Heat and drought are increasingly affecting people, nature and agriculture. In an interview with ntv.de, Environment Minister Lemke warns that Germany is not adequately prepared for climate change - and calls for more commitment not only in the municipalities but also in individual ministries.
ntv.de: Ms. Lemke, after gas, water is now also becoming scarce in Germany. Will we soon not only have to take cold showers, but also shorter ones?
Steffi Lemke: The fact that we have to use water more consciously in hot summers is not a completely new development. But in the meantime there have been so many years with too little rain that in some places the groundwater levels no longer fill up in winter. Drought events will become more frequent and last longer in the future. The drought is a threat to nature in town and country as well as to agriculture, the heat threatens our infrastructure and us humans.
The drought monitor is already deep red in Central Germany. What do we have to prepare for?
Last year, the Federal Environment Agency presented the climate impact and risk analysis for Germany. The researchers show that if the climate crisis goes unchecked, the risks of heat, drought and heavy rain will increase massively throughout Germany. How this will affect individual regions cannot be predicted with 100% accuracy. Basically, we have to prepare for times with too little or too much water and with too much heat.
So take a shorter shower?
The drinking water supply is not at risk in Germany. To ensure that this remains the case in the future, everyone should make a contribution to saving water within the scope of their possibilities. We need to use water as a resource consciously. And we need a water strategy that focuses more on the consequences of the climate crisis in the medium and long term.
At the Tesla site in Grünheide near Berlin, newcomers are not allowed to use more than 105 liters of water per day. Is a water distribution battle looming here?
The water problem surrounding the Tesla factory makes it clear which conflicts can arise on this topic - and that too little attention may have been paid to water resources when decisions were made in the past.
The German Hospital Society fears an increasing burden on the clinics this summer - not only because of staff shortages as a result of Corona, but also because of heat-related hospital cases. Is Germany well enough prepared for the changes brought about by climate change?
No, we are not. We assumed for too long that we still had time. The climate adaptation strategy from 2008 does exist. But that was a different reality. Only the hot summers since 2018, with their high number of heat deaths and noticeable changes in nature, have caused a rethink. Since then, we in Germany have learned that the climate crisis has had very concrete, catastrophic effects on us in the long term. Therefore, we are in the process of adapting the adaptation strategy to this new reality. And my ministry promotes climate adaptation measures in social institutions as well as in hospitals.
How can this adaptation look like?
Every municipality faces different challenges. A city of millions like Berlin is struggling with overheating, rural regions suffer from long periods of drought, and heavy rainfall events can have fatal consequences in low mountain ranges such as the Ahr Valley. Every municipality must tackle the climate adaptation that suits it. The main thing is that she tackles them. In order for this to succeed, the BMUV has been supporting innovative climate adaptation projects for many years. As of this year, municipalities can have the deployment of adaptation managers funded. These experts advance climate adaptation in municipalities with concepts and concrete measures. The Center for Climate Adaptation has been the central point of contact for municipalities and social institutions for a year. Cities and communities can find expert advice and training for their employees there.
Why is there no national heat action plan?
The creation of heat action plans is the responsibility of the federal states and municipalities. We support you in this. Some have such plans, such as Dresden and Cologne. However, persistent heat waves have become more frequent in recent years, and they pose ever greater problems for local authorities. Therefore, I am currently investigating how the federal government can better support local initiatives via a national action plan.
The federal government is also working with bans on the energy transition: From 2024, no new gas heaters may be installed. Wouldn't it be possible to introduce legal rules to improve adaptation, such as a regulation that public buildings must have blinds or shutters and no large south-facing window fronts?
In terms of climate protection and the expansion of renewable energies, the federal government has pulled the brakes on, so to speak, and a lot is happening here now. When it comes to climate change, we have to follow suit. We are developing a new, precautionary climate adaptation strategy and the national water strategy, which we are also currently revising in order to adapt them to the changed conditions. Preparations for climate-adapted construction measures are also underway in the building ministry of my colleague Klara Geywitz. In addition, the concept of the sponge city can make an important contribution.
A sponge city is designed to optimally store water from precipitation. Streets and squares, green spaces, inner-city bodies of water and retention basins are all designed to absorb water. If it is dry for a long time, the water stored in this way is gradually released into the urban environment, which at the same time keeps the city cool. Sponge cities are also characterized by green spaces on facades and roofs. Every conceivable water reservoir is used. In my home town of Dessau, more plants are drying out than can be replanted. If we want to preserve the city's greenery, it will not be possible to permanently irrigate it with drinking water. For this we need sponge concepts.
In Berlin, allotment associations have been arguing for years about not having to give way to housing projects. What has priority: housing shortage or climate protection?
You can't give a general answer to that. Housing construction of the future must always integrate climate protection and climate adaptation. In the face of the climate crisis, we have no other choice. When it comes to allotment gardens, I would like to give priority to allotment gardeners, as they can also play an important role in preserving biological diversity. But that has to be decided locally.
A climate adaptation law has been agreed in the coalition agreement. What is the status on this topic?
The bill is in preparation and I intend to present a proposal by the middle of the legislative period. The problems that we are tackling are complex because they affect the interests of the municipalities and the decision-making powers of the federal states. Of course it would have been better if we had started three or four years ago. But at that time people didn't get through with such topics.
Last year, while still in opposition, you called for a renaturation program. What has become of it?
This resulted in the action program for natural climate protection, which is designed to cost four billion euros for this legislative period. Never before has so much money been invested in this area as now. This program combines climate protection, climate adaptation and nature conservation: moors and floodplains are large CO2 stores. In addition, renaturation is good for biodiversity. And we could never store as much water in artificial water retention basins as in old-growth forests, floodplains and moors. For the implementation, however, we need the federal states, the municipalities and the land users, i.e. farmers and forest owners.
Are expropriations also conceivable?
We do not plan any form of expropriation. As far as I know, agricultural land in Germany is currently being expropriated primarily for the construction of new autobahns.
How do you convince the individual farmer, who may have an eye on the big picture but is dependent on the specific input from his fields?
In many places we have drainage systems that have been in place for centuries, which transport water out of the landscape. If precipitation and groundwater are missing today, these systems may no longer make sense. We won't be able to compensate for the drought everywhere with artificial irrigation of fields - that won't work. In my home country, I experienced that there were initially concerns when dikes were moved inland. It took a lot of persuasion to make it clear that the rivers now have more space and that floodplains can cause the crest to drop sharply in the event of a flood.
Is your advocating increased climate adaptation also a sign that it is now too late to fight climate change?
If we want to prevent parts of the world from becoming uninhabitable, we must step up the fight against the climate crisis. The federal government is doing that. At the same time, we have to realize that the effects of the climate crisis are now also having a massive impact on us in Central Europe. Therefore, both are necessary, climate protection and precaution against the consequences of the climate crisis.
Finally, a question not about adaptation, but about classic climate protection: Last Wednesday, the cabinet was supposed to decide on a comprehensive program on how Germany can reduce its CO2 emissions by 65 percent by 2030 compared to 1990. That didn't happen, apparently there's a problem with the issue of traffic. Does the traffic light fail because of Volker Wissing?
I'm sure that Volker Wissing will also take responsibility for strengthening the climate protection that the entire federal government has set itself. If he suggests relieving other modes of transport by specifically promoting cycling, that's a good idea.
A speed limit could save around 600 million liters of fuel a year. WHen does it come?
The coalition factions have meanwhile frequently stated that a speed limit could not be agreed during the coalition negotiations. The group that opposes it continues to hold this position.
Judith Görs and Hubertus Volmer spoke to Steffi Lemke