Climate change - impacts on human and ecological health in Germany

Essay 2004 12 Pages

Environmental Sciences


Table of Content

1 Introduction

2 The Greenhouse effect and climate change

3 Climate change impacts on ecological health
3.1 Impacts on ecosystems
3.1.1 Temperature, precipitation, and carbon dioxide
3.1.2 Shift of the vegetation zones
3.1.3 Composition of species and biodiversity
3.2 Impacts on landscape

4 Climate change impacts on human health
4.1 Direct impacts
4.1.1 Thermal extremes
4.1.2 Weather extremes
4.2 Indirect impacts
4.2.1 Vector-borne diseases
4.2.2 Impacts on food supply

5 Mitigation of climate change and its health benefits
5.1 Mitigation on a global scale
5.2 Policies in Germany
5.3 Health benefits

6 Summary and outlook

7 References

If atmospheric pollution increases, if infectious disease vectors extend their domain because of climatic change, if food supplies become endangered by loss of arable land and by acidification of waterways and if social organisations break down under demographic strain, economic deprivation or competition for dwindling resources, then the health and survival of human populations is endangered.[1]

1 Introduction

In these days, global climatic changes that can be observed are rooted in human activities. The prevailing carbon-based economy makes issues like heating and electricity, population growth and industrialisation, transportation and mobility, over-consumption and globalisation the main contributors of emission of greenhouse gases, with the consequence (among others) of global warming, and thus a changing climate. These global changes have heightened awareness that the health of populations depends on the stability and functioning of the biosphere’s ecological, physical, and socio-economic systems. The world’s climate system is an integral part of the complex web of life-supporting processes. Climate and weather have always had a powerful impact on human health and well-being. But like other large natural systems, the global climate system is coming under pressure from human activities. Global climate change is, therefore, a newer challenge to ongoing efforts to protect human health.

This essay examines the mentioned connectedness of human behaviour and the natural world. More specifically, it deals with the global issue of human induced climate change and its impacts on ecological health (↑ 3) and human health (↑ 4), focusing on Germany. Following on from this, global and German mitigation policies are introduced and the health benefits are outlined (↑ 5). The starting point marks a brief discussion of the link between greenhouse gases and climate change (↑ 2).

In connection with the issues of the 'greenhouse effect' and 'climate change', stratospheric ozone depletion is often also discussed. Undoubtedly, stratospheric ozone depletion has impacts on ecological and human health, however it is left out of consideration in this essay due to the word limit, and to the complexity of its relationship to the greenhouse effect and climate change.

2 The Greenhouse effect and climate change

On earth, human life would be not possible without a natural greenhouse effect. Greenhouse gases let unhindered pass the entering short-wave sun radiation. At the same time however, they prevent part of the long-wave radiation getting back into the universe through absorption. Due to this, on earth is at an average temperature of 15°C, otherwise it would be an inhospitable minus 18°C.

The climate change is, above all, a consequence of the growing greenhouse effect. The academic community assumes that the increasing emission of greenhouse gases by humans results in an increase of the average world temperature from 1990 to 2100 of 1.4 to 5.8 °C.[2]

The main 'natural' greenhouse gases are CO2, H2O,, CH4, N20, and O3. Since 1940, humans have produced industrial greenhouse gases like CFC's, HCFs, HCFC's, PCFs, and SF6. The impact of each single gas on the greenhouse effect is different. CO2 contributes the most to the anthropogenic greenhouse effect. Humans burden the environment with CO2 through heating, electricity, and mobility. However, some emit more than others. Each German emits annually 10 tons of CO2, a citizen of the US double that amount and an Indian just a tenth.[3]

The amount of greenhouse gases is just circa one per cent of the total atmosphere, however its influence on temperature is decisive. An increase of its concentration in the atmosphere changes the global climate.

3 Climate change impacts on ecological health

3.1 Impacts on ecosystems

3.1.1 Temperature, precipitation, and carbon dioxide


The prognosticated warming of the earth's atmosphere varies between 1.5 to 5 degrees.[4] This jump in temperature is comparable with the temperature difference between the Ice Age 18000 years ago and the current warm period. The serious difference is that the anthropogenically induced change in climate will occur much faster.[5]

Due to the fast changes, all parts of nature's household will be affected, particularly aquatic and terrestric ecosystems. The latter displays a complicated interacting system between abiotic (climate and soil) and biotic components (plants, animals, micro organisms). The climate represents the most important abiotic component. Temperature, that counts for the most important of climatic elements, determines a multitude of life processes for animals and plants (metabolism, reproduction, mobility, behaviour, vernalisation, flowering time, ripeness of fruit and seed, …). Moreover, raised temperatures lead to an increase in soil activity and mineralization. The resulting release of nutrients makes an increase in biomass production possible.[6]

The statements about the future distribution of precipitation in Europe are made with great uncertainty. On average, for Middle Europe warmer, dryer summers, and milder, wetter winters are expected.[7]


Already little changes in amount, setting in, and intensity of precipitation can disturb a regional water regime. For lots of plant species, precipitation and humidity of the soil are more important than temperature. With the exception of the timberline that has temperature as a limited factor, precipitation plays often the crucial role in the distribution of plant species. Still, temperature and precipitation can combine as stress factors.

Climate change affects the water household in ecosystems directly through changes in precipitation, flowing off, soil humidity, snow coverage, snow melting, and evaporation; and indirectly through changes in the water level of inland waters by which the ground water level is affected.[8]

Carbon dioxide

Since the beginning of industrialisation, the global CO2 concentration has increased from 280 ppm to over 350 ppm and increases annually about 1,5 ppm (0,4%).[9] Increasing concentrations can have an indirect effect on ecosystems in terms of structure, population dynamics, competition relationships as well as forming of humus and nutrition turnover rates.[10] In terms of direct effects, there is a rise in photosynthesis rate and biomass production, an acceleration of growing, development, and aging, as well as a reduction in the opening of the stomata leading to a reduction in the transpiration rate.[11]

3.1.2 Shift of the vegetation zones

Due to the shift of climatic zones, there will be also a shift in vegetation zones. Such a development places high demands on the adaptation abilities of animals and plants. Depending on the adaptation ability of the single species and the option of migration as a reaction to changing environmental circumstances, the spatial distribution and composition of the living communities alter. It is assumed that for a multitude of ecosystems and their living communities an adaptation to the fast changing climatic conditions (that dragged on over millennia in the past) will not be possible. It is supposed that an increase in temperature of 1 degree will lead to a shift of the vegetation zones, in the direction of the poles, of about 200-300 km.[12] Because single plant species have different paces in migration, a splitting up of present species communities will occur. Less 'mobile' animal and plant species will be particularly affected.


[1] McMichael 1993, p.79.

[2] Treber et al. 2001, p.5/8.

[3] IEA 2002, p.50f.

[4] IPCC 2001b, p.13.

[5] Deutscher Bundestag 1994.

[6] Chapin et al. 1993, Kesel 2000.

[7] Barrow 1993.

[8] Deutscher Bundestag 1994.

[9] Enquete-Kommission 1992.

[10] O´Neill 1994.

[11] Bazzaz & Fajer 1992.

[12] Enquete-Kommission 1992.


ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
File size
517 KB
Catalog Number
Institution / College
Murdoch University – ISTP - Institute for Sustainability and Technology Policy
Climate Germany Ecology Society Human Health




Title: Climate change - impacts on human and ecological health in Germany