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Wednesday, August 04, 2021

Explained: Is Germany’s devastating floods linked to climate change?

Germany floods: The extreme weather event comes in the same week that the European Union made the announcement to reduce 55 percent of its greenhouse gas emissions by the year 2030. 

By: Explained Desk | New Delhi |
Updated: July 27, 2021 9:10:14 am
Destroyed houses are seen close to the Ahr river in Schuld, Germany, Thursday, July 15, 2021. (AP Photo/Michael Probst)

Over a hundred people have died and several people remain missing as a result of flooding in Germany caused by unprecedented rainfall, which is being referred to as the worst such event that the country has witnessed in nearly a century. One of the worst-hit villages in Germany was Schuld, where many homes collapsed and where authorities are still unable to locate several people.

The extreme weather event comes in the same week that the European Union made the announcement to reduce 55 per cent of its greenhouse gas emissions by the year 2030.

Germany floods: What caused it?

The catastrophic flooding in West Germany was caused by a severe storm and continuous rains that caused rivers and streams to swell up and flood the towns and cities located alongside the banks of the river Ahr in Germany. When the soil and the water bodies were no longer able to absorb the excess water, it spilled out wreaking havoc in nearby areas and causing damage to buildings, infrastructure, the environment and people’s belongings.

While floods were reported in some other countries including Belgium, the Netherlands and Switzerland, Germany has faced the most amount of damage. According to Frankfurter Allgemeine, a German newspaper, the storm that killed dozens of people so far has not happened since the storm surge in Hamburg seen in 1962, when more than 300 people had died.

Before this, Germany was witness to extreme flooding in June 2013, which was one of the most severe large-scale flooding seen in the country in nearly six decades. Some other countries were also affected during this time including Austria, Switzerland, Poland and Hungary among others.  Before this, severe flooding was seen in Germany in August 2002.

In one of the worst-hit areas of North Rhine-Westphalia, 25 cities and districts were affected this time and the situation was still “dramatic” in some of these places, the government of the state said in a statement.

Scientists in Germany have dubbed the low-pressure weather system that caused the weather event “Bernd” and the Environment Minister Ursula Heinen-Esser and the State Office for Nature, Environment and Consumer Protection (LANUV) noted that the large and devastating floods that were seen in the last few days have never been seen before.

Germany floods: Can this be linked to climate change?

Like any singular extreme event, scientists have not reached a consensus and are not sure if the unprecedented rainfall seen in Germany can be linked to climate change. Even so, the number of record-breaking events that are being recorded across the globe are increasing. Just a few weeks ago, the western parts of the US and Canada experienced a historic heatwave as a result of which maximum temperatures reached 50 degrees Celsius in a Canadian village in British Columbia.

Last week, a team of researchers from the World Weather Attribution said that the heatwave was “impossible” without human-induced climate change. Another study published this week, which was conducted over a period of nine years said that the eastern part of the Amazon forests have turned into a source of carbon instead of a carbon sink in part due to the significant levels of deforestation that have taken place over the course of the last four decades.

About the floods in Germany, a report in the Guardian says that some climate scientists are shocked by the intensity and scale of floods and that they did not expect records to be broken this much.

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