Countries around the globe are experiencing the impacts of climate change in different forms. In Germany, there is strong demand for improved monitoring of water resources, aquatic systems, and related extreme events. Specific local and regional adaptation measures are needed, especially those that improve the resilience of cities to more frequent extreme weather events and higher climate variability.
On December 7, 2021, the center-left Social Democrats (SPD), environmentalist Greens and business-friendly Free Democrats (FDP) formed a new coalition to govern Germany with the SPD’s Olaf Scholz as chancellor. The Greens’ Robert Habeck, who became Minister for Economics Affairs and Climate Action, spoke of an “epochal transformation in which climate neutrality and prosperity are conceived as two sides of a coin" that would turn Germany social market economy into a “social-ecological economy.” Furthermore the coalition agreement read: “It is important to preserve what sustains us and to protect our resources.”
These aims will involve once-in-a-lifetime, massive investments, opening up new, lucrative opportunities for businesses in the field of environmental technology. Germany is going to be the place to develop and apply innovative technologies in order to face the challenges of the challenges. But what does this mean more specifically for the areas of water conservation, ocean and forest protection, adaptation to the climate change and circular economies.
The new government has pledged to implement a national strategy aiming integrated water management. Beyond that, guideline on water extraction are on the agenda, with priority given to the supply of public drinking water supply and the introduction of a digital mapping to better track water quality. Last but not least, the Waste Water Tax Act will be amended.
The coalition will launch a maritime initiative and name a maritime commissioner to protection German waters. In addition, Germany has committed itself to preventing ocean pollution.
The government aims to make forests more biodiverse and resilient to climate fluctuations. It plans to amend the Forest Act and improve forest monitoring. In order to support the regional timber value chain, it will also create a timber initiative.
Adapting to Climate Change
Germany new leaders will draw up a precautionary Climate Adaptation Strategy and a Climate Adaptation Act to establish the framework for implementation and monitoring a national climate adaptation strategy. This will feature measurable goals in the various areas.
Circular economies will be promoted as a means of protecting the climate and resources and an opportunity for sustainable economic development and employment. The goal is to reduce primary raw material consumption and to close material cycles. Existing raw material policies will be combined into a national circular economy strategy.
Digital product passports will be introduced and waste avoidance, for instance with multi-use systems, will be strengthened. Recycling will be further promoted.
The government will introduce a legally anchored model to reward resource-saving and recycling-friendly packaging design and the use of recyclates. It will also create a recycling label quality. Legislation will promote chemical recycling as an option. On the European level, resolute action against illegal waste exports will be taken, making such exports only legal to certified recycling plants under European law.
New forms of mobility will be needed to close economic circles. An incentive system will encourage the environmentally sound recycling of certain electrical appliances and lithium-ion batteries. Germany aims to become a hub for the research, production and recycling of battery cells. At the center of this initiative will be the further development of the European battery IPCEIs and the establishment of further cell production sites, including recycling sites.
Financing and incentives
Implementing all these solutions will requires the public and private sectors to work hand in hand. To that end, significant support will be available to companies that improve sustainability in Germany. With the Research for Sustainability strategy FONA, the German Ministry of Education and Research is doubling research funding for climate protection and greater sustainability to 4 billion euros over the next five years. Enterprises planning, for example, to establish a facility in Germany can take advantage of a wide range of financing assistance and incentives. Direct grants and other instruments, such as public promotional loans, public guarantees and equity capital, can reduce business investment costs significantly in designated support areas.
Expanding to Germany offers innovative foreign companies a range of potential areas for growth. Germany’s economic development agency Germany Trade & Invest (GTAI) offers free support services for companies planning to expand to this promising market.
GTAI spoke to Jan Bumberger, scientific head of the Research Data Management unit and the Environmental Sensor and Information Systems research group at the Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research (UFZ) in Leipzig about the challenges of developing climate change solutions.
To balance concerns between the environment and society, it is important to recognize challenges in good time and to develop solutions. How does the UFZ do this?
A healthy environment is the prerequisite for human existence and social development. There is no doubt about that. We need intact, functioning ecosystems that perform functions like the purification of water and air, food production and storage of water and carbon dioxide through intact soils and forests. The list goes on and on. We know that many of the resources crucial to our livelihoods are being lost or degraded due to global transformations, land use and climate change, demographic shifts, growing energy and food demands, and loss of biodiversity.
Because we are dealing with complex, interrelated systems and cause-effect relationships between people and the environment, natural scientists, social scientists and engineers at the UFZ work together in an integrative way. This is reflected in our integration platforms, which ensure that researchers from the research units of ecosystems of the future, water resources, chemicals in the environment, environmental engineering and biotechnology, smart models and monitoring, or environment and society bring together the necessary disciplinary expertise. We are now one of the world's leading integrative environmental research centers. For example, the UFZ is supporting structural change in the regional German state of Saxony with regard to the phase-out of lignite and the transformation process with respect to climate change. Things that play a role include the transformation of mobility as well as the condition of tree populations, agriculture and forestry.
Looking at Europe and Germany, we are increasingly confronted with the long-term consequences of climate change and at the same time with short-term climate extremes such as forest fires, droughts and floods. Here, too, the focus should be on observing the phenomena, documenting and evaluating the data, and finding and implementing solutions. New ideas are needed, for example, in climate-adapted irrigation in agriculture and resilient urban spaces. Innovative technologies and integrated solutions are necessary to bring a healthy environment into harmony with people. The technological solutions required for this are partly developed at the UFZ itself or in cooperation with our scientific partners and commercial enterprises. The resulting transfer opportunities cover a wide area and are developed and implemented with the target groups according to their needs.
Another important point is that the solutions must be developed together with actors and responsible parties from politics, business, science and civil society. In Jordan, for example, the UFZ has advanced and implemented integrated decentralized water and drinking water management solutions over many years as part of a project in the field of climate adaptation strategy. In the process, it was imperative to maintain an ongoing exchange with politics, science and civil society. UFZ scientists contribute their expertise to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and the Intergovernmental Panel on Biological Diversity (IPBES). They also participate in important advisory bodies such as the National Bioeconomy Council, the National Hydrogen Council and the German Advisory Council on the Environment, which advises the German government.
A great deal of knowledge from the research unit of chemicals in the environment flows into the implementation of the European Chemicals Regulation and Water Framework Directive. This list could go on. The research unit of environmental engineering and biotechnology has accepted the challenge of recognizing and understanding the biochemical potential and ecological principles of nature. When these are harnessed for societal needs with the help of innovative environmental and biotechnologies, it results in solutions. We are investigating, for example, the microbial-electrochemical use of acid whey for the production of drop-in fuels for aviation.
Is the potential offered by digitization currently being fully exploited in the environmental sciences? What are the challenges? Where do you see opportunities for new players?
For the UFZ, digitization per se is key to the development of novel technologies that we need for data and modeling-driven research. If we want to represent entire regions, we need to be able to aggregate and model monitoring data from different environmental systems - forests, agricultural systems, bodies of water, soil, air and plants. One example is the Water Resources Information System Germany (WIS-D), where water availability on the land surface, in the soil at different depths, in groundwater, and in surface waters will be made available with high spatial and temporal resolution. Another example is the Forest Condition Monitor, which will provide high spatial and temporal resolution vegetation indices, an early warning system for bark beetle infestation, and vitality anomaly designation for forests.
There is a whole range of challenges, including a shortage of skilled workers in the field of digitization. We need to build capacity here, for example, to enable data- and model-driven research or to be able to develop innovative technological technologies. Furthermore, communication between science and communities has to take place because if data has to be collected locally, reliable and well-functioning networks are essential - as well as relationships. That requires good communication.
The UFZ is networked at national, European and international levels, coordinating the European research infrastructure eLTER (Integrated European Long-Term Ecosystem, critical zone and socio-ecological Research) in order to promote harmonization and digitization in the environmental-system sciences. There are a multitude of opportunities for new players, for example, in the fields of sensor, measurement and control technology, and especially in software development. For the UFZ, the constantly growing need for innovative sensor technology, control engineering and digital technologies is also evident in conjunction with digitization in agriculture, smart farming methods and urban spaces. For instance, green roofs can be used as water retention and cooling systems in urban neighborhood development to better adapt to the consequences of climate change - heat, droughts, and heavy rainfall. In the area of risk assessment, we study the impact pathways of chemicals with environmental systems and their impact on humans. We develop innovative test methods to analyze chemical mixtures as well as assessment methods that work with large amounts of data.
All of the aforementioned research generates valuable extensive data sets. The digital technologies available today allow us to further use the data by making it available to the public. Diversity makes this hard to achieve, something the German research community is currently addressing collectively. To this end, the UFZ is participating in the currently emerging National Research Data Infrastructure (NFDI) in four funded consortia in various disciplines, as well as in other consortia still in the application phase.
One hallmark of the German R&D landscape is undoubtedly international networking. The research program "Changing Earth - Sustaining Our Future" is one example. What goals are being pursued here? What is the future of cross-border research cooperation?
Climate change, species extinction, environmental pollution and geogenic risks are among the greatest challenges of our time. In the coming years (2021-2027) in the joint program "Changing Earth - Sustaining our Future", the UFZ and six other Helmholtz centers of the Helmholtz Research Field Earth and Environment will be systematically researching the natural foundations of life from the land surface to the oceans to the most remote polar regions. Our common goal is to gain deep insights into the complex interrelationships of processes on our planet, because only with sound knowledge of the Earth, innovative technologies and strategic approaches to solutions, so that we can recommend actions to policymakers, will we have a path to a sustainable future. Of course, we cannot do this alone - it is and will remain a global task. That’s why we are working with numerous partners worldwide in the Changing Earth program.
Dr. Jan Bumberger
Dr.-Ing. Jan Bumberger has been scientifically coordinating research data management at the Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research - UFZ since 2019 and is responsible for a large number of projects on digitization in research at the UFZ. In addition, he is co-coordinator of the DataHub and coordinator of HubTerra in the Research Field Earth and Environment of the Helmholtz Research Association. He successfully completed his PhD in Theoretical Electrical and Information Engineering in 2011. Since then, he has led the Environmental Sensor and Information Systems working group at UFZ with a variety of projects on the design, development, testing and operational deployment of wireless ad-hoc sensor networks and mobile sensor technology with real-time signal processing for information retrieval in environmental systems research.
Interview: The Earth's Ecosystem in Times of Climate Change
Amidst global warming, temperatures in the Arctic are rising even faster than in other parts of the planet. That’s especially worrying since the poles function as a kind of planetary cooling system. Climatologist Monica Ionita from the Alfred Wegener Institute explains.
Victoria Kintzinger from Germany Trade & Invest (GTAI) spoke to Dr. Monica Ionita, climatologist at the Alfred Wegener Institute (AWI) about extreme weather events, climate research and MOSAiC, the largest Arctic research expedition ever.
The Alfred Wegener Institute, as a Helmholtz Centre for Polar and Marine Research, together with several partners on national and international level, is involved in research on decoding the complex processes in the earth’s ecosystem. Due to climate change, the poles and oceans are changing dramatically.
Which role does polar and marine research play within this context?
The Arctic region is often considered the “earth’s natural refrigerator,” but currently it is warming two to three times faster than the middle latitudes. All the changes in this particular region have direct effects everywhere throughout the globe. From a climate point of view, the Arctic is crucially important because it helps to keep our planet cool. So the rapid warming of the region, has far reaching consequences, for instance, on large-scale atmospheric circulation. Arctic warming can also be one of the reasons for current extreme weather conditions, including the heavy downpours, heat waves and droughts observed over different regions of the world.
Another example of how the Arctic functions are the massive wildfires in Siberia. It is scientifically proven that fires in Siberia have become much more likely because of permafrost thaw and snow melt. Siberian wildfires have the tendency to “fire back” into the Arctic system, because the black carbon particles emitted by the fires, which spread all over the Arctic ice and ocean, lower the albedo of the snow and sea ice and inhibit them from reflecting incoming solar radiation. That contributes to Arctic warming and increasing rates of sea ice melting.
Within this context, polar and marine research plays an important role, as these systems are key drivers for the global atmospheric circulation. In the future, we might also witness more and more fish migration, as some species will not be able to adjust fast enough to their changing habitats.
Such changes have never been witnessed for as long as the scientific community has been collecting data. Indeed, they are considered unprecedented in the last two millennia.
One special area of your research is to analyze extreme climatic events to improve our understanding of the complex mechanisms determining the variability of climate extremes. What conclusions have you been able to draw so far?
Conclusions: Are you observing short-term variations or long-term trends?
The main conclusion that we have been able to draw so far is that there will be more extreme weather conditions in the future, if we do not manage to reach our climate goals. We are currently observing an increase of short-term variations all over the world, most of which are unprecedented. The heat wave in Canada and the heavy precipitation in Germany this year are two examples. For now, we need to improve our prediction capabilities. Currently, we can only say for sure that such weather events will occur more often, but we cannot pinpoint with exactitude the location and time. In addition, it is difficult to predict the amplitude of such phenomena. Therefore, we are facing many uncertainties especially with recent changes.
According to AWI, “the Institute’s work is characterized by a high degree of international and interdisciplinary collaboration: experts from the bio-, geo- and climate sciences work closely together at the AWI. Field research under extreme conditions is just as much a part of the Institute’s day-to-day work as are analyses using cutting-edge laboratory equipment and high-performance supercomputers”. MOSAiC, the largest Arctic research expedition ever, is invaluable for the climate related research today and in the future. How is the analysis of the measurement data being done?
MOSAiC: How could international partners continue to be involved?
Although the MOSAiC expedition finished a year ago, my colleagues are still working on putting the data gathered into a proper format. A huge amount of data has been collected through different components, which we hope MOSAiC will bring to the scientific community as well as the public. The aim of this expedition was to improve the understanding of the functioning of the Arctic system, which entails a complex interplay between processes in the atmosphere. Gathering data from such an unknown territory for the very first time will help to improve the climate models and future predictions, which will give us quite a good overview of the interaction between the different climate-system components. Once analyzed, that data will be key to improving climate protection.
Considering the amount of data collected, it might take up to ten years to analyze it all, but it should be available to the public and other institutes not involved in the MOSAiC expedition by the first of January 2023.
In general, we often involve other partners for their expertise, even if they are not part of the campaign. The scientific community is open and willing to share and work together for a common cause.
A long tradition in environmental technologies aligned to pioneering environmental policy and a supportive legal framework have helped establish Germany as a leading green economy player and home to one of the most advanced environmental technologies markets worldwide.
The Fight Against Climate Change as an Opportunity in Germany? Current Developments and Further Needs where Water is in Excess
by Flérida Regueira Cortizo, Annika Förster, Michael Schnabel and Daniela Vaziri (GTAI - Berlin/Germany)
Resilient Cities & Adaptation to Climate Change
Uncommon business opportunities
In Germany, the impact of climate change is driving demand for improved monitoring of water resources in cities. Several measures at different levels can be implemented to counteract and prevent urban climatic effects. This includes the establishment of a “green” and “blue” infrastructure, with vegetation and water areas within the cities leading to improved air quality and reduced noise exposure. Furthermore, customized area management can restrict the sealing of surfaces – which is especially important in highly populated areas – and thus ensure that there are adequate infiltration possibilities as well as fresh air “bubbles“. These issues are now prominent in the national agenda, which has led to increasing investments in air quality improvement. The Roof Water Farm Project in Berlin was supported by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) and demonstrates approaches to decentralized urban water management and food production.
Further local and regional adaptation to increasingly frequent extreme weather events and higher climate variability are required and infrastructure must be improved. A wide range of projects has already been initiated on the federal and local levels, providing reference points for appropriate adaptation strategies. Furthermore, they promote research and strategy development as well as the implementation of concrete measures. More than 90 percent of all major German cities (76 cities with more than 100,000 inhabitants) are actively developing concepts and strategies for adaptation to climate change (UBA, 2018).
Germany supports the development and application of new solutions to climate challenges – and therefore presents interesting and rare business opportunities for international firms.
There are many tools in Germany that support stakeholders in assessing the impacts of climate change, minimizing its risks, and identifying opportunities. The table below gives an overview of some of these tools and their target groups.
Klimalotse - Climate Navigator is a guide to climate change adaptation and mitigation
Local, municipal authorities, and companies
Tatenbank is a database with a focus on local and regional measures that have already been carried out or are currently being implemented
Climate Scout is run by the Climate Alliance and accompanies municipalities and communities in the development of suitable adaptation strategies.
Municipalities and communities
QuickCheck was developed as part of the northwest2050 research project. It provides enterprises with a tool to assess the degree to which they are affected by the impacts of climate change.
The LandCaRe-DSS system is aimed at agricultural companies and supports their decision-making processes by identifying appropriate adaptation options with the help of interactive scenarios.
Climate Service Center - GERICS offers products, advisory services, and decision-relevant information to support government, administration, and businesses in their efforts to adapt to climate change in a scientifically sound manner.
Government, administration, and companies
Note: This list is not intended to be exhaustive. Source: German Federal Environmental Agency (UBA) 2017
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