Adaptation to the consequences of climate change in urban planning and urban development - GERICS Adaptation toolkit for cities (Stadtbaukasten)

Background and Goals

It is widely accepted that man has a decisive influence on the changes of global climate. The concentration of people, assets, critical infrastructure and economic activities in urban areas make cities highly vulnerable to climate change impacts, such as more frequent and intense heavy rain events and heatwaves or increasing mean temperature. These climate impacts cause considerable stress for the urban population and infrastructure. It is therefore necessary to adapt to local and regional projected climate change impacts at an early stage. These impacts need to be considered in planning and design processes to positively influence quality of life and the persistence of infrastructure in the future. 

The adaptation toolkit for cities provides in its standard configuration eleven module groups that cover the most important areas of activities of a city. Within each module group, there are one or more modules with specific priorities:

  • Urban Water
  • Specific urban climate information
  • Climate adapted urban development
  • Thermal comfort and housing environment
  • communication
  • economics and financing
  • monitoring and quality assurance
  • combined mitigation and adaptation concepts
  • urban green
  • critical infrastructure
  • interfaces: e.g. Adaptation toolkit für companies

Beside mitigation and adaptation strategies, there are many other challenges for cities, such as rising settlement pressure or demographic change. Yet, even though other issues may appear more immediate and pressing in everyday business of cities and municipalities, it is important to answer the following questions:

  • How operative and resource-friendly are cities and municipalities under the conditions of climate change?
  • What are the opportunities and challenges arising from climate change for city administrations but also for the inhabitants?

Content time


Research area/region

  • Germany
Region of implementation (all German federal states)
  • Nationwide

Steps in the process of adaptation to climate change

Step 1: Understand and describe climate change

Approach and results 

The module group “specific urban climate information” takes on climatic information, which is being tested upon robustness and significance. In order to make statements about quality / results with representativeness it is common to use ensembles of climate change projections. By using the bandwidth of available future climate change projections’ probabilities of occurrence can be derived.

According to guidelines by authors of the 5th IPCC Assessment Reports the area of change is “likely” when 66% of all projected changes are within this range. If the area covers 90% of the changes, it is said to be "very likely".

In practical implementation, however, it is not always possible (due to the available data basis) or desired (for cost-benefit considerations) to apply the best possible scientific approach. Therefore, various procedures are listed below that differ in their level of detail and the quality of the results. In all cases, care must be taken to present the results in such a way that the limits of the results are clearly visible. In addition, there is always the possibility to update results after a certain time, if, for example, new regional climate information is available.

Approach: individual climate projections with a model grid box
This is used if no ensemble of regional climate projections is freely available for the study area. The simulation of the historical climate (1950-2005) and the projections of the future climate (2005-2100) are calculated, for example, with the regional climate model REMO, which is powered by the global model MPI-ESM. The spatial resolution is 0.11º (~ 12.5 km), the temporal resolution is one hour.
Indices: temperature, heat days, summer days, heavy rain events, dry periods, length of the growing season

Approach: Climate model ensemble with nine model grid boxes
The simulation of the historical climate (1950-2005) and the projections of the future climate (2005-2100) are based on the regional climate projections of the EURO CORDEX initiative (, created by "Dynamic Downscaling". Here, a larger number of climate projections - at the time of processing 34 - analyzed, divided into four projections based on scenario RCP2.6, and each 15 projections based on scenario RCP4.5 or RCP8.5. The Ensemble includes simulations of six different regional climate models (RCMs), from eight different global climate models (GCMs) or GCM implementations are driven. The REMO simulations used in the "simple" version are part of the EUROCORDEX ensemble.

Approach: Climate model ensemble and representative model grid boxes
The simulation of the historical climate and the projections of the future climate are based on an ensemble of regional climate projections, such as the EURO CORDEX initiative.

In order to extract local climate change information for larger areas - such as city neighborhoods - from climate model simulations, the climate parameters for all simulations can be selected from the grid boxes in which part of the neighborhood is located. Based on the respective area ratio per grid box, a weighted average of the climate changes is calculated. Thus, also surrounding areas are included in the consideration. This is a necessary approach because the information from regional climate models is not point-specific, but can only be seen as a means across a larger region. It should be noted that the selection of relevant grid boxes is always case-specific. For example, inland or mountainous areas, other methods may be used than for coastal locations.

Module group "Thermal wellbeing and living environment"
Urban climate models such as FITNAH, MUKLIMO_3, RayMan or UBIKLIM are often used to calculate microclimatic conditions and the spread of air pollutants in urban areas. To identify so-called hotspots with regard to the consequences of climate change for a city region, the three-dimensional, non-stationary flow energy balance model ENVI-met is used exemplarily. The projections for the historical (1950-2005) and future (2005-2100) climate are calculated using the regional climate model REMO as an example, using the climate change scenario RCP 8.5 ("high emission scenario"). Based on the results of the EURO-CORDEX REMO simulations, powered by the MPI-ESM global model, with a spatial resolution of 0.11º (~ 12.5 km) and an hourly resolution of one hour. For validation purposes, a REMO simulation with the same basic configuration is also used, which is powered by the reanalysis product ERA-Interim - climate data based on observational data.

Parameter (climate signals)
  • Altered rainfall patterns
  • Higher average temperatures
Further times 


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

Approach and results 

Focus of module group “climate adapted urban development” lies on current used administrative proceedings. Goal of the proto-typical module is to add to existing planning proceedings. Among other things, this includes examining the project for its vulnerability to selected consequences of climate change or identifying future hot spots.

The module "Vulnerability Index of neighborhoods" deals with vulnerability assessment. In order to initiate adaptation measures from the point of view of decision-makers, the identification of weak points or an initial assessment of vulnerabilities is necessary. With regard to flooding events, the Vulnerability Index of Rose & Wilke (2015) is being further developed and used as part of the GERICS Urban Kit. To this end, neighborhoods are compared on the basis of the exposure, susceptibility and coping capacity of the population and companies in order to provide decision makers with a basis for deriving action plans.

Module “Urban Planning Climate Consulting” is based on the available planning tools that have to be coordinated against the background of changing climatic conditions. It considers both the preparatory land use plans and integrated landscape planning, as well as the binding land-use planning and urban development planning processes (for example, urban development plan, urban planning master plan).

As a possible approach, an integrated analysis of land use and settlement structures in relation to exposure to climatic changes can be carried out as a first step. Based on a vulnerability analysis, the planning instruments of urban development planning are then evaluated model-wise at specific example sites with regard to their adaptation to climate change.

Vulnerability arises, on the one hand, from the nature and intensity of the climatic changes, and, on the other, from the sensitivity of the viewing space, taking into account its adaptive capacity. The first phase of application considers the vulnerability resulting from the interaction of the building structure (based on the degree of sealing including compensatory reduction and avoidance capacities) and the projected climatic changes.

Urgency and priorization of adaptation needs 

By including the largest possible ensembles of climate simulations, future developments in the planning of measures can be taken into account. Measures that took equal account of both climate change and adaptation have the highest priority.

Step 3: Develop and compare measures

Measures and/or strategies 

Module group “Communication” includes following modules:

“multifunctional transdisciplinary communication tool”

The basic idea of the GERICS-adaptation toolkit for cities, to determine the practical need together with municipalities and cities and to develop in co-production tailor-made, prototypical products, in all work within the town planning box one or more of the following tools are used: Demand Queries, Participation processes, workshops, establishment and / or reactivation of networks, moderation, preparation of topic-related information material or public relations.

"Individual, Integrative and Multisectoral Knowledge Synthesis":

The starting point for most of the activities within the framework of the urban development kit are knowledge syntheses, which provide a first integrative overview of the current state of knowledge, including open questions about a specific location, space or sector-specific topic. These can also be used for city-specific advice by presenting already identified questions and solutions (good practice) from other cities in order to discuss theoretically possible approaches. The findings derived from this serve as the first basis for the individual adaptation or new development of prototype modules.

“creating a climate change guiding principle”

Guiding Principles form the framework for urban development, whereby objectives and principles of action are formulated without, however, and specifying final states. They represent an important basis for decision-making for the selection of options for action and facilitate a technical and political understanding between urban and spatial planning, administration, economy and the population. They are also an important tool for integrating adaptation and climate change together with other aspects such as demographic change or migration into integrated urban development. In addition, they are an important monitoring instrument for evaluating the implementation of concepts and measures.

Conflicts / synergies / sustainability 

The module "Assessment of Political Enforceability of Measures" is assigned to the module group "Communication" and its aim is to point out possible synergies and conflicts of the adaptation measure considered in each case with other activities (eg measures for climate protection or nature conservation). The premise for the selection of adaptation measures is to reduce and to avoid conflicts, and to exploit synergies.

Step 4: Plan and implement measures

Measures and/or strategies 

The module "Assessment of Political Enforceability of Measures" is assigned to the module group "Communication" and its aim is to point out possible synergies and conflicts of the adaptation measure considered in each case with other activities (eg measures for climate protection or nature conservation). The premise for the selection of adaptation measures is to reduce and to avoid conflicts, and to exploit synergies.

Costs of the measures 

The module group "Economy and Financing" focuses on two aspects that are important for the implementation of adaptation measures, the extension of new financial leeway and the justification of the need for adaptation measures through cost-benefit analyses.

The module "Financing Concepts for Adaptation Measures" supports the development and implementation of a fundraising strategy tailored to the local situation.

The module "Cost-Benefit Analysis of Adaptation Measures" helps to make different alternatives of the measures to achieve a specific goal comparable in their economic dimensions. The planning, implementation, implementation and monitoring of adaptation measures always entail costs.

Step 5: Watch and evaluate adaptation (monitoring and evaluation)

Approach, objective and results of the monitoring and/or evaluation 

Module group "Monitoring and Quality Control":

Adaptation policies and measures need to be flexible in order to respond to the full range of potential environmental, economic, social and climatological developments through readjustment.

An adaptation strategy, whose individual measures are each linked to a monitoring system, can be validated in terms of efficiency and, if necessary, adapted to the changing requirements in order to be able to use the scarce resources in a goal-oriented manner.


Project management 

GERICS Climate Service Center Germany

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