Headline: Blog

The blog of the Institute for Advanced Sustainability Studies (IASS) contains contributions from employees in all IASS areas and covers a huge range of themes. In addition to discussing the latest research findings and events, the blog authors comment on political developments. The authors express their personal views.


The CO2 Economy – The Transformation of Carbon Dioxide from a Liability to an Asset

Carbon Capture and Utilisation or Recycling (CCU or CCR) and related technologies could play an important role in a future sustainable and diversified energy supply with lower greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. CCU entails capturing CO2 from large emitters like coal-fired power plants and re-utilising it to manufacture useful products; as such, CCU represents an alternative to Carbon Capture and Sequestration (CCS).

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Impressions from a first-timer at COP21

When I told friends and co-workers that I would be attending the COP21 climate summit, the first response I got was usually “cool!” followed by “so what are you actually going to do there??” Well, I knew what I would be doing there: for months now, I have been working on behalf of the IASS with partners from the Climate and Clean Air Coalition (CCAC) and the UN Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) to organize two side events on the connection between climate change and air quality in order to highlight how better air quality can have benefits for climate, health, and development.

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International Energy Policy: Shifting Towards Renewables

While the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) is now established as a global voice for renewable energies, the International Energy Agency (IEA) is coming under increased pressure to modernise.

On 11 November 2015, the International Energy Agency (IEA) presented the World Energy Outlook 2015 in Berlin. From the speech of the new IEA Executive Director Fatih Birol, it was clear that the IEA is under pressure to modernise.

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An Unexpected Encounter in the Himalayas… with an Atmospheric Brown Cloud

On a May morning in 2012, while hiking up the Himalayas, I saw an ABC – an Atmospheric Brown Cloud – linger in the air. Two Nepali colleagues and myself were on a field expedition, about to reach our research station for air quality monitoring at Gosaikunda (4,300 m.a.s.l.), which we reached after a 3-day walk along steep, narrow and very beautiful trails. The weather was favourable, dry, not too cold and calm. We were looking forward to seeing the sunrise along the white mountain peaks after having slept in a stone hut near the holy lake of Gosaikunda.

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The Arctic Circle - A Report from Reykjavik

Last week I had the opportunity to travel to Reykjavik to attend Arctic Circle 2015, a large gathering bringing together scientists, policy makers, civil society, intergovernmental organisations and industry representatives (the accompanying short film provides a snapshot of the event).


The gathering is the brainchild of the Icelandic president Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson and aims to serve as a platform to increase participation in Arctic dialogue and strengthen the in

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Governing the Climate in Cities

Urban areas account for more than 70% of CO2 emissions from burning fossil fuels. If the top 50 emitting cities were a single country, its emissions would rank third globally, behind China and the United States. In addition to playing a major role in rising atmospheric CO2 and global warming, cities are also heat islands. A heat island is formed on the one hand from waste heat emitted from cars, poorly insulated buildings and industrial plants, and on the other from heat stored and reradiated from the artificial surfaces that cover our cities.

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Unusual Suspects

From September 14-18, 2015 our first urban LAB took place in Berlin, 5 days of intense action and discussions with a group of about 15 critical urban minds from all over the world. The topic we tackled was ‘Different Urbanisations’, as in the role and limits of importing/exporting urban patterns, technology and knowledge between different regions of the world.

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The Dependence of Sustainability on the Degree of Fear and Aspiration: Q&A with David Mitchell

In mid-July, David Mitchell, Associate Research Professor at the Desert Research Institute in Reno, Nevada, visited the IASS and gave two talks while he was here. While David is well known in academic circles, above all for his expertise in atmospheric chemistry, he’s had a deep personal interest in the Vedic tradition for many years and represents this tradition as Eco-Minister of the Parliament of World Religions.

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A Science Perspective on the Volkswagen Emissions Scandal

When I initially heard about the VW scandal, it was secondhand and I hadn’t read any of the news yet, I didn’t have any of the facts. But I remember thinking (and saying), I don’t know what the big deal is about, everyone knows those chassis dynamometer tests they use for estimating emissions don’t get anywhere close to the real-world emission values. Then I read about it and saw what all the fuss was about – 35 times higher than the US limit value?! And cheating software to pass the test?!

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A Black Future for Coal

King Coal – as the most widespread and cheapest fossil energy source is often called – is entering a crucial, maybe definitive, phase. Indeed, worldwide coal consumption has decreased significantly in recent years due to a growing hostility to the generation of electricity using unsustainable coal.

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The Theory and Practice of Disaster Risk Reduction: Q&A with Nina Köksalan

The second international Potsdam Summer School drew to a close on 23 September. Over 10 days, 40 participants from various fields and 28 different countries discussed this year’s Summer School theme, “Facing Natural Hazards”, with renowned scientists from Potsdam-based research institutes and international experts. One of those participants was Nina Köksalan. Nina studied geography, art history, philosophy and sociology and has been working for three and a half years at the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations in Rome.

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Sustainable Development Goals Must Recognise the Importance of Soils

In recent years research towards sustainable land policy has become a central pillar of the work undertaken at the IASS. Transdisciplinary projects with our partners from academia, society and politics have generated knowledge that can drive the transformation to sustainable land management.

Our soils are not in good shape: according to conservative estimates, 24 million tons of fertile soil are lost across the globe every year. The per capita area of available agricultural land has halved since 1960.

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“Many Causes of Natural Disasters are Political and Social”: Q&A with David Alexander

The growing world population, climate change, rapid urbanisation, and the international interdependence of economies are all increasing our vulnerability to natural hazards. Such major global challenges are the focus of the second international Potsdam Summer School on "Facing Natural Hazards", which is taking place from 14 to 23 September. One of the most well-known researchers in this field is David Alexander, a professor at the Institute for Risk and Disaster Reduction at University College London.

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Pro-poor Adaptation in Practice

In the past few years, there has been a growing consensus that climate change adaptation is a multi-faceted challenge; it cannot be addressed by simple solutions. The terms ‘integrated’, ‘multi-scalar’ and ‘comprehensive’ have all been used to describe the kind of measures required, with the underlying message to keep it complex!

All right, we got the message, but the question remains: how should adaptation work in practice?

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