Frankfurt Airport was under water for hours on Wednesday evening, and there was chaos in the flight schedule. The German Weather Service (DWD) warned of heavy rain, thunderstorms and hail for the whole of Hesse, and even issued a flood warning.
A day earlier, a storm had also caused severe devastation in Erfurt, and the sewage system was completely overloaded. On the other side of the Atlantic, fierce forest fires in Canada in early June created eerie images in New York, which was shrouded in yellowish smoke for days.
Cities have become the impressive scene of climate change. Even if the summer in some regions of Germany cooled down a bit, scientists have long agreed: Our summers in Germany will become more extreme in the future: on the one hand hotter and drier, on the other hand characterized by storms and heavy rain events.
Almost 80 percent of the population in Germany lives in cities. It is there in particular that we must react to the consequences of climate change. For example, the increasing number of tropical nights in which our homes do not cool down sufficiently at night. The extreme heat in the streets during the day, which can have dangerous health consequences, especially for older people. Or to torrential downpours that parched or sealed soil cannot absorb.
In this federal government, we at Bündnis 90/Die Grünen are fully committed to ensuring that this planet continues to heat up as little as possible. As a construction politician, I take a particularly critical look at our construction activities. We finally have to rethink on a large scale and build more sustainably.
Green spaces contribute to climate protection in cities
Enormous amounts of CO₂ are generated in the production of cement alone. Far too often buildings are currently being demolished and rebuilt out of greed for profit, instead of being converted and saving valuable resources in the process. In addition, we still seal too many surfaces, which then heat up significantly in summer and increase heat stress.
That doesn’t have to be the case, because there’s a lot of room for improvement in our cities. New living space can also be created by adding storeys to supermarkets or residential buildings, by converting vacant office space or old commercial buildings. And where we close inner-city vacant lots, build new ones and seal them, just as much space should be unsealed elsewhere.
This is difficult to implement, especially in inner cities. That’s why we should grass the track beds of our trams, plant at least one tree in front of every house and transform the roofs and facades of our houses into a living biotope with greenery.
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After all, green and open spaces make an important contribution to climate protection in cities. They increase the quality of stay, offer many animal and plant species a habitat and bind a wide variety of air pollutants and CO₂. In addition, plants and unsealed surfaces retain a lot of water, which is needed in dry times.
It is also always a bit cooler in the park full of trees, green areas heat up more slowly than the rest of the city. As a civil engineer, I know that we can also use these positive effects for our buildings.
Building greenery as a natural air conditioning system
This year, as a society, we have dealt a lot with the important question of how we can heat our buildings efficiently and renewable in the winter in the future. In the coming years, due to climate change, we will have to deal more and more with how we keep our buildings cool in summer. Some heat pumps that we will install in the future can also be converted into cold pumps when outside temperatures are high.
It is much more interesting, however, that trees in front of houses or green roofs and facades can serve as natural air conditioning. Not only does the shading have an effect, but plants cool the surrounding air through evaporation as they grow.
The rooms in a green building cool down by up to 4 °C without using any additional energy. Even in winter we would feel the positive effects and save up to 60 percent energy if, for example, ivy or vines cling to our facades over a large area.
opinion record temperature
The more you think about it, the more tangible the vision of an urban jungle becomes. Why are so many facades still bare and why aren’t we using this effective tool much more extensively?
There are enough practical examples that prove that greening buildings is not a dream of the future. The Physics Institute of the Humboldt University in Berlin, for example, has been greened since 2003 as part of a renovation, and since then a wide variety of climbing plants have climbed the densely overgrown facade.
The “Bosco Verticale” in Milan
Quelle: Getty Images/Westend61
There are also numerous examples abroad. Since 2014, one can marvel at the “Bosco Verticale”, the vertical forest, by the Italian architect Stefano Boeri in Milan. With 800 trees and thousands of plants and bushes, new standards have been set here.
There is also a clear trend outside of Europe. Singapore stands out here as a superlative. This not only affects the airport, which houses a tropical forest, but the entire city-state.
The city planners have managed to turn Singapore into one of the greenest cities in Asia, despite the dense and high development. This works particularly well with targeted building regulations.
Steering effect of the state is required
On the other hand, 90 percent of newly built roof areas in Germany are not greened. A simple walk is enough to get an idea of the untapped potential of our buildings. So that the possibilities are fully exhausted, the state should also develop its steering effect for more overgrown buildings.
Since 2015, for example, in Baden-Württemberg, all roofs of new buildings without a garden have had to be greened. Like this arrangement, many building codes are made by our states. Things like a demolition permit or a specification for building greening can be anchored in the building regulations of each federal state.
The Climate Adaptation Act, which the traffic light is currently working on, will also provide a strong impetus. In the future, the law will require the federal states to develop climate adaptation strategies. At this point, a new course can be set for more green buildings. There are already various financial incentives, such as for solar green roofs, from some municipalities, federal states and the federal government.
For example, federal funding for efficient buildings or federal funding are used to fund serial measures for greening buildings. We want to communicate the promising possibility from these funding pots to use funds for building greening even more widely.
Furthermore, the traffic light will provide a total of 176 million euros for climate adaptation measures in cities and communities by 2025. The local climate adaptation measures must also be followed by an economic consideration. The added value resulting from building greening, such as flood, health and heat protection, noise reduction or improvement of air quality, must be included in economic considerations, which also makes their economic effects clear.
Our cities must learn to breathe
If there is anything to be gained from the extreme heat in Europe, it is that it makes us think. We need to look more closely at how the facades and roofs of our houses adapt to the changing climate and see them as part of the green lungs of our cities.
Greening buildings should therefore be an integral part of the planning of new buildings and of renovation and urban development concepts in the future. In short: Our cities must learn to breathe.
Kassem Taher Saleh is civil engineer and Politician from Alliance 90/The Greens. He has been a member of the German Bundestag since 2021.
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