Protected Areas in Germany under Global Change - Risks and Policy Options

Background and Goals

To a large extent, the protection of species and biotic communities is assured with the aid of nature reserves of different categories. Throughout the world, such protected areas are currently the main instrument of nature conservation. In the coming decades, protected areas in Germany will experience a significant transformation of their natural environment potential due to the climate change. This problem poses new challenges for the national conservation strategies, but also for upholding international agreements. The project will carry through a risk assessment of the climate effects on a comprehensive and representative list of protected areas in Germany, using the latest statistical and process-based simulation methods. The aim is to examine the probability that these areas will continue to be able to fulfil their protective purpose in the foreseeable future, in each case. From this ecological risk assessment, options will be derived for a more dynamic nature conservation policy, in dialogue with stakeholders in public and private nature conservation.

The primary objective of the project is to investigate to what extent the climate change will pose risks to the protective purpose of a nature reserve in the 21st century, based on a comprehensive and representative list of protected areas in Germany (particularly the Natura 2000 sites). To this end, risk assessments are carried out for individual species, species pools or biotic communities, as well as sensitivity analyses for certain habitats and protection areas. Another goal is to provide concrete proposals for the necessary adaptation of nature conservation strategies and procedures at the national level. For this, necessary and possible changes to conservation objectives and implementation strategies will be identified, with the involvement of the relevant stakeholders (government agencies, administrations, non-governmental organisations).

Content time


Research area/region

  • Germany
Region of implementation (all German federal states)
  • Baden-Württemberg
  • Bavaria
  • Berlin
  • Brandenburg
  • Bremen
  • Hamburg
  • Hesse
  • Mecklenburg Western Pomerania
  • Lower Saxony
  • Northrhine-Westphalia
  • Rhineland Palatinate
  • Saarland
  • Saxony
  • Saxony-Anhalt
  • Schleswig-Holstein
  • Thuringia

Steps in the process of adaptation to climate change

Step 1: Understand and describe climate change

Approach and results 

The regional statistical climate model STAR will be used, taking the IPCC emission scenarios into account. The spatial projection will be based on the available topographical maps with a grid resolution of 1:25,000, as well as on the centres of the protected areas being examined (national protected areas, Natura 2000 sites and other special areas according to the Habitats Directive). In addition, future land-use scenarios will be constructed.

Parameter (climate signals)
  • Altered rainfall patterns
  • Higher average temperatures
  • Dry periods
Further Parameters 

a total of 11 meteorological parameters provided by the DWD (German Meteorological Service) and a further 50 climate parameters derived from these

Further times 

up to 2055

Step 2a: Identify and assess risks - climate effects and impact

Approach and results 

The climate effects observed comprise territorial shifts and species movement (flora and fauna) towards the north east, and the increased likelihood of (local) species extinction caused by extreme events, this being greater, the smaller the size of the habitat. Other consequences include an altered sensitivity of the protected areas with regard to the purposes of species protection (mainly concerning vascular plants and birds) and quality of habitat (concerning habitat types in Annex I of the Habitats Directive). Additionally, the consequences of the climate change will be considered for the ecosystem services.

Step 2b: Identify and assess risks - Vulnerability, risks and chances

Approach and results 

On the one hand, the vulnerability of nature reserves depends on the regional sensitivity of the species and habitats to the climate change. On the other hand, it is also a product of the conservation objectives formulated in the appropriate directives and regulations, and their implementation in care, development and management plans. The more inflexible the conservation objectives are, the higher the risk that they cannot be fulfilled under changing climatic conditions. Vulnerability is therefore a product of the aspects of climate change impacts and sensitivity combined with adaptive capacity in nature conservation.

Urgency and priorization of adaptation needs 

The risk analysis and assessment is intended to identify areas and measures that require urgent action. On the one hand, action is required in moderating the public discussion on how much of a dynamic adaptive capacity is possible without compromising the nature conservation objectives. On the other, the permeability of the countryside for migratory species needs to be increased, which affects all land users (particularly farmers, urban planners and transport planners).

Step 3: Develop and compare measures

Measures and/or strategies 

In response to the climate change, the foundations are to be created for an adapted management of nature conservation areas and for a network of protected areas, while preserving the ecological coherence within Europe. Management concepts will be evaluated for selected areas and recommendations made for adapting nature conservation strategies.

Time horizon
  • 2036–2065
More time information and explanations 


Conflicts / synergies / sustainability 

Conflicts exist with respect to other land uses, e.g., where coextensive landscapes are divided by the traffic infrastructure.


Funding / Financing 

Financing: Federal Office for Nature Conservation (BfN)

Project management 

Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK)

  • Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research (UFZ);
  • Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz;
  • Eberswalde University of Applied Sciences;
  • Assistance with project offered by study group with representatives from BfN, nature conservation associations and German federal states;
  • Cooperation with project "Modelling the effects of climate change on flora in Germany" and the EU ALARM project

PIK – Potsdam-Institut für Klimafolgenforschung
Telegraphenberg A 31
D-14473 Potsdam

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Fields of action:
 biological diversity  spatial, regional and urban land use planning  transport, transport infrastructure