How well is Germany prepared for the consequences of climate change?

It is a nightmare that has torn thousands of people from their everyday lives within a few hours. The heavy rain events in North Rhine-Westphalia and Rhineland-Palatinate are unusually heavy, and the number of deaths has long since exceeded that of the flood of the century in 2002. Scientists are convinced: the extreme weather phenomena are also related to climate change. “If the temperature rises by two degrees Celsius or even more, we have to reckon with much more severe extreme weather events,” says the head of the Federal Environment Agency (UBA), Dirk Messner. The earth has already heated up by around 1.2 degrees compared to pre-industrial times.

According to the UBA data, unchecked climate change would cause considerable damage to nature, infrastructure and the economic system in Germany. And the heavy rain events in West Germany have also clearly shown, according to Messner: Without ambitious climate protection, the situation will get worse. But also without adapting to the new challenges.

Because: If states and municipalities do not take measures to be prepared against torrential downpours or heat waves like recently in Canada, many human lives are at risk.

The chairman of the German Alliance for Climate Change and Health, Martin Herrmann, assumes that health care is currently not optimally adjusted to extreme weather. “Most hospitals have prepared plans on how to deal with the masses of injured or sick people. But it is completely unclear whether they can maintain their own performance structurally and personally in extreme weather events,” says Herrmann. He criticizes the fact that there are no heat protection plans for clinics or practices across the board.

Even the people themselves often do not know how to behave in an unexpected emergency, says Professor Boris Lehmann, who teaches hydraulic engineering and hydraulics at the Technical University of Darmstadt. “People all too often underestimate the power and speed of water.” In dangerous situations, the population tends to hold onto belongings, such as cars or objects in the basement, instead of immediately escaping to safety. From his point of view, more education, already in elementary school, is urgently needed.

Even if the citizen alone will not be able to resolve it. Federal Environment Minister Svenja Schulze believes that the federal and state governments must work together to find new ways of adapting to climate change. To this end, the SPD politician even surprisingly suggests changing the Basic Law. This is the only way for the federal government to provide permanent funds for climate protection. So far, his hands are tied.

“We now have to answer this national catastrophe nationally,” is Schulze’s appeal. The first nationwide advice center on climate adaptation in municipalities was only launched at the beginning of July. It helps and advises in care or homeless shelters, for example, so that residents can sit in the shade at maximum temperatures. Among other things – because: The need for adjustment is enormous.

The call for new structures could also get louder in disaster control. In times of peace, the Länder are solely responsible here too. While helpers rescue people from balconies, the federal government does not want to talk about how well or badly Germany is in disaster control.

The deputy government spokeswoman Martina Fietz only says that the “tried and tested structures of disaster relief in municipalities and states would continue to work successfully”. Forces of the Bundeswehr, the technical relief organization and the federal police are in use. “If necessary, they will be further strengthened.”

But are the processes in which every second counts really still up to date? Even the Bundeswehr, which is currently clearing blocked roads in North Rhine-Westphalia and Rhineland-Palatinate with heavy equipment and rescuing people by helicopter, is only allowed to act formally when states and municipalities ask for “administrative assistance”. A relic from the post-war period.

In addition to the question of a reallocation of competencies, environmental associations are calling for immediate measures to advance climate adaptation in Germany. The chairman of the Federation for the Environment and Nature Conservation Germany (BUND), Olaf Bandt, suggests that “flood protection, which has hitherto been neglected, should be the focus of politics”. For example, in addition to larger rivers, smaller rivers will also have to play an important role in the future, says Bandt.

It is unclear whether serious accidents can be averted in this way. According to the Federal Environment Agency (UBA), it has not yet been possible to make statistically reliable statements about heavy precipitation in the future. The only thing that is clear is that climate change has long since arrived in Germany – and will not simply pull away again like a temporary low weather.

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