Heat wave summer: Examining Germany’s hotspots

Himmel mit Sonne

Under the leadership of adelphi, a research consortium commissioned by the Federal Environment Agency is examining how and in which regions climate change will exacerbate the effects of heat waves in the future.


In July 2018, Germany once again experienced one of the warmest months since weather records began, as the German Weather Service announced today. Although many people enjoy the good weather with lots of sun and unusually high temperatures, the economy and society are facing agricultural crop failures, health challenges, impaired performance, and the risk of forest fires. In addition, the heat has already led to increased speed limits on motorways, the temporary closure of an airport and the curtailment of nuclear and coal-fired power plants.

According to meteorologists, the summer heat has several causes. It is clear that a single heat wave can not be explained solely by climate change. But how will the frequency and intensity of heat waves develop as climate change progresses? Which regions in Germany will be particularly affected by negative consequences in the future, and how can we adapt to them? The Berlin think tank adelphi, working with a research consortium, is investigating these questions and the vulnerability of Germany to climate change.

Not all regions in Germany are affected equally

“It is becoming apparent that heat waves will occur more frequently in the future. This will lead to some of the key consequences of climate change in Germany,” says Walter Kahlenborn, Managing Director of adelphi. A previous analysis by adelphi for the Federal Environmental Agency (“Germany’s vulnerability to climate change”) shows that not all regions are equally affected by an increase in heat waves.

Exposure to health-related burdens caused by heat, for example, affects individual big cities such as Berlin, Munich and Stuttgart to a great extent, because impervious surfaces heat up during the day and densely arranged buildings reduce cooling during the night. But even in some rural regions of eastern and western Germany, the heat load will increase comparatively strongly. To make matters worse, in some of these regions, there are comparatively many people over 60 years of age, whose health is particularly at risk from the heat.

Follow-up study: refined methodology and Germany’s “hotspots”

On behalf of the Federal Environment Agency, adelphi is currently working with two research partners and a large network of federal authorities on a follow-up study. The study uses the latest climate projections and other up-to-date data sources. In addition, the methodology will be refined: In the future, the interrelations between different climate impacts will be taken more into account in the assessment. For example, intensive solar radiation leads to increased ground-level ozone, which can trigger respiratory problems in risk groups. These are then added to the health burden of heat.

“With the new edition of the vulnerability analysis, it will be shown, for example, where the 'hotspots' in the course of climate change are located: regions or places in Germany in which several unfavourable factors come together that make us vulnerable to the consequences of climate change,” says Walter Kahlenborn. The results of the study will be presented in 2021. They are to serve as a basis for the further development of the German adaptation strategy to climate change. The study is also aimed at all other actors addressing the consequences of climate change in Germany.

The consortium led by adelphi consists of the European Academy in Bolzano and Bosch and Partners GmbH. The research project is also working closely with a network of federal agencies.

Further current projects on the topic

ExTrass - Urban Resilience against Extreme Weather Events

MONARES - Monitoring adaptation measures and climate resilience in cities