Climate Risk and Adaptation: A Major Analysis on Behalf of the German Federal Government

If climate change continues unchecked, the risks from heat, drought, and heavy rainfall throughout Germany will increase sharply in the future. This has been documented by the results of the German federal government's Climate Impact and Risk Analysis (KWRA), which was presented by the Federal Environment Ministry and the Federal Environment Agency at the beginning of the week. The study was commissioned by the federal government and prepared by a scientific consortium with the involvement of experts from 25 federal agencies and institutions from nine departments in the 'Climate Change and Adaptation' network of authorities. The results of the study are an essential basis for the further development of the German Strategy for Adaptation to Climate Change (DAS).

Dirk Messner, president of the leading German Environment Agency (UBA) and co-director of the Centre for Global Cooperation Research, draws attention to the complexity of this undertaking.

We worked with 24 agencies – which involved great effort, one can imagine – and looked at the impacts of climate change on Germany. We looked at two scenarios: First, the case of a 3-degree rise in temperature, which would indicate that climate change is going in a dangerous direction, and second, a scenario with a 2-degree rise, to examine how, under conditions of successful climate protection, we nevertheless have to adapt to what climate change brings.

An analysis of anticipated climate risks is produced every 6 years at the request of the federal government. The first such report was published 2015 (Vulnerabilitätsanalyse 2015).

The addressees are the federal ministries that further develop the DAS and, by extension, the German adaptation policy within the framework of the Inter-ministerial Working Group on Adaptation (IMA-A). The report also aims to provide actors in the business community, as well as civil society with information for their own adaptation planning. In addition, it addresses the scientific community, which would then engage with the outlined research requirements.

These requirements are named in the context of an integrated evaluation (within the chapter entitled 'Grundlagen,' 155 ff.) for the 13 fields of action examined.


The network of authorities was accompanied in the process of this analysis by a scientific consortium, the consulting and research institute adelphi (Berlin), the planning, consulting, and research institute Bosch & Partner (Munich), and Eurac Research (Bolzano).

Interesting in this context are the remarks on the interplay between scientific analysis and normative evaluation, insofar as it implies the assignment and distribution of roles on the part of the project partners.

The consortium was active on the professional working level; it was able to prepare assessments at the normative decision-making level with professionally justified recommendations. The network partners participated in KWRA 2021 in a dual capacity. On the one hand, representatives of the network partners were active at the professional working level. Second, the network made normative decisions in coordination with IMA-A and evaluated the results ('Grundlagen,' 41).

From the research perspective, the institutional process in which the foundations for strategic decisions were developed can also provide indications of how institutions prepare or support legitimacy for government action in cooperation with epistemic communities. In this respect, the climate impact and risk analysis of a German network of authorities also offers a current illustrative example of an institutional process that aims at societal integration and legitimacy in the face of current or anticipated threats and seeks to link institutional and epistemic knowledge for this purpose.

The complexity of the task becomes particularly clear where the analysis focuses on connections between fields of action. In addition to questions of consistency and connectivity of data sets, challenges also arise for the prediction of effects in view of complex interactions between the fields of action, as they are clearly depicted in the illustration.

In the 'human health' field of action alone, impacts as diverse as temperature changes ('heat'), low-ozone events and their increasing frequency, the economic consequences for the health care system, the determination of the allergen content of invasive or alien species, or the increase in mental or somatic disease patterns are evaluated (within the chapter entitled 'Integrierte Auswertung,' 164 f.).

In addition, the analysis is also devoted in detail to the adaptation potentials of different sectors, which are assessed as politically crucial. This involves technical and procedural innovations, planning horizons and, of course, the design of standards and normative compatibility between the fields of action. 

Under the term 'generic adaptability', general – not field-specific – preconditions of adaptability are examined. Here, the authors of the analysis also comment on the importance of 'knowledge'. With regard to a spatial differentiation within the federal territory, two indicators were formed, the first of which is the 'proportion of employees with a university degree at the place of residence'.

Higher education should be understood here as a proxy for general analytical and scientific skills. Thus, people with a university degree might have better access to addressing complex issues in the context of climate change. They could also more easily classify and systematically weigh different sources of information, and thus be more amenable to or even proactively derive adaptation-relevant action requirements. (chapter 'Grundlagen', 146)

However, it is further argued that knowledge, competence, and practical skills of non-academic professionals are also relevant to adaptation capacity. Therefore, the 'share of employees in research-intensive or knowledge-intensive industries' among employees subject to social security contributions at the place of work was presented as a second indicator of generic adaptability.

Academic or not: The authors see a strong correlation between the level of education of citizens and their ability to accept complex decision-making structures and adaptation requirements.

However, such a fundamental analytical enterprise also does something to the knowledge bases in the authorities involved. Knowledge of authorities is networked, exposed to epistemic and public discourses – connected to them – and in this respect, however, also promoted and further developed.

There is a lot at stake here and Messner is calling for 'nature-based solutions'.

We have been acting as if we are something exogenous to ecosystems, but we need to organize our economy and society so that we can be part of the dynamics of the ecosystem and not destroy it. That is the essential guiding question we have to solve.

UBA President