How climate change is threatening Germany’s forests

In the past three years, Germany has lost thousands of hectares of forest due to the ever warmer and drier climate. There are calls for new funding to help forest owners adapt to new conditions.

Everstorfer Forest damage
Uprooted and broken trees lie in the Everstorfer Forest after a storm in February 2022. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-Zentralbild | Jens Büttner

What’s going on?

Over the past few years, the effects of climate change in Germany have become ever more noticeable. Along with more intense cold and heat spells, the country saw disastrous flash floods in 2021 that claimed more than a hundred lives and caused billions of euros of damage to homes and infrastructure. 

However, for the northern regions of the country in particular, it’s been the lack of rainfall and intense heat that has caused the most concern among agricultural workers and forest owners. 

They argue that Germany’s iconic woodland could become a victim of the climate crisis if more isn’t done to help the forests adapt. If that happens, they say, one of the major absorbers of CO2 in the atmosphere would no longer be available in the fight against global warming. 

Max von Elverfeldt, chairman of the family business Land und Forst, told DPA that a lack of investment in conserving forests would primarily affect future generations.

“Our forests are our most successful climate activists, without them we will not achieve our climate goals,” he explained.

How bad is the damage so far? 

According to Andreas Bitter, president of the Federation of German Forest Owners’ Associations (AGDW), more than 400,000 hectares of forest area have already been destroyed by the effects of heat and drought since 2018.

Back in February, an intense storm destroyed swathes of a forest in Mecklenburg Western-Pomerania, ripping 60-year-old trees out by their roots and affecting around half a million cubic metres of land. 

Speaking ahead of a meeting of the state agriculture ministers on Monday, Bitter warned: “Time is pressing. The government must act.” 

He said funding for forest adaptation to climate change should be implemented quickly, otherwise it would be too late.

The president of the German Forestry Council, Georg Schirmbeck, put the material damage caused by drought and bark beetle infestation at €12.5 billion, spread over three years of crisis.

“Assets were literally destroyed,” he told the Neue Osnabrücker Zeitung. 

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: How the climate crisis is hitting Europe hard

What exactly are forest owners calling for?

Campaigners primarily want additional funding to be freed up and used for projects that will make forests better equipped to deal with the changing climate. 

According to Schirmbeck, the transformation of the forests could cost around €50bn in total, with at least €1 billion in support needed each year from the state. 

The president of the German Forestry Council is also advocating for stricter guidelines on the sustainable use of wood.

“The renewable raw material wood, both as a building material and as a final energy source, is an important element in achieving the German government’s climate goals with the move away from fossil fuels,” said Schirmbeck.

Tegel forest in Berlin

Two cyclists enjoy sunny weather in Tegel Forest in Berlin. Photo: picture alliance / dpa | Peer Grimm

Ahead of the meeting, the environmental association BUND laid out a number of proposals for preserving forests in the long term.

“Our forests have been weakened by several years of drought, over-intensive forestry and the large-scale cultivation of conifers,” BUND chairman Olaf Bandt told RND on Monday. “We demand an ecological forest turnaround.”

For example, at least one tenth of the forest area must be designated as natural forest and kept out of the hands of foresters. 

In addition, there must be “an immediate stop to logging in publicly owned deciduous forests that are more than 100 years old,” Bandt said. 

The rapid conversion of coniferous forests to deciduous forests and a different approach to wild animals such as deer, which use new plantations as food and thus damage them, are also necessary, he argued. 

READ ALSO: Germany chooses Greenpeace chief as first climate envoy

Are there any other perspectives? 

Yes. Naturally, the timber industry isn’t particularly enamoured with proposals to limit their access to the forest, and have argued that the number of new trees planted each year can easily replace what they remove. 

“It is best for climate protection if the CO2 is stored in wood products or if the wood replaces climate-polluting materials instead of letting it rot unused in the forest,” Denny Ohnesorge, managing director of the German Timber Industry Association (HDH), told RND.

Meanwhile, hunters have argued that the monocultures created by humans over decades is a huge cause of harm in the forests, and that more planting and reforestation is needed. 

Member comments

  1. I’m no expert but here in Hessen it looks to me as though the vast majority of the so called ‘forests’ that have been destroyed were actually just monoculture plantations. Nearly as bad as those vineyards in the Rheingau!

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‘Clear indication of climate change’: Germany logs warmest year on record

Looking at data from 2,000 measuring systems around Germany, the German Weather Service (DWD) said that 2022 marked the warmest year on record through November.

'Clear indication of climate change': Germany logs warmest year on record

“Never since 1881 has the period from January to November in Germany been so warm as in 2022,” said DWD spokesman Uwe Kirsche in a statement on Wednesday.

The average temperature for the first eleven months of 2022 was 11.3C, according to the weather service in Offenbach. The previous high was set in 2020, at 11.1C for this period. 

The temperature average for autumn alone was 10.8 degrees – an entire 2C degrees higher than it was between 1961 to 1990, which is used by meteorologists around the globe as a point of reference. 

Clear indication of climate change

The period from January to October was already the warmest on record, with an average temperature of 11.8C. For meteorologists, autumn ends with November, whereas in calendar terms, it lasts until December 21st. 

It is “a clear indication of climate change;” that the warmest October months of the last 140 years all fall in this millennium, said DWD.

READ ALSO: ‘A glimpse into our climate future’: Germany logs warmest October on record

Autumn 2022 could have easily been mistaken for summer in some regions of Germany, it said. The mercury reached the highest in Kleve on the Lower Rhine on September 5th, where temperatures soared to a sizzling 32.3C.

weather Germany september

Beach goers in Westerland, Schleswig-Holstein on September 25th. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Frank Molter

Rainy regions

The mild weather extended into November, before temperatures took a dramatic dip in many parts of the country. 

In the Oberharz am Brocken, the mercury dropped all the way to -11.6C on November 20th, the nationwide low for this autumn.

READ ALSO: Germany to see first snowfall after mild November

But despite the early warm spells, autumn was also “slightly wetter than average,” according to DWD. An average of around 205 liters of precipitation per squar metre fell across Germany.

That was about twelve percent more than in the reference period from 1961 to 1990. Compared to 1991 to 2020, the increase was about eight percent.

The Black Forest and the Alps received the most rainfall. Utzenfeld in the southern Black Forest had the highest daily precipitation in Germany with 86 litres per square meter on October 14th. In contrast, it remained very dry in the northeast. 

However, there were also a fair few bright, sunny days for people to enjoy. According to DWD, the sun shone for a good 370 hours this autumn – almost 20 percent more than in the period from 1961 to 1990 and 15 percent more than in the period from 1991 to 2020.

The North German Lowlands saw the most sun, with residents there getting a solid 400 hours of sunshine over autumn. 

Temperatures to drop this week

Just in time for the start of the meteorological winter on December 1st, temperatures will drop significantly into the low negatives in many parts of the country.

On the weekend, there is a risk of permafrost in some regions of eastern Germany. The nights will also become increasingly frosty, with snow expected in many regions by the end of the week.

Roads are expected to turn icy, but with no major snowstorms, said DWD.

READ ALSO: Will Germany see more snow this winter?