Climate change is increasing the frequency and intensity of flood risk in Germany

Interpreting flood risk in Germany under a changing climate

In Insurance, News by Stephanie Brain

How Climate Change is Impacting
Extreme Weather Events in Germany

High-level flood maps and predictive flood risk data for Germany are essential to identify at-risk areas to maximise the protection of people, infrastructure, and investments. Climate change is increasing the frequency and intensity of flood risk in Germany, so adequate adaptation and insurance protection must be implemented to mitigate these risks as far as possible.

Where is susceptible to floods in Germany?

So far, flood risk has predominantly impacted western regions in Germany. The German Environment Agency, the Umweltbundesamt, note that the greatest risks posed by a changing climate relative to today are to the west and south of Germany. In fact, approximately three million people live in areas that are at risk of flooding, and this figure is only set to increase as climate change continues to impact extreme weather events.

Coastal flooding is also a very real risk as sea levels rise. Currently, there are around 3.2 million citizens that live in coastal areas at risk of flooding. Even more worryingly, there are roughly 1.7 million people at risk of becoming submerged by rising sea levels, which equates to 2% of the population. Understanding the location of at-risk areas is critical for implementing effective adaptation and mitigation measures, as well as to accurately value insurance rates for properties affected.

Ambiental’s new FloodMap for Germany provides highly detailed and accurate predictive data that allows clients to see how potential floods will develop. This can be tailored to client needs and flexible options are available. This data ensures customers can organise the best response to flood risks, ensuring they are prepared before flood events materialise.

Recent extreme weather events in Germany

Earlier in 2021, Germany was hit by extreme river and flash flooding which predominantly impacted the western regions of Rhineland-Palatinate and North Rhine-Westphalia. It is becoming increasingly accepted that climate change is linked to such extreme weather events and, indeed, the floods had followed unprecedented heatwaves in the Pacific Northwest and Northern Europe. Scientists note that climate change may have disrupted the jet stream, which could lead to more frequent extreme weather phenomena occurring.

The 2021 flooding also highlighted a sizeable insurance protection gap. The German government’s Second Progress Report on adaptation notes that the insurance density against natural hazards is low at 43% for building insurance and only 24% for contents insurance. Considering that the intensity and frequency of extreme flooding events are likely to increase as climate change progresses, this suggests households are insufficiently protected against future flood risk.

Flood risk technology can be used to identify at-risk properties. Ambiental’s FloodScore database provides property-level flood risk scores and flood risk information for properties across Germany which can be used by insurers to better understand and accurately price that risk. This may help to bridge the insurance protection gap in preparation for future flood risks.

Historical flooding in Germany

Although the risk of flooding is increasing, Germany has historically been susceptible to extreme flooding events which have resulted in significant damage and have impacted communities across the country. River floods have been a particular concern, with all the large river catchment areas having been impacted by major floods over the last 25 years, leading to substantial financial losses.

A notable example is the flooding of the Elbe River in 2002, which is widely recognised to be one of the worst flood events in central Europe since the Middle Ages. Significant rainfall in the summer months led to flash floods in mountainous tributaries of the Elbe, and slow swell floods in the Elbe itself and the lower tributaries. The Elbe water level rose from its normal summer level of roughly 2 metres to reach 9.40 metres, the highest level ever recorded.

Roughly two-thirds of the 1100km river are located in Germany, with one third in the Czech Republic and a smaller section in Austria and Poland. The floods had catastrophic consequences, impacting the approximately 25 million people living in the river’s catchment area. At the same time, severe floods impacted the Danube River and catchment area too. Munich Re Group state that these floods caused around US$18.5bn in economic losses and damage throughout Europe, of which more than US$3bn of this was insured. Germany was also impacted by subsequent river floods in 2013 and flash floods in 2016, suggesting an increasing pattern of severe flooding events.

Climate change and the future of flooding in Germany

According to the German government’s Second Progress Report on adaptation, the series of extreme weather events including heat, drought and heavy rain suggests both “continuous changes and an increasing frequency of extreme climatic events.” This increasing vulnerability to extreme weather and flood events demonstrates the need to enact effective adaptation and mitigation plans now to mitigate future damage, as well as the necessity of sufficient insurance plans for floods and natural hazards. Considering there is an estimated US$829.3m of economic value in Germany at risk due to flooding, it is critical to minimise these losses where possible.

Current adaptation plans in Germany include harmonising flood hazard maps across regions, restoring watercourses to a more natural state and ensuring the systematic recording of extreme flooding events and damage in a coherent database. However, harmonising flood hazard maps may prove challenging because while some cities have chosen to make their surface water flood risk maps available to the public, many have raised concerns regarding how this might affect their liability where a flood event arises.

Understanding climate science as well as current and future flood risks is becoming essential as the risks increase in both magnitude and frequency. Ambiental’s FloodScore Climate Suite provides the data to understand long-term risk and is used by banks, investors, and lenders to identify sensitivity to change and deliver on reporting requirements. This data is comprehensive and accurate, focusing not only on flood risk analytics but also on physical risks and transition risks.

Germany continues to be at significant risk of flooding, a risk that is only intensifying as climate change alters traditional weather patterns and raises global temperatures. Ambiental offers a range of services including Germany’s FloodMap, FloodScore and Climate Suite which can provide the necessary data to better understand climate and flood risk across the country. Contact us today via our website to make an enquiry about our services or to obtain sample data for Germany.

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