Berlin/Sharm el Sheikh Hot summers and droughts, the flood in the Ahr valley, forest fires in Brandenburg: the devastating effects of global warming can no longer be denied in Germany either.
The corona pandemic and Russia’s war against Ukraine have pushed the mega-problem of climate change into the background – despite all the bad news. At least 1,600 people were recently killed in floods in Pakistan. Several million lost their homes. Elsewhere, however, this was only marginally noticed. “Let’s stop sleepwalking towards the destruction of our planet,” said UN Secretary-General António Guterres. “Today it is Pakistan. Tomorrow it could be your country.”
At this year’s World Climate Conference (the 27th such summit, hence also COP 27) in Sharm el Sheikh, Egypt, starting Sunday, the focus will once again be on containing the crisis caused by man-made global warming. In contrast to extreme weather events in other parts of the world, the effects in Germany are still comparatively mild. Nevertheless, climate change kills hundreds every year between the Alps and the North Sea, according to a study by the Prognos Institute commissioned by the Federal Ministry of Economics. Average annual damage since the turn of the millennium: at least 6.6 billion euros. Tendency: increasing.
The study published in July puts the damage caused by drought and heat at almost 35 billion in the summers of 2018 and 2019 alone. With 17.8 billion total losses, forestry was hit the hardest. Heat-related production losses in industry and trade caused 9.2 billion costs: According to studies, people work more slowly in extreme temperatures and make more mistakes. Yield losses in agriculture – especially in wheat and potatoes – were estimated at 7.8 billion. In addition, at least 7,500 deaths are due to the high temperatures of 2018/19.
flash floods and floods
At least 183 people died as a result of the flash flood and the floods on the Ahr and Erft in July 2021 – more than in all other disasters of this type in Germany since 2000 combined. The study puts the total damage at 40.5 billion – 14 billion of it in private households. This is followed by construction (6.9 billion) and transport and transport infrastructure (6.8 billion). Other hailstorms and storms also caused costs of 5.2 billion euros.
According to Prognos, the actual costs of climate change in Germany have averaged over 6.6 billion per year since 2000. “We can only record damage that is tangible. There are also major gaps in data collection when it comes to damage from past heat and drought events such as 2003,” says Jan Trenczek from Prognos. Further research is needed, for example on heat-related costs in the health system or on the effects of climate change on biological diversity.
The scientists also did not take forest fires into account in their study. Background: According to the official statistics, the damage caused by this was only 2.6 million in summer 2018 due to a low cost rate. However, forest fires also raged in many other European countries this summer. According to the German Fire Brigade Association, almost 4,300 hectares burned nationwide by mid-August – a multiple of the annual average of almost 776 hectares (since 1991). Trenczek estimates the damage at 615 million.
The federal government wants to invest more money in climate protection and climate adaptation. The basis for this is the climate impact and risk analysis from 2021. According to the study, which is published every six years, more protected areas and sustainable land use are necessary. In addition, the sealing of settlement and traffic areas must be reduced.
According to the analysis, however, most of the measures take a very long time to become effective – forest conversion in forestry takes more than 50 years. Because of heat waves and years of drought, the spruce, which is actually native to Scandinavia, is coming under pressure. Huge areas have died in the Harz Mountains and other regions of Germany. Monocultures are to be followed by more stable, mixed forests.
Forestry and agriculture in particular have to adapt to climate change – every tonne of CO2 saved counts. Even before the COP27, the United Nations had called for radical changes in all sectors of the economy worldwide: With the CO2 savings initiated a year ago at the COP26 in Glasgow, the earth will rise by 2.4 to 2.6 degrees by the end of the century warm up – significantly more than the value of a maximum of 1.5 degrees decided in Paris in 2015.
Climate researcher Mojib Latif from Kiel observes the climate policy of the traffic light coalition with concern. “Unfortunately, things are going backwards in Germany at the moment as a result of the war and the associated energy crisis,” says Latif. “I am very skeptical as to whether Germany can meet its climate targets.” At the beginning of the year, the federal government announced that CO2 emissions in 2021 would not be reduced as planned. In particular, the transport and building sectors exceeded the specified amounts.