Survive Berlin

This summer temperatures reached 42°C in Germany, and this is just the beginning. Temperatures of 50°C are predicted in Germany by the end of the century. These conditions will make surviving in Berlin a challenge.

When we think of the consequences of global warming, we generally don’t think of what will happen here in Berlin, Germany – or even Europe! Even if tropical regions and developing countries do suffer the most damaging effects of global warming1, we’ll also be strongly affected.

The recent weather should be a wake-up call for us all. In June and July 2019, extreme heat waves hit Europe and broke many temperature records by several degrees2. In Berlin, a record high temperature of 38.6°C was recorded on 30 June 2019. And high temperatures weren’t the only problem – farmers in Brandenburg also suffered through their second year of drought3.

These phenomenons are on track to intensify as the Earth gets warmer. In central Europe, including Berlin, the main consequences of a warmer climate will be increased heat extremes, decreased summer precipitation, a higher number (and severity) of forest fires, and a greater risk of flooding in the winter4. The most notable impact is projected to be the rise in summer heat extremes. Since the 1980s, the max summer temperature has steadily risen, and this trend is well on track to continue. The average hottest Summer day at Berlin-Tempelhof weather station from 1948 to 1999 was 33.3°C. Between 2000 and 2019, this number rose to 35.2°C: almost 2°C more5!

A recent EU-funded study by researchers from the University of Newcastle compared the projections of 50 climate models on the future climates of over 500 European cities6. Under a low-impact scenario, the average summer temperature in Berlin is expected to rise by 5-6°C by the 2nd half of the 21st century. That would bring Berlin’s average max summer temperature to 38-39°C. Under this low-impact scenario, the hottest summer of today will be the new norm of tomorrow. Under a mid-impact scenario, Berlin’s average max summer temperatures rise by about 8-9°C. And in a high-impact scenario (which is our current path!) Berliners will experience average max summer temperatures 11-13°C higher! That means that Berlin summers from 2050 to 2100 will offer average max temperatures between 44-46°C; with the hottest summers likely to see max recorded temperatures of 50°C and up.

Extreme heatwaves won’t be the only negative result of global warming. Berlin will also suffer from floods, drought, smoke from forest fires, increased lake toxicity, and food and water scarcity4:1. Under a high-impact scenario, we can picture a typical Berlin summer, in 2080: we’ve already had one week of temperatures above 45°C and a record set so far at 49.6°C. Water rationing has been in place for months already. Food is overpriced. Swimming in the lakes is banned. The Spree stagnates at record low levels and fires burn the remainder of Brandenburg’s forests, choking the sky and the air we breathe. The whole city economy grinds to a halt. This may sound extreme, but worryingly, it’s not unrealistic. We’re currently on track for precisely this outcome. Is that really the Berlin we want our grandchildren to grow up in? This can all be avoided – we just need to act now.

References

  1. Alston, 2019, Climate change and poverty — Report of the Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights — A/HRC/41/39, United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHCR) Special Report. ↩︎

  2. 25 Jul 2019, Germany swelters in record-breaking Europe heat wave, Deutsche Welle DW. ↩︎

  3. Bahn, 25 Jul 2019, German farmers hit by second summer of drought, Deutsche Welle DW video. ↩︎

  4. EEA Report 1/2017, 25 Jan 2017, Climate change, impacts and vulnerability in Europe 2016, European Environmental Agency. ↩︎ ↩︎

  5. Weather data from Berlin-Tempelhof, collected on the 25 Aug 2019, from the Integrated Climate Data Center (ICDC), Hamburg University. ↩︎

  6. Guerreiro et al., 2018, Future heat-waves, droughts and floods in 571 European Cities, Environmental Research Letters 13:034009. ↩︎