Climate change has an impact on the safety of installations

Lightning and technical installationClick to enlarge
Technical installations must be protected from natural hazards such as lightning or storms.
Source: Siegfried Layda/Getty Images

Sources of natural hazards, such as heavy rainfall, flooding, winter storms or lightning, can cause major accidents. Climate change can change the intensity, frequency and local distribution of such sources of hazards. Operators of installations in which large quantities of hazardous substances are present and the authorities responsible for them must therefore adapt their risk management.

Natural hazards such as precipitation, storms or thunderstorms can cause considerable damage if they affect technical installations. If the installation also contains hazardous substances, it is not only the direct damage to the installation that is relevant, but also the triggered release of these substances, which could catch fire or even explode. Such incidents are known internationally as Natechs (Natural Hazard Triggered Technical Accidents) and require special Natech risk management.

The report "Climate change and plant safety: Recommendations from the UN / OECD Natech project" (in German) compiles which types of natural hazard sources in Germany are particularly relevant for this risk management and which effects of climate change on these hazard sources are expected. For example, it is expected that thunderstorms will occur more frequently and more intensely due to climate change. This can often lead to severe flooding. Longer and more intense high-temperature periods due to climate change can increase the temperature of parts of the installations and substances inside, which can trigger undesirable chemical reactions.

The following recommendations for operators, authorities and other stakeholders on Natech risk management were derived from this compilation.

  • Operators of installations should take natural hazards that change due to climate change into account when preparing for accidents. They are supposed to develop strategies for adapting to climate change, take further safety measures and update them with advanced knowledge. 
  • Authorities should actively communicate the maps they have created about natural hazards to the municipalities and operators of installations concerned via central portals on the Internet. 
  • States and operators who can be affected by a natural hazard should cooperate cross-border and internationally in Natech risk management and exchange examples of good practice in Natech risk management.

Accordingly, a record with international good practice examples in Natech risk management was compiled in the project. The various actors from politics and business find suggestions here to further develop their own activities for Natech risk management. The overview ranges from early warning systems against natural hazards (such as tsunami, flood or storm warning systems) to methods for analyzing natural hazards and Natech risks to examples of cross-border or international cooperation. The examples describe the international state of the art in Natech risk management. The record comprises 42 data sheets with examples of 12 sub-aspects of Natech risk management.

The research project, which gave these results, carried out on behalf of the UBA by adelphi gGmbH, Berlin, is a sub-project within the framework of the activities of the UN, OECD and EU on Natech risk management since 2009.

Further results of the OECD-Natech project have been published under the title: “Natech Risk Management: 2017-2020 Project Results” as No. 32 in the series on Chemical Accidents of the OECD.