Petersberg climate dialogue: Germany wants to mitigate extreme weather with these measures
Berlin Heat waves and droughts are increasing, as are heavy rains, floods and storms. At the now traditional Petersberg Climate Dialogue in Berlin, named after the first dialogue in 2010 in the Federal Government’s guest house on the Petersberg near Bonn, ministers and representatives from 40 countries will discuss this Monday and Tuesday how international progress must be made in protecting the climate.
Chancellor Olaf Scholz (SPD) confirmed at the weekend that he would not forget the climate crisis. “Our goal is that we will be one of the first countries to be CO2-neutral and at the same time globally competitive and successful as an industrial nation,” he said in his weekly Chancellor Podcast. “We want to achieve that by 2045.”
Developing countries in particular have suffered from the extreme weather so far. But the high temperatures are also increasingly affecting industrialized nations – the damage has long been in the billions. An extreme heat wave is currently affecting people in southern Europe, forest fires are raging in Portugal, Spain and France. Spain alone reported 360 heat deaths on Saturday. The following overview shows how Germany is affected by climate change:
1. Drought and heat
In Germany, too, there is a risk of an unusually strong heat wave next week, with temperatures occasionally exceeding 40 degrees Celsius. Brandenburg and Lower Saxony sound the alarm. “What we are experiencing now is only a small foretaste of the challenges we will still have to deal with as a result of climate change,” Lower Saxony’s Environment Minister Olaf Lies (SPD) told the Handelsblatt. “We therefore need a fundamental rethink of how we will deal with the precious resource of water in the future.”
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Brandenburg has repeatedly been hit hard by forest fires due to persistent drought. From the point of view of Prime Minister Dietmar Woidke (SPD), more efforts are needed throughout Germany to keep water in the cycle better in order to reduce consumption. “Today, we discharge a large part of our treated wastewater into rivers, which then flows towards the North and Baltic Seas. We should actually keep it in the region,” said the politician.
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According to Lies, comprehensive investments are necessary. “The consequences of climate change will cost us billions as an economy,” he said. “But we won’t be able to avoid them anymore.”
keep water in circulation
Uli Paetzel, President of the DWA German Association for Water Management, Wastewater and Waste, calls on companies to think more intensively about the intelligent use of water as a resource. “This includes investing in water-saving technologies, closing water cycles in production or using rainwater and treated wastewater,” said Paetzel.
As a good example, he named the battery manufacturer Northvolt near Heide, which uses treated wastewater instead of drinking water for production. The grocer Kaufland recently opened particularly sustainable greenhouses in Chiemgau, which only work with regenerative energy and only use rainwater for irrigation.
The German Association of Towns and Municipalities considers regional water shortages to be possible during hot spells. Bottlenecks in drinking water are not the main problem here. Germany has more than 180 billion cubic meters of water resources, of which the municipal drinking water supply only needs around three percent, emphasizes CEO Gerd Landsberg. “The problem is the drastic increase in water demand in industry, in agriculture, but also in private households.”
Climate oases in cities
Landsberg believes that better precautions against the increasing heat waves are necessary and calls for “municipal heat action plans” to protect people from health hazards. Long-lasting temperatures of over 35 degrees are considered a health risk for people. For the elderly or sick, they can be life-threatening.
“We have to establish green climate oases in the cities,” emphasizes Landsberg. This includes investments in roof and facade greening, seating with a cool environment, and so-called water nebulizers are also conceivable. “In the long term, we will also have to change the development,” says Landsberg. In countries like Spain, the buildings are designed in such a way that the houses shade each other. “Considerations of replacing the black asphalt with lighter asphalt can also bring about temperature reductions.”
Especially the garden irrigation and the filling of large pools with tap water in the summer months can become a “real problem”. Lawn sprinklers also distributed up to 800 liters of drinking water in one hour. “This can push the supply infrastructure to its limits in some regions,” warns the head of the association of cities. Private individuals should collect rainwater as far as possible. “In individual cases, municipal bans on use may also be necessary.”
2. Heavy rain and flooding
The floods in Rhineland-Palatinate and North Rhine-Westphalia a year ago show Germany’s vulnerability. Climate researchers are certain: Heavy rain events will increase. “There is hardly a region in Germany that is safe from heavy rain and urban flash floods,” said Theo Schmitt, a scientist at the Technical University (TU) Kaiserslautern, at the end of May.
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Schmitt demands that cities and communities be committed to heavy rain risk management. The municipalities would have to create hazard and risk maps in the future. The local risk of flooding must be determined street by street in order to be able to digitally simulate the effects of flash floods.
DWA President Paetzel is also calling on cities and municipalities to take action. “The so-called sponge city principle must become the guiding principle for urban planning,” he says. “In the future, cities will have to be able to store more water – like a sponge.” This includes taking back the sealing of inner cities and setting up seepage areas.
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The basic idea is to retain rainwater in as many areas as possible and only gradually release it to the ground, the sewage system or bodies of water. These so-called green oases not only help to keep the cities cool in the heat, but also help to a certain extent against heavy rain.
In March, the Federal Environment Ministry launched a package of immediate measures for local authorities to adapt to climate change. The action paper envisages a significant expansion of advisory services and the transfer of knowledge on climate protection in Germany.
Against the background of the lessons learned from the flood disaster, the ministry headed by department head Steffi Lemke (Greens) wants to provide an additional 60 million euros by 2026 to equip cities and communities for the extreme weather events of the future.
3. Inland navigation
Inland shipping plays an important role in Germany in supplying relevant goods that can only be transported elsewhere to a limited extent. The year 2018 still brings back bad memories for the chemical company BASF. At that time, prolonged low water blocked the navigability of the Rhine, production was throttled at the company’s Ludwigshafen site, and the financial damage ran into millions.
In the meantime, BASF has implemented a number of measures that make the Ludwigshafen site more resistant to long-lasting low water events and increase the security of supply for production. Among other things, ships suitable for low water were increasingly chartered. In addition, a ship is under construction “that can still reliably transport significant quantities even at the lowest Rhine water levels,” BASF told the Handelsblatt.
Furthermore, the company, together with the Federal Institute for Hydrology, has implemented a digital early warning system for low water with a warning period of up to six weeks.
In view of the heat and drought, German farmers are expecting grain harvests to be lower again: For this summer, the association is currently expecting a total of only 41.2 million tons. That would be even less than in the previous year, when there were 42.3 million and well below the average for the years 2015 to 2020 of 44.2 million tons, says Joachim Rukwied, President of the German Farmers’ Association (DBV).
According to him, the water reserves in the ground are still far too low. And it’s not just about grain: Sufficient rainfall is also important for the harvest of corn, potatoes and sugar beets in the coming weeks.
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However, the situation with grain varies greatly from region to region: “Regions in the east, in northern Bavaria and in central Germany are particularly badly affected by drought and heat,” says DBV General Secretary Bernhard Krüsken to the Handelsblatt. It traditionally looks better on the coasts and in the foothills of the Alps.
Some farmers in Brandenburg, for example, have already started irrigating fields. However, this drives up the cost of water and diesel for the pumps. Therefore, only crops such as potatoes, wheat, corn and soybean that are worth it would be watered.
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In addition, since the beginning of the year there have been delivery problems with fertilizers, which have been exacerbated by the war, says the DBV Vice. “But the central problem is the expensive natural gas, from which fertilizer is produced in Europe. In the event of a gas supply stop, there will also be an availability problem here. Then there can also be major yield losses in agriculture,” says Krüsken.
Most recently, in 2018, the then Federal Minister of Agriculture Julia Klöckner (CDU) classified the crop damage caused by drought as an event of “national proportions” – and promised federal aid for a drought for the first time since 2003. At that time, a total of almost 292 million euros was paid out to farmers whose livelihoods were threatened by the drought. Around 7,000 companies, mainly in Brandenburg, Saxony-Anhalt and Lower Saxony, received an average of 43,800 euros.
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