As a heat wave hits Europe exactly one year after heavy rain caused deadly floods in the centre of the continent in 2021, the focus of the public debate in Germany has again shifted to the impacts of a changing climate.
“Due to the consequences of the climate crisis, Germany faces so many genuine hot days that this poses a threat to nature and also to us humans, and we must prepare ourselves better for this,” environment minister Steffi Lemke told public broadcaster Deutschlandfunk in an interview. Science shows that events like droughts and heat waves will happen more frequently and become more extreme in the future, she said. Germany must act in the short term – for example by conserving water in the face of a drought – but also introduce long-term measures like helping soils store more water through renaturation, and coming up with adaptation plans for local communities.
Climate change will pose further challenges in the future, the head of the Federal Office for Civil Protection (BBK), Ralph Tiesler, told Funke Mediengruppe. “Some areas should not be resettled given climate change and the acute threat of severe weather disasters and floods.”
Tiesler said every region in Germany had to be looked at closely in terms of the need to prepare for such disasters. “We still have time to develop protective concepts against the effects of the climate crisis and to take them into account in spatial planning.”
A heat wave with temperatures of around 40°C has hit Europe this week, with droughts and forest fires in Spain and Portugal as the extreme weather spreads to France and other parts of the continent. Heat waves have become more frequent, more intense and longer-lasting because of climate change. A study published this week in Nature Communications found that Western Europe has become what researchers call a heat wave hot spot over the last four decades, with events increasing in frequency and cumulative intensity, the New York Times reported.
In July 2021, heavy rains caused the otherwise sluggishly flowing rivers in the southwest of Germany to overflow, leading to a natural disaster that counts among the worst in the country’s post-war history. The floods have also heavily affected parts of neighbouring Belgium, the Netherlands, Austria, Switzerland and Luxembourg, with the death toll exceeding 200 people. The floods were widely linked to climate change and prompted German politicians like former chancellor Angela Merkel to call for faster climate action.