Headline: Climate & Air Quality

Greenhouse gas emissions from human sources have increased dramatically since the dawn of the Industrial Revolution. This has led to a 40 per cent increase in the atmospheric concentration of CO2 since 1750. There is strong scientific consensus that climate change and its various effects, including global warming and rising sea levels, are driven by these processes. Key sources of greenhouse gas emissions are also often major sources of air pollutants such as ozone precursors and particulate matter. The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that air pollution is responsible for seven million premature deaths worldwide each year – and this figure is growing. In addition, climate change and air pollution both have severe impacts on agricultural production and consequently on food security. While distinct issues, there are many connections between climate change and air quality. Clearly, reducing greenhouse gas and air pollutant emissions is critical to curbing climate change and safeguarding human health and food security.

The IASS conducts research on climate policy as well as the sources and impacts of air pollution and strategies for its mitigation. Our work on air quality focuses primarily on urban areas, particularly in Europe and South Asia, and pays particular attention to the close link between air quality and climate change. The IASS also monitors, analyses and contributes to the implementation of two key policy processes at the international level: the Paris Climate Agreement and the work of the Climate and Clean Air Coalition (CCAC). Finally, researchers examine how technologies for removing greenhouse gases from the atmosphere or for increasing the reflection of sunlight away from Earth are entering science, society, and politics.

Projects

Implementing the Paris Agreement - Overcoming Barriers and Identifying Drivers for Effective Climate Governance

The Paris Climate Agreement has been in force since November 2016. The countries that have adopted the agreement must now develop a regulatory regime for its implementation, deliver on their proposed commitments, and develop these further as the process progresses. This project analyses the main barriers to and drivers of implementation and examines the courses of action open to different actors.

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Climate Engineering in Science, Society and Politics

Even with ambitious climate action, the impacts of climate change are set to increase massively. In this context, interest in climate engineering measures is growing. However, alongside considerations of their technical feasibility, these interventions in the climate system raise fundamental political, cultural and ethical questions.

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CO2Min - Mineral Sequestration of CO2

The natural minerals olivine and basalt are able to bind CO2 over their entire life cycle. However, under natural conditions it can take decades for the minerals to become saturated with the greenhouse gas. How could we harness technology to accelerate the absorption process, thereby contributing to climate protection? What are the potentials and risks of this method for society?

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A Sustainable Atmosphere for the Kathmandu Valley (SusKat)

South Asia is a global hotspot for air pollution. The IASS is carrying out research on this problem in Nepal. In addition to identifying risk mitigation measures jointly with local interest groups, it is supporting the development of administrative capacities and raising awareness of the issue among policymakers and the wider public.

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Climate Action in National and International Processes (ClimAct)

This project is designed to integrate scientific expertise into national and international political processes focussed on climate protection and sustainable development. The research team plays an active role in the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) climate negotiations and the activities of the Climate and Clean Air Coalition (CCAC).

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COBENEFITS

Mobilising the Multiple Opportunities of Renewable Energies

Together with many of Germany's partner countries in the area of energy and climate policy, this project is carrying out country-specific analyses of the social and economic potentials of an ambitious climate protection programme based on renewable energies. Policy instruments are also being developed to realise these potentials.

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Pathways to Sustainable Energy

How can the heating sector in Germany be made more efficient and intelligent so that fewer fossil fuels are used? How can the energy transition be advanced in Germany and abroad? What measures are necessary to ensure the sustainability of the energy transition in its social dimension? This project addresses these three questions and investigates the prerequisites for a successful energy transition.

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Dossiers

Contributing to the Sustainable Development of Arctic Regions

Sustainable Arctic Futures: A Regional and Global Challenge Dossier

Temperatures in the Arctic are currently rising twice as fast as in most other regions on the planet, a phenomenon most strikingly evidenced by the decreasing extent and volume of Arctic sea ice over the last decades. At the end of summer 2012, the extent of Arctic sea ice was the lowest since satellite measurements began: a mere 3.41 million km2, which is 49% below the 1979 to 2000 average. Since then, summertime sea ice in the Arctic has remained at a historically very low level. The processes currently under way in the Arctic are embedded in climate, economic, legal and social systems and processes that reach far beyond the Arctic Circle.

Links between greenhouse gases, climate change and air quality

Air Pollution and Climate Change Dossier

Air pollution and climate change are closely related. The main sources of CO2 emissions – the extraction and burning of fossil fuels – are not only key drivers of climate change, but also major sources of air pollutants.

Intense Debate about Interventions in the Climate System

Climate Engineering Dossier

While there is still hope that risks from climate change can be limited by cutting greenhouse gas emissions, there is also a perception that ‘time is running out’. This perception of a looming watershed has given rise to calls for research on intentional, large-scale interventions into the climate system, referred to as either ‘climate engineering’ or ‘geoengineering’.

New technologies use carbon dioxide emissions

CO₂: From Waste to Feedstock Dossier

Economic activities and consumer behaviour in developed countries are currently based mainly on the use of fossil-based raw materials, whose emissions are largely responsible for anthropogenic climate change. In efforts to reduce human effects on the climate, the avoidance of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions is and remains the most important measure. But viewing the greenhouse gas CO2 as a source of carbon can also make sense. In recent years scientists have been investigating so-called Carbon Capture and Utilisation (CCU) technologies. The aim of these technologies is to re-cycle the CO2 contained in emissions as a feedstock for industrial processes.

Opportunities and risks, instruments and actors

The Paris Agreement and Global Climate Policy Dossier

Human activities are largely responsible for climate change, which is already having an observable effect on our planet. Particularly emissions from the burning of fossil fuels such as oil and gas have led to an increase in the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Key indicators of climate change – including rising average temperatures, melting glaciers, and rising sea levels – are expected to have devastating consequences for humans and environments. Tackling the challenge posed by climate change will require a coordinated and global effort.

News

Climate Geoengineering Cannot Save the Paris Agreement

In order to avert the worst consequences of climate change, the Paris Climate Agreement aims to limit global warming to well below 2°C and, if possible, to 1.5°C. But this goal will only be achieved if the signatory states reduce their emissions considerably more than they have pledged so far under the agreement. Could climate geoengineering be a Plan B if they fail to deliver? A team of authors led by IASS Scientific Director Mark Lawrence argue in an article just published in Nature Communications that the proposed technologies cannot be relied on to rescue the Paris Agreement and the 2°C goal.

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CITY CYCLING for a Better Climate and Clean Air: IASS Researchers Focus on Sustainable Mobility

The CITY CYCLING campaign encourages local politicians and citizens to choose cycling as a climate-friendly means of transportation between 1 May and 30 September. Researchers from the IASS are conducting a survey to learn more about participants’ interactions with cycling infrastructure and what it would take to encourage them to cycle more frequently. These findings will be used subsequently in the development of policy recommendations.

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The Skin of our Planet: Call for Applications to the 2018 Potsdam Summer School

The Earth’s surface is the foundation of all human activity. Geological, biological and climatic dynamics like the carbon cycle, soil formation, and climate and ocean currents form a complex web of connected processes, whose interactions are not yet fully understood. The fifth Potsdam Summer School from 10 to 19 September 2018 is devoted to “The Skin of our Planet – the Earth’s Surface System”.

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Meeting with State Government

A Future Commission for Brandenburg

The Governor of Brandenburg and members of the state government came to the IASS on 12 December to discuss energy policy and climate protection. Together with the directors of the IASS and the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK), they explored the idea of a Future Commission to ensure that Brandenburg’s energy transition is socially responsible and economically sustainable.

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Blog Posts

The transatlantic mobility challenge

The annual conference of the parties (COP) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) is an important venue for stakeholders to highlight the blind spots of international climate protection efforts. The transport sector was one of them at this year’s COP23 in Bonn, missing from most countries’ climate pledges under the Paris Climate Agreement. In this neglected policy area, Germany and the U.S.

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Building transatlantic common ground in combating global warming

As the world gathered in Bonn for its twenty-third Conference of the Parties (COP23), the newly published Emissions Gap Report 2017 by the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) helped to underline the mantra of the conference: all countries need to raise their climate protection efforts quickly and substantially.

The report shows that even if fully implemented, each nation’s current nationally determined commitments (NDCs), laid out by each of the signatories to th

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Climate Policy under Donald Trump: What is to Become of America’s Energy Transition?

Clean energy was a key climate policy instrument during the Obama presidency. Obama also understood the promotion of renewable energy, energy efficiency, and comparatively low-emission natural gas as a driver of economic growth (Obama, 2017). Donald Trump has set out his energy policy in the America First Energy Plan – a strategy paper that stretches to about half an A4 page. It focuses on the promotion of fossil fuels with the aim of promoting economic growth and making the country energy independent (The White House, 2017a) .

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Donald Trump and the Future of Climate Protection

On 20 January 2017, Donald Trump will be inaugurated as the forty-fifth president of the United States. His previous announcements on energy policy mark a clear departure from the climate policy ambitions of his predecessor, Barack Obama. But what exactly should we expect from Trump’s climate and energy policies? Will he really be able to overturn the climate policies adopted by the US under the Obama Administration?

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A Milestone for Climate Protection: Paris Agreement Enters into Force

The Paris Agreement, the new international climate treaty, enters into force today on 4 November 2016. This rapid entry into force, occurring within a year of its adoption, is unusual for an international climate treaty: to date, 97 Parties have ratified the Paris Agreement. Together they are responsible for around 70% of global greenhouse gas emissions. The agreement, negotiated just ten months ago, enters into force ahead of the UN Marrakech Climate Change Conference, which begins on 7 November.

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