Adapting to climate change: take preventative action now to contain damages later

Keeping climate change in mind when making investments

People standing on a seat bench surrounded by waterClick to enlarge
Climate change also affects the hydrological regime.
Source: Daniel Strauch/fotolia.com

Climate change will augment global risks such as poverty, pollution and the extinction of species which already exist and will slow down economic development. These are the facts reported in Part II of the current World Climate Report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) on the impacts, vulnerability and adaptation to climate change which was published today in Yokohama, Japan.

In its report published today, the IPCC concludes that advancing climate change will slow down global economic growth, put food security at risk, accentuate social inequalities and thus trigger the risk of conflict and increased migration. UBA’s Vice-President Thomas Holzmann said, “Extreme weather events will become major risks worldwide in the next few decades. These risks could have a high impact on health or lead to flooding or the destruction of infrastructure. Adaptation measures can help to reduce or even avoid possible damage done by extreme weather. Investments made into adaptation measures have been inadequate up to now. We can foster sustainable development only by making fundamental changes in society and technology through extensive climate protection and adaptation measures.”

The Strategische Behördenallianz zur Klimaanpassung (inter-agency alliance on climate adaptation) predicted that heavy rainfall and storms may occur more frequently in future in Germany under certain conditions. By the end of the 21st century the temperatures in southern Germany might be hotter than 30°C on up to 30 days a year, and on up to 15 days along its coasts. Hot weather events, which occur once every 25 years nowadays, might occur every one to three years in future. The frequency of heavy precipitation along the coasts in winter could increase threefold, and frequency in many other areas could increase by up to 50 percent.

Mr Holzmann remarked, “The Federal Environment Agency recommends striving to achieve ambitious greenhouse gas reduction goals while adapting to climate change. Even if we immediately and significantly reduced carbon dioxide emissions, we would nevertheless have to implement adaptation measures.” The Federal Government and the Länder have developed strategies and programmes in recent years which involve many adaptation measures. A reform of the German Strategy for Adaptation to Climate Change by the end of next year will open up an opportunity to push ahead with its implementation and to further reduce the damages caused by climate change. “In the area of flood protection, for example, the Federal Government and Länder have taken important steps towards adaptation to climate change. Although there is no 100-percent protection against flood damage, the containment of flooding can be improved. As the dramatic flooding in 2013 showed, there is still a lack of floodplains on which large masses of water can spread out unhindered. Damages could be kept low as a result. The following rule of thumb applies: as much reinforcement of levees as necessary, as many floodplains as possible.” Pre-existing no-construction zones in areas prone to flooding should be upheld at all costs, and more use should be made in future of agricultural land for water retention. This can be complemented by existing instruments such as structural planning or flood risk management plans. One viable option in regions at very high risk and in thinly populated polder landscapes may be a withdrawal of human settlements.

It is also important to do a so-called climate check during development or maintenance of long-lived infrastructures such as traffic arteries or energy plants and supply systems. The Federal Government provides funding for the planning of this type and other adaptation measures in municipalities and businesses and by education providers.

Local governments, businesses and private households often benefit directly and immediately from precautionary adaptation measures which include roof greening to protect against summertime heat, the renaturation of riparian woodland as protection against floods, or the use of heat-resistant surfacing to prevent road damages. The UBA gives advice in a new guide on how local governments, businesses and private citizens can identify suitable measures which they can adopt for themselves. Examples include the Hitzetelefon Sonnenschirm (heat alert hotline) in Kassel, forest conversion in the forests of Thuringia or flood protection measures in Dresden. The UBA Tatenbank (deeds bank) provides other good examples from all over Germany.

Health risks during heat waves can be reduced by a number of different technical measures such as cooling, shading and building insulation. Early warning, monitoring, health and care systems must be sustained, adjusted and further developed as necessary to ensure adaptation to climate change in the long term.

Further information:

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) acts on behalf of the United Nations. It reports the current scientific knowledge on climate change. The IPCC is publishing the Fifth Assessment Report in 2013 and 2014. The Report consists of three Working Group contributions and a synthesis report. The second report which was published today focuses on the risks and impacts of climate change as well as opportunities for adaptation. The third report will reveal the options for action to avoid further emissions of greenhouse gases. The scheduled publication date is mid-April.

Recent UBA publications – Competence Centre on Climate Impacts and Adaptation (KomPass ): The German-language guide on good practices in adaptation to climate change (Handbuch zur guten Praxis der Anpassung an den Klimawandel ) highlights proven measures and makes recommendations. The Tatenbank features more than 200 examples of successful adaptation measures from all over Germany. Local governments and businesses can also devise their own adaptation strategies with the help of the Climate Navigator (Klimalotsen).

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