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Spatial Risk Management and Climate Impact Research

Preliminary studies for a spatial development strategy in a changing climate (2008- 2009)

(Federal Institute for Research on Building, Urban Affairs and Spatial Development (BBSR), Research programme "Demonstration Projects of Spatial Planning (MORO)")

There is a growing consensus that spatial and land-use planning has an important role in addressing climate change and its effects. However, up till now climate change is not sufficiently taken into account in the German planning system and progress on adaptation is still at an early stage. To foster the reflection of climate change in spatial planning at the regional level the Federal Institute for Research on Building, Urban Affairs and Spatial Development (BBSR) has issued a research agenda for Demonstration Projects of Spatial Planning (MORO). To define the need for further research in these local projects a preliminary study was commissioned.

This preliminary study was built around three analytic steps:

  • Spatial Analysis: a spatial explicit assessment of potential impacts of climate change.

  • Spatial Planning Survey: a review of the state-of-the-art in handling climate change in spatial planning.

  • Strategy Development: an analysis of the need for new planning procedures and instruments.


Spatial Analysis

To focus the Spatial Analysis a great number of potential impacts of climate change was examined. The impacts were analysed regarding their relevance for spatial planning at the regional level. For each of the climate change impacts relevant for spatial planning a spatially explicit impact assessment was conducted. The assessment was built upon the conceptual framework for vulnerability assessments to impacts of climate change suggested by the IPCC 2007 and Füssel & Klein 2006. Following this framework, potential impacts of climate change can be regarded as a product of exposure to climate stimuli on the on hand and regional sensitivity to these stimuli on the other hand. Exposure to climate stimuli is a description of relevant changes in regional climate. Sensitivity to climate stimuli is determined by endogenous factors and main regional characteristics. The interdependencies (or the interplay) of these bio-physical, social, political factors and processes are influencing the degree of sensitivity. Hence, to assess regional impacts of climate change in Germany both factors (exposure and sensitivity) had to be analysed.
Using data from the hydrostatic regional climate model REMO the exposure of the natural regions of Germany to climatic change stimuli has been examined. To assess regional sensitivity socio-economic statistical data on the basis of administrative regions were utilised. By application of a Geographic Information System (GIS) and statistical techniques both information (exposure and sensitivity) were compared and analysed. The results are qualitatively differentiated in assessment classes to mark the regions with the need for spatial planning activity.

Spatial Planning Survey

For the Spatial Planning Survey effectual regional plans were analysed and interviews were held. The digital information for the analysis of the formal regional plans in Germany was taken from the database ROPLAMO. This central database contains almost all German regional plans.
The information about actual activities of the regional planning authorities regarding climate change was gained by guided interviews with experts in these institutions. 91 of the 105 regional planning authorities gave interviews. The guideline used for the interviews was harmonised with a survey done by the working group “Climate Change and Regional Planning” of the Academy for Spatial research and Planning. In addition written material sent by the contact partners was examined.

Strategy Development

A third objective of the pre-study was to provide an overview of regional planning potentials for mitigating and adapting to climate change. For this means, a literature study was conducted. Further, the study aimed at developing a framework for regional climate change adaptation. The cornerstones of such a framework were derived from the analysis of national and international good practice examples.


Spatial Analysis

Eleven potential impacts of climate change were identified to be of primary relevance for spatial planning at a regional level in Germany. These are:

Impacts caused by extreme events:

  • occurrence of longer and more intensive heat waves,
  • increasing frequency of heavy rains and flash floods,
  • increasing frequency of large river flood events,
  • increasing frequency and intensity of storm surges,
  • increasing frequency of mass movement (landslides etc.),
  • increasing frequency of forest fires ,
  • more frequent destruction of infrastructure.

Impacts caused by slow changes:

  • increased loss of soil by water erosion,
  • increased loss of species and biodiversity,
  • more pronounced fluctuations of the groundwater level,
  • increasing fluctuations in the availability of water for industrial use.

Information on the spatial distribution of the potential impacts could be provided by the application of a simple rule based assessment method. Based on this information the spatial differentiation of the climate change impacts in Germany at a regional level could be documented and areas with cumulative impositions of impacts were examined. Thus, regions where spatial planning urgently needs to focus on adaptation measures could be identified.

Spatial Planning Survey

Climate is already a subject in regional plans in Germany. But the focus of the plans is put on the aspect of climate mitigation. The subject of providing climate protection by enforcing an energy-mix avoiding carbon-dioxide emission is on the top of the Agenda of many regional planning authorities e. g. in Rhineland-Palatinate, Baden-Württemberg and Brandenburg. To this end a mix of formal and informal instruments is used in regional planning: On the one hand areas e.g. for the location of windmills are defined in regional plans on the other hand different products like e.g. energy atlases are produced by regional development activities. Beyond the spatial plans the regional planning authorities formulate references for the local planning level e. g. design guides for low emission building.
But up to now, the aspect of climate adaptation is almost disregarded in the effectual regional plans. Merely declarations on flood protection on rivers and in coastal zones consider possible prospective risks in formal plans. But climate change adaptation is not yet regarded as a basic strategic matter in regional planning. More advanced in those strategies are the few regions which take part in running programmes like “KLIMZUG”; especially some the Metropolitan Regions seem to detect climate adaptation with its risks and opportunities as a strategic topic. 

Strategy Development

In the analysis of strategy development, the range of potential regional planning instruments and fields of activity that are already at hand were considered, no matter if they had been already implemented or even tested in planning practice. Climate change mitigation and adaptation were both taken into account.
Against the background of a regional planning related need for action the following tasks for the implementation of the demonstration project in the model regions were identified:

  1. Application and testing of a regional adaptation strategy;

  2. Further development and application of particular instruments and measures;

  3. Platform for discursive processes with those who are affected by climate change in order to increase the legitimation and enhance the chances of implementation of measures.

As a result of the analysis a proposal for an ideal regional mitigation and adaptation strategy was developed and integrated into a “Draft guideline for developing a regional action frame for mitigating and adapting the regional structure to climate change”.


The assessment of impacts of climate change is a first step towards detailed investigations of impacts of climate as basis for spatial planning and decision making on the regional scale. The aggregation of results from regional climate models like REMO on larger “integrative” spatial units, like natural regions and planning regions, is a methodological way to generate information useful for policy and planning. Thus, regions more sensitive compared to other regions can be identified. Based on this information spatial planning, e.g. at a regional level can be used to target adaptation measures to the regions primarily affected by climate change.
Most regional plans have a solid base of formal planning categories on the aspect of climate-protection. These categories should be developed whereas a stronger focus should be put on the aspect of climate adaptation. On the other hand a lot of regional planning authorities should strengthen their steering capacities in regional development processes.
The information on the potential impacts of climate change in Germany, the state-of-the-art in considering these issues in regional planning and a literature review could be used to formulate a draft guideline for climate change adaptation in regional planning in Germany. Further research and application in the Demonstration Projects of Spatial Planning will be needed to verify and test this guideline.


IRPUD is main contractor in co-operation with the Chair of Landscape Ecology and Landscape Planning. Sub-contractors are the Justus-Liebig-University Gießen and Austrian Research Centers GmbH.

Contact: Dr. rer. pol. Mark Fleischhauer, Prof. Dr. Stefan Greiving, Univ.-Prof. Dr.-Ing. Dietwald Gruehn, Dipl.-Ing. Sven Rannow, Dr. Fabian Dosch

Other projects in this research area: