Field of Action Civil Protection

Jackets and helmets of the professional fire brigadeClick to enlarge
Extreme weather events endanger people and their provision with goods and services.
Source: C. Benjamin Nolte/

Impacts of Climate Change

Table of Contents



According to calculations of the German Meteorological Service (DWD) 2018 was the warmest year since Germany wide weather observations began in 1881, with an annual mean temperature of 10.4 degrees Celsius - 2.2 degrees above the long-term German average between 1961-1990. With well over 2,000 hours of sunshine, 2018 was also the sunniest year in Germany since the start of measurements in 1951. In addition, there was a drought that lasted from April to November of that year.

In spring, rising temperatures, especially at higher altitudes, cause frozen soils to continually soften, which can trigger slope movements and landslides. Damage to roads, railroad lines, tunnels and other infrastructure may occur.

High water temperatures combined with low water limit the availability of water for power plants and the supply of fuels via inland waterways. This endangers the security of electricity supplies. The energy infrastructure as an elementary part of critical infrastructures is endangered.

The population is also affected by heat. Physical and psychological stress can occur. More people will be dependent on supplies from civil protection organizations, especially in the summer months. Since road users are also affected, the number of accidents grows. The frequency of personal injury as well as damage to vehicles, traffic facilities and the traffic infrastructure is increasing.

In addition, the risk of fire increases with rising temperatures and pronounced dryness. Firefighting missions are therefore likely to increase in the future.


Extreme weather events

In addition to rising temperatures, more frequent and more severe extreme weather conditions also influence the tasks of civil protection. Above all, events that lead to flooding and high water are of great importance for civil protection.

Since the year 2000, Germany has experienced a series of extreme floods, each of which took on the dimensions of a flood of the century. Most recently, in early summer 2016, entire areas of southern and eastern Germany were underwater. Places and basements were also flooded with mud and flotsam from overflowing rivers, while houses were severely damaged or destroyed. Hurricanes like Xavier and Herwart in October 2017 also left clear traces.

Heavy precipitation brings various problems. For instance, the flooding associated with them is not only a threat to the people who live and work in the affected regions, but also to the supply systems. Power supply and the health care system can be severely affected by this. In addition, problems with the drainage of settlements and thus flooding can occur. Heavy rainfall also increases the risk of flash floods, debris flows and landslides. Further emergencies arise from the fact that floods affect transportation, the availability of drinking water and human health. The high number of civil protection operations in 2002, 2006 and 2010 was mainly triggered by flood events.

Other extreme weather events such as storms and thunderstorms, together with increased precipitation, can also cause damage to infrastructure. If transport infrastructure is impaired, overhead lines and signalling systems are damaged, track systems are undermined, roads are flooded and traffic routes that are necessary for supplies are blocked, this can lead to more frequent deployment for civil protection organizations.


Consequences for civil protection organisations

It is not only the areas of responsibility of civil protection that are affected by climate change; the organizations themselves can also be affected by extreme weather events and changing climatic conditions.

The climatic changes can, for example, lead to higher deployment figures. As a result, the emergency personnel are also increasingly at risk, which is extremely stressful for them both physically and psychologically. In May and June 2016, for example, the consequences of heavy rainfall kept emergency forces nationwide busy. From the end of May to the beginning of July, around 10,000 THW (Technisches Hilfswerk) employees, including 7,700 volunteers, were on duty day and night with boats, high-performance pumps, large emergency power generators to supply energy and lighting equipment.

As a result of more frequent deployments, the aid organizations also suffer damage to material assets more frequently. The relief organizations' own exposure to the crisis thus includes increased dangers for their own personnel, damage to property and equipment and the failure of their own infrastructure.

The changing temperatures and climatic fluctuations also renew equipment requirements for civil protection. If there are long hot summers and fewer days of frost in the future, fewer winter vehicles will be needed, but more emergency services for cardiovascular diseases will be required. Without sufficient restructuring, extended heat waves could quickly push rescue and treatment capacities to their limits.

Adaptation to Climate Change

Further development of tasks of civil protection

The effects of climate change bring with them new challenges for disaster prevention and disaster management, to which civil protection must adapt. New requirements arise primarily from the expected increase in the frequency and intensity of extreme weather situations and weather conditions and their associated consequences.

Even under these circumstances, civil protection should be able to fulfil their tasks reliably. This includes protecting the lives and health of citizens and preventing material damage in the event of disasters and serious emergencies. Another central concern is to ensure the availability of the so-called "critical infrastructures", which include energy and water supplies, transport and traffic, and telecommunications and information technology. Here, prevention is often the best protection and is the responsibility of the respective state and private actors.

In the German Adaptation Strategy, civil protection is treated as a cross-cutting issue that is primarily linked to the fields of human health, water and energy management, transport infrastructure and spatial planning.

Even if civil protection shows itself to be well prepared for future challenges, additional measures may be necessary. This requires the systematic processing of data for civil protection and the consideration of possible consequences of climate change based on a reliable risk analysis.

Comparable data must be collected for efficient monitoring of extreme weather events and relief organizations' operations. A harmonization of data in this area beyond individual organizations and federal states would be an important first step towards preparing civil protection and disaster relief more effectively for future challenges.

In addition, existing systems and measures can be further developed, for example, severe weather warning systems, special civil protection planning, training programs for dike wardens, early detection of forest fires and the use of special resources such as vehicles, equipment and materials. Equipment that is becoming increasingly necessary due to the changed climate conditions includes emergency drinking-water supplies, emergency power generators and fire departments with pumps and power generators.

Effective strategies and measures for both institutional and individual heat prevention require - as do those for flood or strong wind prevention - a knowledge-based and forward-looking approach to climate change, heat and drought in politics, administration and (urban) society. Strategies and measures in urban areas should take into consideration both the local urban climate and possible pollution factors such as air quality and noise, as well as possible extreme weather events and future, often barely perceptible climatic changes. Municipal climate, heat and drought prevention is therefore a cross-cutting task that requires coordinated strategies and measures in different municipal fields of action and by different players.

Longer and more frequent deployments can be managed more effectively by civil protection organizations if different players also cooperate across disciplines. The working group "Climate Change and Adaptation in Disaster Management" consists of nationwide active relief organizations, voluntary and professional fire departments, the Federal Agency for Technical Relief (THW) and the Federal Office for Civil Protection and Disaster Assistance (BBK). The BBK, the German Environment Agency (UBA), the German Meteorological Service (DWD), the Federal Institute for Research on Building, Urban Affairs and Spatial Development in the Federal Office for Building and Regional Planning (BBSR) and the THW are already working actively together in a strategic alliance of authorities to integrate the consequences of climate change into the practice of civil protection.

Maintaining the operational capability of civil protection

The consequences of climate change do not only affect the tasks of civil protection. The organizations themselves can also be burdened by the changed climate conditions and must therefore adapt. For example, heat stress can push relief workers to their limits. This must be taken into consideration when planning the work. Measures such as longer breaks and increased rotation of the emergency personnel can help. The working environment can also be adapted, for example by cooling rooms and vehicles.

If critical infrastructures fail due to extreme weather events, this can also affect civil protection itself. Adaptation measures can help to ensure the operational capability in such a case. Not least, this includes a systematic overview of the own dependencies on critical infrastructure. This can be the basis for a comprehensive assessment of where problems could arise and in which areas emergency care is required. Based on this, measures ranging from technical solutions to emergency plans can be developed to ensure long-term operational capability.

Self-protection of the population

The population's ability to protect itself is an important component of civil protection. Self-protection is the sum of individual measures taken by the population, authorities and/or companies to avoid, prevent and help themselves, that is to cope with events. By behaving correctly in emergency situations, citizens can help to protect themselves and their fellow human beings and improve general safety.

An important adaptation measure is the improvement of risk communication. Information and contact points can raise awareness of the problems and contribute to self-help. Timely and effective warning of extreme weather events can significantly increase the protection of the population. In the case of extreme weather and weather-related events, it can take considerably more time for rescue forces to arrive in sufficient numbers.

On the one hand it is important to develop and maintain general skills, for example, by first aid courses. On the other hand, information material is offered by the authorities. On the federal side, the Federal Office for Civil Protection and Disaster Relief is the main source of information on the correct behavior in the event of a disaster. Nowadays, accurate information on flood hazards, geological hazards such as mass movements and landslides, and storm damage risks is provided, in some cases precisely to the parcel.

With the "Compass of Natural Hazards" on the Internet, the German Insurance Association offers an address-exact assessment of the natural hazards of flood, storm and hail, lightning and overvoltage for Germany. Some offers tailored to specific needs already complement the general consulting services: these include information sheets and checklists on adapted behavior and protection options, internet portals and knowledge platforms, notices and apps as well as SMS warning systems that address specific target groups such as building owners, children or hospitals. For example, in the NINA warning app (Emergency Information and News App of the Federal Government), citizens can subscribe to warnings on civil protection, severe weather warnings from the German Weather Service and flood information from the interstate flood portal.