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) of 2007 (Parry et al. 2007). In that context, vulnerability refers to the degree to which a person, an area or a system is affected by climate changes and the extent to which the impacts can be dealt with. Vulnerability depends on the type and intensity of the change in climate (exposure or climate signal), the sensitivity and the adaptive capacity of the person, region or system.
The vulnerability analysis provides the framework for the determination of vulnerability. Normally, the analysis is carried out to identify particularly vulnerable people, regions or systems and to derive starting points for possible adaptation measures.

Vulnerability assessments in Germany

In Germany, several vulnerability assessments have already been carried out, for example, in federal states like North Rhine-Westphalia and Saxony-Anhalt, for individual regions in the context of research projects or for certain fields of action, such as human health or energy.

A Germany-wide vulnerability analysis was carried out in 2005 for the first time. In the context of this analysis, the regions south-west Germany (Upper Rhine valley), central regions of eastern Germany (north-eastern German lowlands, south-east German basin and hills) and the Alps were identified as being the most vulnerable regions. The low mountain ranges (“Mittelgebirge”) and north-west Germany were found to be the least vulnerable areas. A comparison of the fields of action came to the conclusion that the sectors water, health and winter sports tourism are particularly vulnerable.

The study formed an essential basis for the compilation of the German Adaptation Strategy (DAS) in 2008.

A new, nation-wide consistent vulnerability assessment

Since 2005, the knowledge about climate change and its consequences has constantly been enlarged. German research and joint projects (such as KLIWAS, KLIMZUG, klimazwei, KlimaMoro) have contributed significantly to this knowledge building. For this reason, a Germany-wide vulnerability analysis was carried out from 2011 until 2015. It shall collect available knowledge and evaluate Germany’s current and future vulnerability to climate change with the help of a newly developed method. The analysis was implemented in the context of the research project "Network Vulnerability" (“Netzwerk Vulnerabilität“). In addition to the German Federal Environmental Agency, 15 other federal agencies and institutions are involved in the project.

The results show: until the middle of the century the warming and thus the change in species will increase across Germany. This will affect the biological diversity in aquatic and terrestic ecosystems. At the same time the danger of heat waves and droughts with negative impacts for human health, building industry, agriculture and forestry will rise. With increasing climate change also the danger of flash floods and river floods will increase. Therefore also the damage potential of climate change to environment, health and infrastructure will become bigger, especially in agglomerations. The study shows also which climate impacts will affect which regions in particular: So, agglomerations in eastern Germany or in the Rhine valley are threatened by heat waves. In northern Germany the number of river floods can increase, whereas in southern Germany the floods due to heavy rains will increase.

Dealing with the risks of climate change

A proactive adaptation to the expected climate impacts is required in order to reduce the risks of climate change. Therefore, the results of the new nation-wide vulnerability assessment, which the Network Vulnerability has prepared, have been used in the further development of the German Adaptation Strategy and the Adaptation Action Plan, to priories adaptation needs.