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.

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’.

IASS Policy Brief

Climate Protection and Clean Air: An Integrated Approach

From 23 – 25 September 2019, heads of government from around the world will convene at the United Nations’ General Assembly to discuss efforts to advance climate action and global sustainable development. The summit aims to boost national ambitions to achieve the objectives of the Paris Agreement and will review the implementation of measures relating to the Sustainable Development Goals. The relationship between air pollution and climate change plays an important role in this context, and is the subject of a new IASS Policy Brief titled “A Practical Approach to Integrating Climate and Air Quality Policy”.

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Interview

Tackling Disinformation on Climate Change

To avert devastating climate change impacts, we need to make dramatic lifestyle changes. Lance Bennett, Professor of Political Science and Communication at the University of Washington and currently IASS Senior Fellow, explains how better communication can help us succeed in changing course.

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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.

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Shale gas in Europe

Fracking Likely to Result in High Emissions

Natural gas releases fewer harmful air pollutants and greenhouse gases than other fossil fuels. That’s why it is often seen as a bridge technology to a low-carbon future. A new study by the Institute for Advanced Sustainability Studies (IASS) has estimated emissions from shale gas production through fracking in Germany and the UK. It shows that CO2-eq. emissions would exceed the estimated current emissions from conventional gas production in Germany.

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Climate Action Plan 2050

IASS Director Ortwin Renn Appointed to Scientific Steering Committee for Climate Action

Germany’s Ministry of the Environment (BMU) and Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) have appointed IASS Director Ortwin Renn to the steering committee of the scientific platform for the German Climate Action Plan 2050. The committee, which is composed of up to ten renowned scientists and academics, is tasked with helping the German federal government advance and implement its long-term climate strategy.

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Research Projects Showcased in the Heart of Potsdam

In our daily lives we tend to hurry past construction sites. But the fence surrounding a major building site on Friedrich-Ebert-Straße in Potsdam has been attracting attention following the launch of a hugely interesting open-air exhibition on Saturday, 19 January. The exhibition showcases the range of research projects based in the city and explores its diverse research landscape.

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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.

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Reorganisation of traffic on Potsdam’s Zeppelinstraße garners more criticism than praise

Due to excessive air pollution, in July 2017 the City of Potsdam reallocated space on the very busy Zeppelinstraße in an attempt to reduce car traffic and encourage people to walk, cycle and use public transport. While they welcome the fact that this measure has made cycling safer, participants in an online survey conducted by the IASS are critical of other effects, claiming that life has become more difficult for commuters, and air and noise pollution have only been reduced in a small area – to the detriment of side streets.

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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

K3 Kongress

Outrage vs. Empathy – a Culture Clash in Climate Communication?

“We need to start by telling people they are awesome.” This was one of the central messages from climate communications expert George Marshall in his opening keynote at K3: Kongress zu Klimawandel Kommunikation und Gesellschaft, the German-language congress on climate communication that took place this September in Karlsruhe. As in: we have to accept people for who they are, listen to them, and frame climate action in terms that align with their values.

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Responding to Fridays for Future and the Youth Movement for Climate Justice

It has been a year since the first day of the very first school strike for climate. The school strike movement that sprung up in its wake has spread to over 1000 cities and countries around the world, with growing numbers of young people attending the weekly protest marches. As the movement enters its second year, it stands at an important turning point: either that there is a slow dismantling by way of red-tape and new rules that will force young people into submission; or societies will seize on the transformational potential of this moment to initiate meaningful responses to youth demands for climate justice.

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Key Takeaways from COP24

The United Nations’ climate talks in Katowice, Poland this past December wrapped up with an agreement on the terms to finalize most of the Paris Rulebook and set the 2015 Paris Agreement into action. While the parties agreed on many important issues, the final text comes up short on several key fronts.

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No Silver Bullet Against Climate Change

The 2018 COP24 climate conference in Katowice, Poland is over. Looking back at what has been achieved in the three years since the historical Paris Agreement reminds me a bit of the John Lennon lyrics: “So this is Christmas - and what have you done? Another year over, and a new one just begun.” While the conference was indeed successful in coming to an agreement over the rule book for how to account for countries upholding their commitments to limiting climate-relevant emissions under the Paris Agreement, there were no real breakthroughs.It is reassuring that the rule book was achieved, despite the considerable resistance from several countries, though it is exactly what was on the plan for this round of negotiations. Thus COP24 was another milestone in the steady progress being made towards implementing measures intended to help us achieve the chief goal of the Paris Agreement: keeping global warming well below 2°C, aiming to limit it to only 1.5°C.

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New Horizons for Public Participation at COP24

Participation played a key role at this year’s UN Climate Change Conference COP24 in Katowice. On the second day of COP24, Sir David Attenborough lent his signature voice to deliver the People’s Address before a full COP plenary. The address consisted of a two-minute video collage of social media video recordings, tweets and posts published under the #TakeYourSeat hashtag in the months prior and addressed to decision-makers at the summit.

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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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