Regional climate scenarios show plausible changes for the 21st century.

Worldwide observations indicate that the earth has warmed about 0.8 K during the last century. This warming also took place in Europe. The future development of our society cannot be predicted. It is therefore also uncertain how much greenhouse gases will be emitted in the future. Information on the possible future anthropogenic climate change can only be derived by using scenarios. As climate change varies regionally, regional climate scenarios are an important basis for adaptation strategies to climate change. But scenarios need different interpretation than predictions:

What if...? - scenarios for the climate

Contrary to predictions, scenarios are not about probabilities of occurrence, but about impacts and correlation of developments. Scenarios answer questions of the type: What if ...? We often use scenarios for planning in daily life:

  • What would happen if the construction company became bankrupt during the construction phase?
  • What if it rains to the barbecue party?
  • What if we get sick on holiday?

Scenarios are plausible, but not necessarily probable. Through scenarios, developments can be planned. Climate scenarios show how society can influence the weather of a region in the long term. The climate scenarios are based on emission scenarios. These are assumed developments of future greenhouse gas emissions. Depending on socioeconomic changes, these may experience a rather moderate or rather strong rise in future, or in even a reduction.

Climate scenarios therefore answer the question: What climate change would be expected if greenhouse gas emissions either rise sharply or moderately in the future, or if we succeed in reducing them? From today's perspective, all emission scenarios are plausible, consistent and possible. They depend on complex social developments that cannot be provided with probabilities. Therefore, the climate scenarios cannot be assigned any probabilities. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change IPCC therefore recommends not analysing climate scenarios individually, but in the context of an ensemble of different scenarios.

Possible future climate changes in the Wadden Sea area

The results of more than 120 regional climate scenarios were analyzed for Coastal Atlas. The regional scenarios are based on a variety of global climate scenarios based on different greenhouse gas scenarios. All climate scenarios were treated equally in the analysis. The resulting climate changes are presented in the form of range diagrams.

Assessment of the scenarios

Regional climatic models are subject to quality control. This is the responsibility of the institution, which carries out public available climate simulations.

For individual climate scenarios, however, quality assessments for "correctness" cannot be carried out. According to the IPCC, no scenario describes an expected future or a "central tendency". Therefore neither an ensemble nor a particular scenario should be interpreted in this way or be assumed to be the "most likely future". If a scenario yields significantly larger or smaller climate changes than others, these are no statistical "outliers". Minimum and maximum values of the scenarios ensemble describe the possible range of future developments. If all scenarios of the ensemble show changes with the same signs, this indicates a robust signal of future climate change. This is the case, for example, with the change in the winter precipitation in the Wadden Sea area.

By the end of the century the minimum value of possible changes in winter precipitation is +2% and the maximum value is +45%. They do not represent outliers, nor does one of the values have a higher probability of occurrence than another value within the span width. Rather, these values point to a robust signal of a precipitation increase in winter. All precipitation increases within the span of +2% to +45% are equally plausible, possible and to be taken into account when planning adaptation strategies.

Planning with scenarios and monitoring

Although climate scenarios do not provide a concrete number for climate change, development corridors are emerging. They describe what could change in the future and when this might be plausible. On the basis of these information, decision-makers can determine and evaluate options for action for business, politics and private households. They serve as the basis for adaptation strategies to climate change.

If the individual scenarios provide different climatic changes, it is necessary to compare opportunities and risks for each scenario and to develop measures for the individual scenarios. Strategies should be developed that lead to success in as many scenarios as possible. In these cases, the monitoring of previous climate changes is important. The Northern German Climate Office of the Helmholtz-Zentrum Geesthacht has developed together with the regional climate office of the German Weather Service a climate monitoring system for Northern Germany, which is available at (only in German language). If current developments are consistent with individual climate scenarios for the future, the current strategy should be revised with regard to this development. If the current developments reveal major differences with the future development in the climate scenarios, natural climate fluctuations must also be taken into account in the adaptation measures.


This website is steadily updated, thus some results may change.

The maps of this website are freely available for private use. Publication of contents or maps only with permission of the North German Climate Office.

Norddeutsches Klimabüro
Helmholtz-Zentrum Geesthacht
Zentrum für Material- und Küstenforschung GmbH
Institut für Küstenforschung

Max-Planck-Straße 1
21502 Geesthacht



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