The research activities at the IASS focus on three political processes: the global and national processes around the implementation of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the German energy transition, and the implementation of the Paris Climate Agreement. These political processes present significant challenges for both developed and developing nations. Decisive steps and measures will need to be taken in order to achieve the SDGs and create low-carbon economies and societies.

The three thematic areas in focus:

The IASS is developing a science platform to support the implementation of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDG Science Platform) in cooperation with selected partners. This activity is closely linked to the new national sustainability strategy, a draft of which was presented by the German chancellor in June 2016. The SDG Science Platform will lend the Sustainable Development Goals a stronger presence within the German science landscape and foster dialogue between science and policymakers. Under the leadership of IASS Scientific Director Patrizia Nanz, the institute will host the secretariat of the SDG Science Platform and play a leading role in its coordination and thematic development.

The IASS research area on national and international energy systems will be expanded under the leadership of environmental sociologist and risk expert Ortwin Renn in an effort to support successful transitions to low-carbon energy systems. The social sustainability of the energy transition will form a central focus of these activities. A social sustainability barometer under development at the IASS will facilitate the monitoring and analysis of social trends and their broader repercussions, enabling researchers to evaluate the social impacts and secondary effects of the energy transition. Other areas of focus include the decarbonisation of energy systems and the international dimension of the energy transition, with a focus on fostering efforts to provide universal access to sustainable energy for basic services including illumination and transportation, and for electrical appliances such as refrigerators.

The adoption of the Paris Climate Agreement set new parameters for the protection of the climate. With its goal of limiting the rise in global temperature to well below 2 °C, the Paris Climate Agreement is also fostering debate on the issue of targeted interventions aimed at cooling the global climate, referred to collectively as “climate engineering”. Under the leadership of Scientific Director Mark Lawrence, the IASS is exploring the potential impacts, uncertainties, and risks of climate engineering. Other projects relating to climate research will address the links between climate change and air pollution, and the challenge of providing effective policy advice to improve air quality in Germany, Europe, and South Asia.

Researchers will also analyse the interactions and interdependencies between science and society, with a particular focus on the treatment of systemic risks, scientific uncertainties, the social construction of models of the future, the impacts of digitalisation on efforts to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals, and the legitimation of research and political strategies.