Climate crisis: Berlin to be ‘as hot as Australia’ in 30 years

What will summer in Germany’s cities feel like in the coming decades? Much hotter, according to a new study on how climate change is affecting the world.

Climate crisis: Berlin to be ‘as hot as Australia’ in 30 years
A man in the sun during Germany's recent heatwave. Photo: DPA

Berlin could regularly receive temperatures as high as those in the Australian capital of Canberra in the future, new research by ETH Zurich has found.

By 2050 the maximum temperature in the warmest month in Berlin will likely increase by 6.1C, researchers say. That means the German capital will see a mean annual increase of 1.8C, making the climate most similar to current day Canberra.

The Aussie city, which lies between rolling hills next to a lake, gets very hot in the summer. The highest temperature ever measured was more than 42C. In winter, however, Canberra's cool, temperate climate can sometimes be accompanied by snow.

To illustrate their findings, the Crowther Lab in Switzerland created a global data map that pairs one city’s future climate conditions with current ones.

The researchers believe it will also get significantly warmer in other German cities.

The climate in Hamburg and Cologne could in future be similar to that of San Marino, while in Munich, the climate will feel more like Milan in about three decades time.

READ ALSO: Fridays for Future: German climate protesters face fines for skipping school

Significant increase in temperatures by 2050

In the study published in the science journal Plos One, researchers led by Jean-François Bastin evaluated how the climate will develop in more than 520 large cities in 2050.

They found cities in the Northern Hemisphere will have the climates that cities more than 998 kilometres to their south have today.

READ ALSO: Germany bakes in record June temperatures

In Europe, summers and winters will get considerably warmer by 2050, with average increases of 3.5C and 4.7C, respectively, compared with 2000. This is a conservative estimate, according to researchers. Temperatures, precipitation and seasonal changes were taken into account.

The research found that Madrid will have to adapt to a climate like that in Marrakech, and Stockholm will be as warm as Budapest. Meanwhile, London was slated to be as warm as Barcelona in the summer.

Around the world, cities that are currently in temperate or cold zones in the northern hemisphere will resemble places far away and much closer to the equator.

Droughts expected

In the tropics, temperature differences won't be as great as elsewhere. However, the climate crisis is more likely to be reflected in droughts and extreme precipitation. The researchers cannot predict exactly what this will mean for these cities. 

Furthermore, they found that megacities such as Jakarta, Singapore or Kuala Lumpur are probably facing far-reaching changes.

SEE ALSO: 'Grandma, what's a polar bear?' – Students speak out at Berlin demo

All this has consequences for the infrastructure in cities, the researchers say, for which authorities are not yet prepared for. Water supplies, for example, will need to be re-thought.

As The Local reported earlier this week, Germany has been dealing with low water supplies in recent years due to dry summers. It's led authorities to look to places like California and China which have been grappling with drought conditions for a long time.

As water utility companies become aware of the challenges climate change will bring, higher costs for water could arise in future.

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How the Rhine’s low water levels are impacting Germany

Shocking photos show just how bad the river Rhine looks at the moment after weeks of dry weather. Experts are warning that extreme low water levels are affecting German industry and could hit consumers.

How the Rhine's low water levels are impacting Germany

What’s happening?

Due to the prolonged hot weather and little rainfall in recent weeks, the water levels of the Rhine, one of Europe’s biggest rivers, have dropped sharply. In several places, including near Koblenz, the water level is below one metre. Normal levels here would be 1.50 to 2 metres at this time of year.

Although the Rhine is still carrying more water than in autumn 2018, when the lowest water levels since records began were recorded, it is now moving into this range. At a key measuring point in Kaub near Koblenz, it was just 25 centimetres in 2018. Currently, the water level at this station is 51 centimetres.

The dried up water is causing major problems for German factories which rely on deliveries by ship along the 1,232 km Rhine River.

Weeks of dry weather across Europe have drastically hit water levels on major waterways, and resulted in drought restrictions in some countries. The whole of France has been on a drought alert since the beginning of August.

What does low water on the Rhine mean for shipping?

The Rhine river is important for German inland navigation. Many large industrial centres are located on the river and use it for supplies with raw materials. This includes the BASF chemical plant in Ludwigshafen and the ThyssenKrupp blast furnaces in Duisburg. Fully loaded transport ships, however, need to have a certain amount of space below the water surface to be able to travel on the river.

A fully loaded transport ship needs at least 1.50 metres – and this is no longer guaranteed everywhere. Many barge operators are therefore only sailing with half or a quarter of the normal load. This means that deliveries become delayed because the same route has to be covered several times.

READ ALSO: More floods, droughts and heatwaves: How climate change will impact Germany

What does the low water mean for industry on the Rhine?

Industrial companies that use the Rhine for deliveries have to pay more money, because ships have to sail more frequently, and there are fewer available cargo ships. In June, for example, transport in a liquid tanker from Rotterdam to Karlsruhe still cost €20 per tonne. Recently it climbed to €94 – almost five times as much.

The second disadvantage for industry is that because ships can transport fewer goods, deliveries are delayed so much that they sometimes no longer arrive in time for production. Nationwide, supplies are still sufficient at the moment, but there have been some issues. 

Which companies are most affected?

Energy company Uniper reported that there could be disruption at two of their power plants until September 7th. The two plants are operated with coal that’s normally delivered via the Rhine.

BASF, the speciality chemicals group Evonik and ThyssenKrupp are so far still able to maintain production from stocks and other sources. “However, we cannot completely rule out reductions in the production rates of individual plants for the next few weeks,” a BASF spokeswoman said.

How important is the Rhine for the German economy?

Although the entire water network used for inland navigation in Germany measures about 6,550 kilometres and includes canals as well as rivers, 80 percent of all goods transport takes place on the Rhine. Its water levels are therefore of massive importance to the German economy. Along with parts of the Elbe, the Weser, the Trave and the Kiel Canal, it is the only waterway that the largest inland vessels can navigate.

The level of the Rhine has dropped sharply.

The water level of the Rhine has dropped in recent weeks, causing major problems. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Hannes P Albert

How does the low water affect consumers?

Consumers are of course also affected by low water levels. A 2019 study by researchers from Giessen, for instance, shows that the 2018 low-water period led to a noticeable increase in the price of diesel in the Rhine area of Cologne, even though oil prices fell noticeably at the time.

At the time, the Cologne tide gauge saw a record low of just 69 centimetres. Economists cited the lack of transport options across the water as the reason, and consequently more expensive alternative transport over land.

Now, too, the low water levels are likely to put further pressure on consumers’ wallets – and again primarily at the petrol pump. Due to the stagnant goods traffic via the shipping lanes, less diesel and heating oil is currently arriving in Bavaria, regional broadcaster Bayerischer Rundfunk reported. 

Why don’t the logistics companies switch to roads and railways?

Many goods can also be transported by lorry or goods train. But the low water levels come at a bad time: due to Covid infections, there are currently a lot of train drivers off sick. And let’s not forget that Germany is suffering from a worker shortage at the moment, and there are not enough lorry drivers.

What happens to the water levels? Will they keep falling?

Unfortunately, experts believe water levels on the Rhine will continue to fall. The Federal Institute of Hydrology currently estimates water levels of 44 centimetres in a fortnight at the Kaub measuring station. The Federal Waterways and Shipping Administration does not forecast significantly rising water levels for any of the measuring stations on the Rhine in the coming period. If there isn’t a lot of rain soon, the record levels of 2018 are well within reach.

What is the overall impact of the low water?

When the record lows were recorded in 2018, Germany’s total industrial production fell by 1.5 per cent. The Kiel Institute for the World Economy (IfW) expects a decline of 1.0 per cent if water levels are too low for at least 30 days. That may not sound like much, but with the manufacturing industry in Germany having a monthly turnover of around €180 billion per month, one percent is still a huge amount. And as Germany is already having a tough time due to the effects of the pandemic and Russia’s war on Ukraine, this is not what anyone needs. 

READ ALSO: Energy crisis to labour shortage: Five challenges facing Germany right now