IASS Executive DirectorKlaus Töpfer Bids Farewell: IASS Established as a Platform for Dialogue between Science and Society

After nearly six years at the helm of the IASS, Klaus Töpfer bade farewell as its executive director on 30 September 2015. At a farewell party with institute staff Töpfer affirmed that the institute had managed to become established as an authority on a broad spectrum of current sustainability issues. In the process, it had embarked on new pathways at the interface of science, society and policy and attracted smart minds from around the world. In his thank-you speech, Scientific Director Mark Lawrence expressed his hope that he will continue to cooperate with the IASS founding director on the sustainable development agenda. “Nobody else has flown the flag for sustainability like Klaus Töpfer, and we can be sure that he will make further great contributions in the coming years,” said Lawrence.

Klaus Töpfer shaped the development of the IASS, which was initiated by the Nobel Laureate Symposium “Global Sustainability – A Nobel Cause”, from the very start. He was appointed founding and executive director in 2009 and officially assumed office in January 2010. In the start-up phase of the new institute he succeeded in winning Carlo Rubbia, Nobel Laureate in Physics, and the atmospheric scientist Mark Lawrence as scientific directors.

As a farewell gift, IASS staff sponsored the planting of a vine in Klaus Töpfer’s name in a Potsdam vineyard.As a farewell gift, IASS staff sponsored the planting of a vine in Klaus Töpfer’s name in a Potsdam vineyard.

Töpfer studied economics in Frankfurt am Main and Münster. He was professor and Director of the Institute for Spatial Research and Planning at the University of Hanover from 1978 to 1979. He served as Federal Minister for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety from 1987 to 1994 and Federal Minister for Regional Planning, Building and Urban Development from 1994 to 1998. From 1998 to 2006 he was Executive Director of the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) in Nairobi and Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations.

Under Töpfer’s guidance, the IASS grew in just a few years to an institute with a staff of 150 people from 40 different countries and made a name for itself on the national and international stages with its innovative approach to cooperation between representatives of science, politics and society. Consistent with its founding mission, in its transdisciplinary research projects the institute uses available knowledge to develop solutions to sustainability challenges and transfers that knowledge into political and economic practice.

The IASS work on the Energiewende is particularly visible and much discussed. Indeed, the Energiewende got going at around the same time as the IASS. So the institute was presented with the unique opportunity to test the effectiveness of its own approach in the midst of a real transformation process, while actively supporting that process as a knowledge-based actor. By combining research on the Energiewende with Carlo Rubbia’s outstanding work on energy technology, the IASS was able to amass unique expertise in this area, which contributed in no small part to the international recognition of German research and policy on energy.

With its work on soils, the IASS managed in a short time to raise awareness of the threat posed to this vital resource that is non-renewable in human timeframes and work towards improving soil protection together with partners from academia, politics and civil society. It has also bridged the gap between science and action when it comes to better ocean governance, greater consideration of the cultural dimension of sustainability, and the analysis of capital market policies as real challenges for sustainability.

Scientific Director Mark Lawrence will assume the duties of IASS managing director from October 2015. In February 2016 risk researcher Ortwin Renn will join the IASS as the first of two new scientific directors. Renn is currently Professor of Environmental Sociology and Technology Assessment at the University of Stuttgart. In particular, he will continue the strategic dialogue at the interface of science and policy that has become a hallmark of the IASS under Klaus Töpfer. Renn is especially interested in evidence-based political consulting and social advice. The triumvirate of scientific directors should be in place by summer 2016 following the joint appointment of the third director with the University of Potsdam.

As the founding director and trailblazer of the IASS, Klaus Töpfer will remain connected to the institute. As a boss, colleague and person, he made a lasting impression on all members of staff. His lifelong personal and professional commitment to achieving sustainable development, the authenticity of his dedication to the cause, the recognition he has received across the globe, and his insatiable intellectual curiousity regarding the challenges of tomorrow, are unique. In his farewell speech, Töpfer encouraged IASS employees to “bring the same energy and commitment to IASS efforts towards sustainability in the future.”

Klaus Töpfer’s contribution to the establishment of the IASS will be officially acknowledged by Federal Minister Johanna Wanka, Brandenburg Science Minister Sabine Kunst and high-ranking representatives of academia, politics and society at an honorary symposium in Berlin on the evening of 11 November 2015.

If you are interested in attending the Honorary Symposium for Klaus Töpfer, please contact Aneta Galek: aneta.galek@iass-potsdam.de