Germany after the flooding: Suggestions for climate protection and adapted reconstruction

by Thorsten Koch, MA, PgDip

According to Federal Interior Minister Horst Seehofer (CSU), the Federal States’ position is that disaster control should remain within their competences. However, the Federal Government would like to ensure that the Federal States receive comprehensive help. For example, the Cell Broadcast warning system ought to be introduced before the election to the German Bundestag in September, with which warning messages can be sent to cell phones. Siren warning tones should also warn of acute dangers, Seehofer added. Meanwhile, a discussion is underway about framework conditions to better protect both people and what they own – and, notably, the climate.

Merkel: going faster

The Federal Government can use its competence to create important framework conditions. After climate change has often been blamed for the floods which ravaged in the west of Germany two weeks ago, Chancellor Angela Merkel (CDU) has highlighted her balance sheet with regard to climate protection. Merkel said she had used her strength continuously in order to “constantly advance” the protection of the climate. However, in the face of the latest events, objectively, one had to go faster, she explained.

Merkel’s party friend, Bundestag President Wolfgang Schäuble, has spoken out in favor of increasing the CO2 price more quickly. “If driving then becomes more expensive, we should not be frightened, although social hardship must of course be compensated for,” emphasized Schäuble.

Expanding renewables

The SPD and the Greens have demanded for climate protection measures be more strongly enforced. Federal Environment Minister Schulze (SPD) said the most important thing was to expand renewable energies. In contrast, the chairman of the Greens’ parliamentary group, Hofreiter, said that the coal phase-out must be executed earlier than previously planned. Finally, the FDP demanded that adjustments and precautionary measures should play a stronger strategic role.

The Federal Environment Agency has suggested that climate protection should be anchored in the Basic Law, because the topic is a joint task. “Effective prevention is only possible together with the Federal and State Governments as well as local administrations,” said the office’s president, Dirk Messner. A framework must be created, legally and financially, for it to be implemented across the board. According to a position paper, there should finally be a Climate Adaptation Act in which responsibilities against floods, drought and heat are laid down transparently.

Reducing sealing

Specifically, Messner suggested converting the German woods from monocultures to mixed forest and creating more green space in cities. “If we don’t get started with climate protection right now, we will next end up in temperature regions that could trigger tipping points in the earth system – with far-reaching, difficult-to-control and sometimes unforeseeable consequences for our societies,” explained the head of the office. However, “damage and destruction as a result of global warming,” in case where it cannot be averted, can at least be mitigated.

In a twelve-point plan, “Fit for 55”, the Federal Environment Ministry emphasized above all the need to accelerate the expansion of renewable energies. For example, photovoltaic systems should become mandatory in new buildings. For environmentally friendly building renovation, the state could shoulder 30 percent of the costs instead of the previous 20 percent. Additionally, new gas and oil heating systems could be banned earlier than previously thought. Car threshold values ​​for reducing CO2 emissions are another option.

Meanwhile, the Association for Energy and Water Management is calling for the sealing of inner cities to be drastically reduced. Water can be stored through greening in residential and other building locations while extreme weather conditions, which lead to floods and dry periods, are already on the increase. The wastewater disposal should be regulated according to the ‘polluter pays principle.’ As the German Federal Environment Foundation announced, it will be important in future to “decouple prosperity and economic growth from the consumption of raw materials.” This could be achieved through the introduction of a circular economy.

More space for water

Several environmental associations had previously called for reconstruction efforts after the flood disaster in western Germany to be adapted, with a view to tackling climate change. Rivers need to be given more space and some buildings rebuilt elsewhere instead of erecting them as they were before the floods did damage. Otherwise there is a risk that people will “lose everything” again in the event of a flood, according to the Umwelthilfe. In the cities, areas are needed which are not sealed.

In addition, there need to be more green areas, so that more water is absorbed in the event of new floods. After all, near-natural rivers stored carbon, in addition to retaining water, said a spokesman for the Umwelthilfe. There must be better cooperation between the federal and state levels in order to implement the goals of climate neutrality, flood protection and nature conservation – with appropriate funding.

Finding safer areas

The Naturschutzbund Deutschland called for a change of direction and appealed “not to repeat the old mistakes again.” Only a third of the floodplains have not yet been sealed in Germany. It is time to find safe areas for the industry and for housing. This could help Avoid billions in damage in the future. The Naturschutzbund proposed green roofs and small parks. Politicians are currently pursuing individual measures with a largely technical point of view. Sealed areas would have to be broken up, the association concluded.

Finally, the Greens called for a precautionary package of 25 billion Euros to be put together for climate protection. Bundestag parliamentary group leader Anton Hofreiter stated: “Heavy weather events will occur more frequently in the future.” Municipalities had to be able to implement flood protection measures as well as a reconstruction of the sewer system.

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