Risks and Vulnerability

Historic city center with houses floodedClick to enlarge
Floods frequently endanger settlements.
Source: Hendrik Schwartz / Fotolia.com

Climate change poses risks, especially for vulnerable people, regions or systems. The vulnerability depends on physical and socio-economic factors. Settlements in flood areas, for example, are threatened by the floods. People in need of care or those who are cut off from information about the flood situation are deemed to be particularly vulnerable.

Table of Contents


Concept of Vulnerability

There are different approaches for the analysis and evaluation of the vulnerability of people, regions or systems to possible impacts of climate change. One of the best-known concepts is the vulnerability concept of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) of 2007. In that context, vulnerability refers to the degree to which a person, an area or a system is affected by climate changes and the extent to which the affected can deal with those impacts. Vulnerability depends on the type and intensity of the change in climate (climate impact) as well as on the sensitivity and the adaptive capacity of the person, region or system.

The concept of vulnerability changed in the last IPCC report (2014), which makes using the term more difficult. This new concept of vulnerability comprises only sensitivity and the adaptive capacity. Additionally spatial exposure is highlighted, showing whether a person, region or system is exposed to climatic impacts. All those components affect the possible climate impacts and thus the exposure of the person, the region or the system in question. The vulnerability analysis as well as the analysis of climate effects provide the framework for the determination of vulnerability or exposure. Normally, the analysis is carried out to identify particularly exposed people, regions or systems and to derive starting points for possible adaptation measures.


Analyses of Climate Effects and Vulnerability in Germany

In Germany, several assessments of climate effects and vulnerability have already been carried out, for example, in federal states like North Rhine-Westphalia and Saxony-Anhalt, for individual regions or for certain fields of action.

A Germany-wide analysis of climate effects and vulnerability was carried out in 2005 for the first time. The analysis formed an essential basis for the compilation of the German Adaptation Strategy (DAS) in 2008.

Since 2005, the knowledge about climate change and its consequences has constantly been enlarged. Research and joint projects (such as KLIWAS, KLIMZUG, klimazwei and KlimaMoro) have contributed significantly to this knowledge building. A Germany-wide climate effect and vulnerability analysis was carried out from 2011 until 2015. It shall compile existing knowledge and evaluate Germany’s current and future vulnerability with the help of a newly developed method. The analysis was implemented in the context of the research project "Network Vulnerability". In addition to the German Federal Environmental Agency, 15 other federal agencies and institutions are involved in the project.

The results of the analysis:
until the middle of the century the warming and thus the change in species will increase across Germany. This will affect biological diversity as well as agriculture, forestry and human health through, for example, the spread of pests or vectors. At the same time the danger of heat waves and droughts with negative impacts for human health, building industry, agriculture and forestry will rise. With increasing climate change the danger of flash floods and river floods will increase also. In consequence the damage potential of climate change to environment, health and infrastructure rises, especially in agglomerations. The study shows also which regions in particular are affected by climate impacts: Agglomerations in eastern Germany or in the Rhine valley for example are threatened by heat waves. In northern Germany the impacts of river floods can increase, whereas in southern Germany the floods due to heavy rains will increase.


Dealing with hazards due to climate change

A proactive adaptation to the expected climate impacts is required in order to reduce the hazards of climate change. Therefore, the results of the nation-wide vulnerability assessment from 2015 have been used in the further development of the German Adaptation Strategy and the Adaptation Action Plan, to prioritise adaptation needs.

For further information about adaption to climate change in the German Länder and the individual fields of action click HERE. Moreover, the German Environment Agency is offering a range of tools which offer support for the implementation of adaption measures.