Headline: Democracy and Sustainability

Sustainability and democracy are closely intertwined. The transformation towards sustainability requires democratic processes that are both sustainable and adaptable. There are no definitive solutions; instead, what is needed is continuous development and the implementation of new policy ideas. In the area "Democracy and Sustainability", the focus lies on understanding how transformations towards sustainability take place and how they can be shaped democratically.

The research questions of this area are: How can the relationship between democracy and sustainability be studied? What theories can be used and developed to understand sustainability transformations in democratic societies? How can these sustainability transformations be implemented in society?

The research groups in this area concentrate on local and regional transformation processes. The investigators take a transdisciplinary approach: They do not simply act as observers but work with actors from all sectors of society on transformations towards sustainability. Research questions and results are thus generated in close cooperation with civil society and actors from politics and administration. The research groups develop knowledge and process designs for social, economic and ecological transformations at the interface of democracy and sustainability.

The research group "Co-Creation in Democratic Practice" explores the transformative potential of co-creative processes in fields of practice where different perspectives and ideas for addressing societal challenges meet, e.g. in relation to public space and mobility. The group's approach encompasses three directions:

  1. The inter- and transdisciplinary research of co-creative processes in order to close central research gaps, e.g. on interdependencies; in the process, recommendations for action are generated.
  2. Exchange with and networking of "communities of practices" of those who develop, organise and implement these processes.
  3. The co-development and testing of collaborative prototypes together with social actors, especially from politics, public administration and civil society. This group especially focuses on processes of participatory and deliberative democracy such as citizens' assemblies and public meetings.

The research group "Regional Sustainability Transformations" investigates, among other things, the social, cultural and political implications of the coal phase-out in Germany. This group advises state governments, among them those of Saxony and Brandenburg. New forms of collaboration are developed, at the local level and between different sectors, to gain a deeper understanding of citizens' motivations for acting and to explore the transformative potential of engaged social science.

The research group "Democratic Governance for Ecopolitical Transformations" analyses processes and transformations arising from the political practices and knowledge systems that constitute the whole Earth as an object of governance and explores the challenges and opportunities for democratic governance with a planetary horizon. In particular, they focus on the epistemic, political and economic transformations taking place in areas of global relevance such as the Amazon Basin, with a special focus on climate policy. This group takes a transdisciplinary approach, inviting different sectors of society to reflect on power dynamics and environmental conflicts and to explore new democratic realities, for example through the joint creation of an international transformative network for the Amazon rainforest.

Franco-German Forum for the Future

Forum for the Future: Strengthening environmental, economic, and social resilience

The Franco-German Forum for the Future has published seven recommendations to strengthen environmental transformations and promote economic and social resilience in towns and communities. The recommendations are addressed to the governments of France and Germany and follow eighteen months of dialogue with stakeholders from local politics, public agencies, and civil society in both countries.

read more
Justice

Young People and the Struggle for a Sustainable Future

The climate crisis continues to be a major concern for many young people, who must also grapple with new and emerging crises such as the war in Ukraine. This has serious implications for mental health and lends urgency to the issue of intergenerational justice. In recent years, young people have sought to bring the responsibilities of older generations toward younger people more sharply into focus in environmental and climate debates. In a new paper, IASS researchers show how sustainable futures have become an important issue in climate policy discourse.

read more
Getting Berlin Climate-Neutral by 2045

Citizens' Assembly on Climate Change Launched in Berlin

The Berlin Senate has set itself the goal to make the city "climate-neutral" by 2045. For that to happen, the everyday lives of Berliners are going to have to change in a number of areas, including housing, mobility, and energy use. To get the ball rolling, the Senate has taken up an initiative from civil society and created the Citizens’ Assembly on Climate Change, which brings together randomly selected citizens to discuss climate mitigation measures in the city. The IASS will be providing scientific input for the work of the assembly.

read more
Amazon

A New “Truth” About the Rainforest: How Bolsonaro’s Supporters Misuse Satellite Data

Satellite data have played an important role in efforts to monitor the rate of deforestation in the Amazon Basin for decades. But the way these data are used has changed under the government of President Jair Bolsonaro. His supporters are questioning the validity of scientific findings as a means to propagate a worldview that puts profits first.

read more
IASS Policy Brief

European Funding for Sustainable Structural Transformations in Cross-Border Regions

Profound structural transformations are unfolding in Lusatia and many other regions of Europe as part of a broader shift towards sustainable development. Various European funding programmes,including programmes under the European Green Deal and national support schemes, have been adopted to cushion the impacts of the reduction and phase-out of coal-fired power generation.

read more
Publication

What Expertise is Needed to Design Collaboration?

The complex challenges of our time increasingly require scientists to step outside their conventional roles. A team of researchers from the Institute for Advanced Sustainability Studies (IASS) has examined innovative approaches to policy advice that support actors from politics and government in the development of collaborative processes to address socio-ecological issues. Their paper identifies the knowledge, skills and practices required to design collaborations.

read more
Coal exit

Delivering a Just Transition in Lusatia

The German government has pledged to facilitate a just transition in the former coal region of Lusatia. What exactly does that mean on the ground? A new paper published in the Journal of Environmental Policy & Planning by Konrad Gürtler (IASS) und Jeremias Herberg (Radboud Universität) examines the tensions between distributive justice and recognition in the context of public debate around the structural transformation in Lusatia.

read more
IASS Policy Brief

How Young People Can Help Shape Structural Change in Lusatia

Germany’s coal exit is associated with widespread and far-reaching structural change in the mining region of Lusatia. Decisions made today will shape the region for decades to come. Enhancing Lusatia’s appeal for young people is one important goal within this broad transformation process. A new IASS Policy Brief offers recommendations on how policymakers can involve young people in shaping the future of Lusatia.

read more
Coal phase-out

Trainees Want a Greater Say in Lusatia’s Structural Transformation

How do trainees at the energy company LEAG view the structural transformation unfolding in Lusatia? What life paths and plans are they pursuing? Do they see their future in the region or further afield? What factors shape their thinking? And what kind of employment opportunities do they hope to see in the region? In a series of workshops, the trainees discussed these questions and developed a quantitative survey together with a team of researchers from the Institute for Advanced Sustainability Studies (IASS). The results of the survey have now been published in the study “Auszubildende im Lausitzer Strukturwandel” [Trainees in Lusatia’s Structural Transformation].

read more

Appeal to Policymakers: Plan More Citizen Participation

As the course is now being set for the coming legislative period, policymakers should focus more on citizen participation. A team from the Institute for Advanced Sustainability Studies (IASS) Potsdam and the Institute for Research on Democracy and Participation (Institut für Demokratie- und Partizipationsforschung – IDPF) in Wuppertal have formulated a 7+5-point plan

read more
Citizen Participation

Losland Project has Started: Shaping the Future of Municipalities

With the "Losland" project, a team from the Institute for Advanced Sustainability Studies e.V. (IASS) is working with Mehr Demokratie e.V. to support citizen participation at the local level. In the project, citizen participation processes tailored to ten German municipalities and cities are being carried out to answer the question: “How can we shape a future in our municipalities that takes into account the interests of our grandchildren?” Losland is supported by the Federal Agency for Civic Education.

read more
Berlin

Shoppers’ Mobility Habits: Retailers Overestimate Car Use

Retail traders often fear that reducing the amount of urban space made available for parking private vehicles would have a negative effect on their businesses. A survey conducted by researchers from the Institute for Advanced Sustainability Studies (IASS) on two shopping streets in Berlin shows that traders have a skewed perception of their customers’ mobility habits. The findings of this research will facilitate better informed decision-making around urban land-use planning.

read more
Brandenburg

Childhood in the Age of Covid-19: Survey Reveals Concerns and Wishes

The measures imposed to contain the coronavirus pandemic have hit children and young people especially hard, including in the town of Lauchhammer in Brandenburg, Germany. A new survey reveals how children there have fared since the outbreak of the pandemic and sheds light on their experiences and where and how they spent their time. Youth participation around local issues and projects is common in Lauchhammer and the survey also looks at how civic engagement could be jumpstarted again after the pandemic.

read more
Stakeholder Commissions

Legitimation Strategies for Coal Exits in Germany and Canada

Ending our dependence on coal is essential for effective climate protection. Nevertheless, efforts to phase out coal trigger anxiety and resistance, particularly in mining regions. The governments of both Canada and Germany have involved various stakeholders to develop recommendations aimed at delivering just transitions and guiding structural change. In a new study, researchers at the Institute for Advanced Sustainability Studies (IASS) compare the stakeholder commissions convened by the two countries, drawing on expert interviews with their members, and examine how governments use commissions to legitimize their transition policies.

read more
Democratic transformations

Education for Sustainable Development in a Changing Region

How can school pupils get to grips with the transformation processes underway in the former coal-mining region of Lusatia and take an active role in shaping change? In a new study, IASS researchers show how teachers can engage with these issues in and outside their classrooms. The aim is not only to stimulate discussions, but also to empower young people to participate in the transformation process.

read more
Study

Why Germany’s Coal Compromise Failed to End the Debate

Can expert commissions develop solutions for controversial issues that will enjoy broad democratic support? A team of researchers from the Institute for Advanced Sustainability Studies (IASS) has analysed the work of Germany’s “Coal Exit Commission” using a set of new criteria. While the authors view positively the Commission’s success in reaching a compromise, they criticise its failure to deliver an outcome that promotes the common good, particularly with respect to the high cost of the coal exit and its unambitious contribution towards Germany’s climate goals, as well as the lack of public participation.

read more
Futures

Making Space for Visionary Thinking? How Civil Society Organizations Shaped the UN Sustainable Development Goals

The development of the United Nations' Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) was supposed to be more inclusive, transparent and participatory than previous processes, and to this end, civil society organizations were explicitly involved in the process. In a new study, IASS researchers Henrike Knappe and Oscar Schmidt analyse the engagement of these organizations and the visions of a better future that guided their contributions.

read more
Special Issue

Reform or Revolution? What is at stake in democratic sustainability transformations

Calls for new forms of democratic sustainability and their achievement by way of a “great,” “socio-ecological,” and/or “democratic” transformation of societies have gained traction, both in academia and among policy makers. A special issue of the journal “Sustainability: Science, Practice and Policy”, edited by researchers from the IASS, examines what is at stake in current debates.

read more
Coal Exit

At a Crossroads between Populism and Renewal: How the Structural Transformation of Lusatia can Succeed

Lusatia needs to tackle a double challenge in the coming decades: the loss of a major industry with the planned coal exit and the unabated radicalisation of the Alternative for Germany (AfD) party in the region. In a new publication, IASS researcher Tobias Haas discusses the economic, political and cultural reasons for the rise of authoritarian populism in Lusatia, while also identifying pathways towards a progressive renewal.

read more
Structural transformation

Arrested Transformation: Can Lusatia Make a Clean Break from Coal?

The coal phaseout in Lusatia has already been dragging on for three decades. In the face of delays to the promised structural transformation of the region, the out-migration of its young people, and local conflicts of interest, politicians now need to take action on two fronts. Financial investment alone will not be enough; the local population has to be involved in determining the direction its region is going to take. In a new publication IASS researchers analyse the obstacles to change and point to opportunities for democratically legitimised transformations.

read more

Sustainability and Democracy: Exploring the Power of Labs

Modern times are characterised by an increase in “wicked problems” that threaten established forms of democratic governability. What can labs ¬¬– collaborative spaces for testing innovative ideas – contribute to democratic innovation and sustainability in government? In the workshop “Toward Democratic Transformation: A Lab on Labs” at the IASS, international practitioners, leading researchers and government experts explored lab methods and principles to promote democracy and sustainability.

read more
Political processes

Recommendations for Responding to the Fridays for Future Movement

The level of public concern about climate change has risen significantly in recent years. The Fridays for Future movement enjoys broad political and public support, but this has so far not translated into tangible changes. IASS Fellow Elizabeth Dirth has now developed a resource – the Futuring Tool – and a more comprehensive Policy Brief aimed at decision-makers who want to make climate protection a guiding principle of their work.

read more
Climate Change Disinformation

Time for a new take on climate communication

As the evidence for disruptive climate change has mounted over the last decades, organised attacks on climate science have grown, flanked by conspiracy theories, disinformation, and false claims. How is disinformation produced, to what end, and by whom? A workshop addressing these and related questions took place at the Institute for Advanced Sustainability Studies (IASS) in Potsdam and was attended by a host of international scholars.

read more
Interview

Climate Action Takes Shape in Israel

David Dunetz has worked for 20 years at the Heschel Center for Sustainability in Tel Aviv, which leads the Israel Climate Forum, a consortium of civil society organizations. As a Visiting Research Fellow at the IASS Potsdam on a joint program with the Israel Public Policy Institute, he is currently researching how civic engagement and participation processes can advance climate policy and democratic innovation.

read more
Public Participation

Democracy 3.0: The Key to More Successful Citizen Participation

How can parliamentary representative democracies be strengthened and revitalised? In the context of the ever more complex future questions society has to grapple with, the study “Bundesrepublik 3.0” (Federal Republic 3.0) presents a concept for more citizen participation at national level. It was developed in a co-creative process where examples of best practice were considered and combined to generate new solutions.

read more

The IASS at the Katowice Climate Change Conference

The 24th UN Climate Change Conference (COP24) is due to take place in the Polish city of Katowice from 2 to 14 December. At this year’s COP, minds will focus on concrete steps towards implementing the Paris Climate Agreement. A whole host of experts from the Institute for Advanced Sustainability Studies (IASS) will be there. At the international symposium on “Safeguarding Our Climate, Advancing Our Society”, IASS Scientific Director Patrizia Nanz will speak about the role democratic structures can play in the shift to sustainability. And IASS Scientific Director Mark Lawrence will represent the institute at the High Level Assembly of the Climate and Clean Air Coalition on the margins of the conference.

read more

Phasing Out Coal: IASS to Investigate Structural Transformation in Lusatia

The region of Lusatia in Eastern Germany is experiencing a structural transformation due to the dwindling significance of lignite. In a new research project, the IASS will investigate the changes taking place there. Karl Eugen Huthmacher from the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) and IASS Scientific Director Patrizia Nanz presented the project at the Lusatia Dialogue on 25 June.

read more

Blog Posts

Historical responsibilities of colonialism: Gender justice as a path to climate justice

The notion of development, or what we understand as prosperity, whether of a country, group, or individual, has been shaped throughout history by social constructs that stem from colonialism as an ideology. Colonialism is entrenched in our society as a monocultural form of domination and understanding and shaping the world. Its influence extends to the ways in which we interact with each other and with nature.

read more

“Struggle for Agrarian and Environmental Justice: The Farmers Movement in Northwest India”

The struggle for agrarian and environmental justice by the farmers movement in Northwest India was the second lecture in this year’s IASS Focal Topic series “Justice in Sustainability.” Our guest, Navdeep Boora, is a graduate student at the Indian Institute of Science Education & Research (IISER) Mohali. In his presentation, Navdeep gave us insights into the farmers’ protest against the Indian government’s attempt to further liberalize the country’s agricultural sector in 2021.

read more
Coal-phase out in Lusatia

Inspiring a just transition or just buying time?

The long-running dispute before the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) between Poland and the Czech Republic over the Turów open-pit coal mine on the Polish side of the border came to an end two weeks ago. Under the agreement reached by the two countries, the Czech Republic is to be compensated for environmental harms caused by the mine’s operation. In response, the Czech government withdrew its complaint to the CJEU on 3 February.

read more

Climate litigation and planetary justice – the kick-off of the lecture series “Justice and Sustainability”

The April 2021 decision of the German Federal Constitutional Court in the case Neubauer et al. vs Germany has drawn a lot of attention worldwide. Louis Kotzé, Research Professor of Law at the Faculty of Law, North-West University, South Africa and currently Klaus Töpfer Sustainability Fellow at the IASS, and Jannis Krüßmann, a young climate activist, spoke on the ruling and its wider consequences for climate litigation on January 27, 2022 as part of the focal topic "Justice and Sustainability".

read more

Reshaping the city – a top-down or a bottom-up process?

The debate on “Kiezblocks” (similar to the concept of low-traffic neighbourhoods) in Berlin has so far been driven by civil society. Now, the engagement of more than fifty of them has got the new red-red-green government coalition in Berlin to anchor Kiezblocks in their coalition agreement. Even researchers and the public administration are starting to take the idea seriously. But how does an idea go from a demand to a democratically taken decision, and then to implementation? Are these processes a symbol of participative urban planning, or is their being taken up in the coalition agreement instead a top-down government programme? Does it even matter? In this blog post, we hope to shed some light on these questions.

read more
IASS session on science and art

Sustainability studies and art – Allies for transforming narratives

A symphony composed by the melting arctic deeply touches an audience of policymakers at COP25. A photograph inspires a political scientist to expand her research on the Amazon with a performance set in a Berlin city forest. And a museum about possible futures doesn’t just have an education team running workshops for its exhibitions but dedicates a whole floor to a lab where scientists and artists can “go nuts” in collaborative projects.

read more

Structures in Transformation – Lusatia in Focus

Since 2020 artist and photographer Sven Gatter has been documenting traces of decay and renewal in Lower Lusatia that are simultaneously new beginnings and occasions for discourse. He is now bringing the results of this work together in the artist's book "ECHO TEKTUR. Ruins and Models". IASS researcher Johannes Staemmler has penned a contribution to this publication, which we publish here in an abridged version. Sven Gatter's works will be shown at Brandenburg’s State Museum of Modern Art from 10 September through to 21 November 2021.

read more

Can the climate change agenda ‘save’ the Amazon?

Concern with the Amazon is common in international climate discourse. Indeed, “saving” the Amazon for the sake of the climate has become a rallying cry among climate policymakers and researchers alike. In this post, I want to argue that while curbing deforestation in the Amazon is undoubtedly important, framing the challenge as a mission to “save” the Amazon in order to fight climate change is problematic.

read more

What do you know about Lusatia?

How do you get a feel for a place? I have to be there in person. I feel the ground, taste the air, dip my fingertips in the water; I let the sounds weave its stories me. Since April, I've been working on an artistic project about the region of Lusatia. The region has long captivated my imagination, since learning about its cross-border identity and the history of the Sorbs in Lusatia, pre-dating current nation states.

read more

Technocratic Residues in Transdisciplinary Research? A Reflection on the Methods and Political Roles of Sustainability Scholars

For scholars it is always hard to reflect about their role in sustainability transformations and conflicts. This predicament is tackled in a new special issue of the journal Social Epistemology that Ulli Vilsmaier (Leuphana) and I have just published. Contributors from several disciplines discuss the dilemma of control in transdisciplinary research in this special issue and consider how scholars can deal with their own involvement in power-ridden constellations.

read more

Structural change and sustainability must go hand in hand

With the Structural Adjustment Act, the German government intends to provide 40 billion euros of federal funding for the coal-mining areas of Germany. In addition, an emergency fund of 260 million euros is earmarked for short-term projects. However, the effect of these funds will remain modest if the federal and state governments do not go further than previously planned in implementing the costly coal exit. They risk losing sight of three essential goals: enabling sustainability, strengthening regional activity, and learning to shape transformation.

read more