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Last update: 01.10.2010

Adaptation to climate change

The climate is changing throughout the world. As the climate changes so do mankind's living conditions - and Germany is no exception. Experts anticipate far-reaching consequences for the environment, economy and society, unless we can succeed in at least keeping climate change within limits. Even if the EU achieves its ambitious target to restrict the rise of global mean temperature to less than 2°C compared to pre-industrial times, there will still be consequences of climate change which we will have to adapt to.

Modern climate policy is therefore based on two pillars: avoidance of greenhouse gases and adaptation to those consequences of climate change which are already unavoidable!

The German Adaptation Strategy

On 17 December 2008 the Federal Cabinet adopted the German Strategy for Adaptation to Climate Change. This creates a framework for adapting to the impacts of climate change in Germany. It primarily describes the contribution of the Federation, thus acting as a guide for other actors. The strategy lays the foundation for a medium-term, step-by-step process undertaken in cooperation with the federal Länder and other civil groups and aimed at assessing the risks of climate change, identifying the possible need for action, defining appropriate goals and developing and implementing options for adaptation measures.

Besides outlining the current status of knowledge on the anticipated climate changes (globally and in Germany) and the impacts these could entail, the strategy also highlights possible climate impacts and options for action for 15 spheres of activity and selected regions. In addition, the Strategy describes the international context and the German contribution to adaptation in other parts of the world, and explains the next steps for further developing the German Adaptation Strategy.

The aim of the Strategy is to create a national framework for action in order to avert dangers to the public, natural habitats and the national economy. This framework is intended to make it easier for the various levels of the Federation, Länder, local authorities and for individual citizens to identify impacts and adaptation needs, and to plan and implement measures. For instance, early incorporation of adaptation aspects into planning can save climate costs in the future.

The German Strategy for Adaptation to the Impacts of Climate Change was developed in close cooperation with the Länder by a working group comprised of representatives from most of the federal ministries and under the lead responsibility of the Federal Environment Ministry. Support was provided by the competence centre for climate impacts and adaptation Klimafolgen und Anpassung (KomPass), which was set up at the end of 2006 at the Federal Environment Agency.

Several sources were used in the elaboration of the German Adaptation Strategy, including the results of a review with a particular focus on the Federation and Länder and the conference "German strategy for adaptation to climate change - expectations, goals and options for action" organised by the Federal Environment Ministry on 15 and 16 April 2008 in Berlin. In addition, the Federal Environment Ministry and the Federal Ministry for Education and Research jointly organised a research symposium on adaptation at the Centre for Environmental Research in Leipzig on 27 and 28 September 2008.

In an important next step in the further development and specification of the Strategy, by summer 2011 an Action Plan on Adaptation will be drawn up in cooperation with the Länder and other relevant players in society. This is being supported by a broad-based communication process and initiatives for improving the knowledge base and foundations for decision-making. This is supported by the Climate Service Center, which was established in July 2009 as part of the German Helmholtz Gemeinschaft on the initiative of the Federal Ministry of Education and Research.

Reducing greenhouse gas emissions in order to restrict the impacts of climate change continues to be a priority issue in national, European and international environmental policy. The German government is active at both the national and international level in pursuit of this aim.

Adaptation: a key topic of the negotiation process under the Framework Convention on Climate Change

The international community recognised early on the need for adapting to the consequences of climate change: in the 1990s, under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change the global community - Germany included - committed to initiate measures for adaptation to climate change.

In 2005 the international community launched the "Nairobi Work Programme". The aim is to help all countries improve their understanding of the impacts of climate change. This knowledge will help them make the right practical decisions for adapting to climate change. The latest important step was the establishment of a fund under the Kyoto Protocol to finance adaptation measures. The fund will be operational in 2008. It is aimed at supporting the poorest countries in particular.

Adaptation was also a key topic at the UN Climate Change Conference in Bali in December 2007. There was agreement that the growing threat posed by climate change, especially for developing countries, calls for immediate and intensified adaptation measures. That is why adaptation is also a part of the Bali Action Plan. With the help of this Plan, a new UN climate regime is to be negotiated by the end of 2009. Next year, in the time remaining before the UN Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen, we must determine what adaptation measures should be implemented internationally and what other options there are for financing these measures in addition to the Adaptation Fund.

By presenting the German Adaptation Strategy, the German government is fulfilling its commitment made in the 2005 German Climate Protection Programme, to develop a concept for a German strategy for adaptation to climate change pursuant to Article 4 of the Framework Convention on Climate Change.

Adaptation Strategy for Europe

Adaptation to climate change is a relevant topic at European level too, and has been integrated into the further development of the European Climate Change Programme.

On 29 June 2007, the European Commission published the Green Paper "Adapting to Climate Change in Europe - options for EU action" (external PDF, 362 KB), which makes suggestions for first approaches to address the impacts of climate change.

Following a comprehensive public consultation on the Green Paper, the European Commission has compiled proposals for joint action in a White Paper. The White Paper Adapting to climate change: Towards a European framework for action (external PDF, 79 KB), published on 6 April 2009, proposes laying the groundwork for a Europe-wide adaptation strategy in a first phase up to 2012, and implementing it as from the beginning of 2013.

The aim of the White Paper is to specify in a step by step process an adaptation strategy which will allow decision makers to react to the consequences of climate change in a timely manner all over Europe and to thus mitigate them.

The White Paper advocates action in four areas:

  • Creating a knowledge base
    The focus is on gathering knowledge about the consequences of climate change and the costs and benefits of potential measures. For this purpose, a Clearing House Mechanism is envisaged which will provide structured access to information, data and examples from Member States and EU institutions.
    Another aim is to develop, by 2011, methods, models, data sets, prediction tools and indicators to monitor the consequences of climate change.
  • Integrating the aspect of adaptation
    into important policy areas of the EU, for example by means of appropriate infrastructural measures in coastal or marine areas and changes to agricultural and forestry practices.
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  • Ensuring an effective implementationof the adaptation process by making use of market-oriented instruments and public-private partnerships.
  • Intensifying international cooperation
  • and in particular making knowledge available to developing countries.

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