The British House of Lords recently invited the Scientific Director of the Institute for Advanced Sustainability Studies (IASS) Professor Ortwin Renn to speak about national risk assessment at a public hearing of the Select Committee on Risk Assessment and Risk Planning. One of the main points Renn made to the British Parliament was that in tackling a national crisis, governments need to show that they are working in the interests of the common good.
In no other policy area is the discrepancy between knowledge and action greater than in the field of sustainability. What can academic institutions do to ensure that scientific insights are translated into action in business, politics and civil society? At the third Global Sustainability Strategy Forum, 35 sustainability experts discussed this question – especially in the context of the Covid-19 pandemic.
The economic recession induced by Covid-19 is threatening the global supply chains on which low-carbon technologies depend. Prof. Andreas Goldthau talks about the resulting risk to the climate and appropriate policy responses.
Against the backdrop of the Covid-19 pandemic, health is receiving unprecedented public and political attention. Yet the fact that climate change also presents us with a health crisis deserves further recognition. A new IASS Policy Brief gives recommendations for integrating health and climate and achieving better outcomes in both arenas.
If we are to achieve the objectives of the Paris Agreement and the European Green Deal, we must create a net-zero emissions energy system. A new set of energy modelling tools is needed to explore potential energy futures and opportunities to transform existing energy systems. Researchers from the Sustainable Energy Transition Laboratory (SENTINEL) project have launched an online survey to learn more about the requirements for energy models to support decision-making for the European energy transition. In a second survey, they are examining the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on the stakeholder engagement activities of energy research projects.
The coronavirus pandemic has triggered an economic recession with potentially stronger effects than the 2008 financial crisis. The recession has been accompanied by a global decline in energy demand. A new study by the Institute for Advanced Sustainability Studies (IASS) examines the impacts of the pandemic on the global energy sector, and considers whether recent political decisions are accelerating the transformation of energy systems or perpetuating reliance on fossil fuels. The study includes an analysis of the energy policies of Argentina, China, Germany, India, Israel and the USA.
The coronavirus pandemic has cast a spotlight on the vulnerability of global value chains. Sustainable value chains at the regional level could bring more stability to the post-pandemic world. A team of researchers at the Institute for Advanced Sustainability Studies (IASS) has developed a typology of climate win-win strategies that can be used to identify sustainable regional value chains.
Brazil is one of the hotspots of the corona pandemic, and the Brazilian Amazon is particularly hard hit. In a new Discussion Paper, IASS Fellow Artur Sgambatti Monteiro and Lucas Lima dos Santos describe the impacts of the pandemic on the region. The virus has overwhelmed the poor healthcare system in Amazonian cities and towns. Indigenous groups are especially vulnerable because the pandemic has opened the floodgates for the illegal deforestation and invasion of their territories. The authors warn that the encroachment on previously untouched parts of the forest could give rise to new transmissible zoonoses.
The Covid-19 pandemic is having an effect on our mobility behaviour. As a reaction to the crisis, pop-up cycle lanes have been set up in Berlin to allow for safe cycling with the required physical distance. How have these new cycle lanes been greeted by the city’s road users? The first preliminary answers to this question can be found in the results of a non-representative online survey of 1,661 Berliners carried out by researchers from the IASS Potsdam and the TU Berlin.
Although there were early warnings of an exponentially growing pandemic, most policymakers around the world were unprepared and reluctant to act when Covid-19 first spread from China around the world. Since then the crisis has led to unprecedented restrictions and triggered the worst recession since the Second World War. In an article published in the Journal of Risk Research, Aengus Collins, Marie-Valentine Florin (both EPFL International Risk Governance Center) and IASS Scientific Director Ortwin Renn analyze the key factors and offer recommendations on how we can better prepare for future crises.
Economies around the world have been severely affected by the Covid-19 pandemic. Substantial political efforts will be needed to stabilize employment markets and relieve pressure on health systems. Renewable energy generation can provide important stimuli for efforts to achieve these goals. A team of researchers with the COBENEFITS project at the IASS has analysed the potential benefits of decarbonizing the energy sector.
Supply chains collapse, companies are facing bankruptcy, and mass unemployment ensues. Covid-19 has triggered a global financial crisis and is forcing states to develop rescue packages on a scale not seen before. In addition, the crisis has called into question the US dollar's hegemony and could redefine the global monetary system. A team of researchers from the Institute for Advanced Sustainability Studies (IASS) has developed four scenarios that show how political decisions will shape the post-Corona world.
Pop-up cycle lanes are currently springing up across the city of Berlin. The temporary routes are to be converted into safe cycle lanes by degrees. But what do Berliners think of them? A research team has launched an online survey to find out.
The coronavirus must have many consequences: In the short term, we need to flatten the curve, so that our health system is not overburdened. We must take care of the sick and prevent vulnerable groups from becoming infected. In the longer term, we will have to rethink the rules of reality. Klaus Töpfer Sustainability Fellow Nicole de Paula describes in a new IASS Discussion Paper how, despite all the sadness, fear, bewilderment and frustration generated by the pandemic, it could paradoxically promote planetary health.
Could an unconditional basic income foster freedom and equal opportunity, curb the excesses of an age of acceleration and help to conserve our finite natural resources? The freelance curator, author, theorist and activist Adrienne Goehler has studied this question as an IASS Fellow. Her recently published book "Nachhaltigkeit braucht Entschleunigung braucht Grundein/auskommen" presents essays, interviews, stories, diagrams and artistic interventions from a range of authors.
A long, grotty corridor, bathed in cold neon light. The audience of just ten people is divided into two groups and has to keep the mandatory distance of 1.5 metres while standing in line. You wait and ask yourself what’s going to happen next. This is how a performance of Tornado, a “Climate-Theatre-Disaster”, gets under way at Berlin’s Theaterdiscounter.
The current death toll from Covid-19 is just over 800,000 people worldwide. This is likely to be a conservative estimate. To provide some perspective, in 2017, around 56 million people died, with the largest cause of death being cardiovascular diseases, which accounted for about 32% of deaths. 4.2 million people die every year as a result of exposure to outdoor air pollution. If we consider the rankings of risk factors for death, air pollution is number 4 on the list. 4!! Why am I suddenly bringing air pollution into this? Initial research has shown that there is a link between air pollution and Covid-19 cases.
Countries have responded differently to the large societal and economic impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic. While some view the crisis as a window of opportunity for new technologies and approaches to achieve climate neutrality, others will be tempted to reinforce their dependence on old technologies, leading to a carbon lock-in. Israel’s response as a start-up nation is promising, but further measures are needed to support a green transition.
According to a recent report, German households are producing 15% more waste compared to before the pandemic as concerns around hygiene and safety overshadow the public's interest in sustainability. Additionally, with people enjoying outdoor spaces in the summer, plastic packaging waste is even more starkly noticeable in the environment. With common plastic items, and particularly to-go food packaging, constituting 10-20% of the waste found in parks, public places and streets in Germany, the urgent need to regulate these products cannot be understated. Long-term measures to avoid the excessive production and consumption of plastic in its various forms are clearly needed.
Socio-environmental governance is not an area of exclusive government action. Corporations, investors, civil and consumer organizations are reinventing themselves as political players in an increasing number of self-regulatory arrangements. Private environmental governance covers a wide-range of schemes such as Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) criteria; Voluntary Sustainability Standards (VSSs) and certifications. Private initiatives have been praised for their potential to contribute to the goals of the Paris Agreement. Nonetheless, the current situation in Brazil shows that the private sector has a role to play not only in making its own environmental commitments, but in demanding that governments respond.
In Berlin, one unique change that has continued to develop over the past few months is the installation of “Pop-up” bike lanes on busy streets around the city. Citing the pandemic, city officials have been fast-tracking plans for new, protected bike lanes in order to allow citizens to travel safely by bike and avoid overcrowding in public transport. A recent IASS Study shows that these new bike lanes are strongly supported by people who identify primarily as cyclists, pedestrians, or users of public transport, but are disliked by those who identify as car drivers. While these results are unsurprising, they capture Berlin’s quite recent citizen-led shift in transport policy, ultimately culminating in the recent Mobility Law of 2018. That does not mean, however, that these new bike lanes are without criticism.
The vital role of electrification in emergency response has become strikingly clear during the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic. Electricity is indispensable for the effective operation of healthcare facilities and the provision of health services, the timely diffusion of information, and undisrupted communications at a time when social isolation measures are in place. Access to electrification also makes it easier to carry out important household activities and follow essential hygiene recommendations. The pandemic has therefore served as a reminder of the vulnerability of the 860 million people who have no access to electricity, most of whom live in sub-Saharan Africa.
New research links air pollution to severe Covid-19 progression. This should prompt a re-evaluation of German commitments to safeguarding and improving air quality. Clean air deserves a more prominent place in Germany’s Strategy for Sustainable Development.
The transport sector is climate policy’s problem child. While emissions reductions have been achieved across every other sector since 1990, transport-related emissions have climbed by 3.7 percent between 1990 and 2018.
What is biodiversity? Often understood as the ensemble of plants, animals and microorganisms on Earth, biodiversity is, above all, a rich sample of genetic differences among species and the variety of ecosystems. In fact, the richer the diversity of life, the greater the opportunity for medical discoveries, economic development, and adaptive responses to wicked challenges such as climate change.
Crises create the space and time for us to question long-held beliefs and to debate new possibilities. The current crisis shows more clearly than ever before the need for new and previously unimagined – or seemingly impossible – solutions to advance the transformation of our societies towards sustainability. And it needs people with the ability to make these new ideas reality. Little has been made of the potential benefits of cooperation between science and business in such vital areas as mobility and energy transitions. Pooling expertise from science and business, and involving political decision-makers, non-governmental organizations, and the public in relevant debates, could unlock previously untapped potentials for sustainability transformations.
Argentina is among the countries hardest hit by the social and economic consequences of the current pandemic. In order to mitigate the impacts of the crisis, the government is responding with some immediate relief measures – tax deferrals, subsidies for low-income families, and special financial measures for different sectors including energy – as well as planning a quite ambitious recovery program. The decisions that are being taken today are likely to have a profound effect on the energy sector for decades to come. These decisions are influenced by visions and narratives associated with different sectors, with oil and gas being the “golden goose” and renewables the “ugly duckling”.
Around the world the coronavirus pandemic has disrupted life as we know it. However, it is important not to lose sight of the fact that the coronavirus exists on top of many underlying health, social, and economic inequalities, and vulnerabilities. While cases have remained low in most countries in Africa, the actual situation is not known, especially due to the lack of testing abilities and limited data. The best hope for African countries is to be spared by the coronavirus, but in truth, people are already suffering from the burdens of stringent lockdown measures imposed to contain the spread of the virus.
Alongside the increase in the number of Coronavirus-infected people, perhaps the biggest change in Germany in the last few weeks has been the change in the perception of the risk of the virus. A good symbol for this ongoing transformation is the mask. The assessment of its benefit has developed very dynamically, not only in the medical field but also among politicians and citizens. A small piece of cloth therefore represents something bigger, which will raise interesting questions for future research in various fields, such as medicine, law and social sciences.
On April 15th, the German government announced plans for a step-wise re-opening of economic and social life after a 5-week Corona “lockdown.” In a first step, shops smaller than 800 square meters as well as car dealerships and bicycle shops have reopened under strict hygiene and anti-crowding conditions. In early May, schools will begin to re-open, with priority given to classes that need to graduate to the next level.
Many countries are riding a wave of digitalization in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, with office staff working from home, friends meeting on video conferencing platforms, online trade booming and governments rolling out tracing apps to track infection chains. However, developing and emerging countries could suffer setbacks in their efforts to strengthen their economies and societies through the adoption of digital technologies. Now more than ever, states must double down on efforts to ensure a globally just digital transition.
The Corona crisis has strongly reduced CO2 emissions. Such short-term effects are nice, but mean little for climate protection. However, we know from past crises that they can speed up transformation processes. With the right policy responses, the crisis can be a turning point to carbon-neutrality.
The corona pandemic caught our society off guard. That is one reason for the scale of the crisis. This makes it all the more important to learn from the current situation, not least in the area of climate and energy policy. In what follows, I discuss the lessons we can draw from the crisis in reflections clustered around the terms vulnerability, resilience and solidarity.
Not since the Second World War has German society experienced a challenge to society that compares to the current global pandemic. While it is not possible at this point to fully assess the implications of this crisis for public health, the economic and society, the measures and regulations adopted to date are unprecedented in post-war German history in terms of their scope and impact on citizens across the country.
The corona crisis is not only threatening our health; it’s also shaking our economic systems to the core. A fall of global stock markets by as much as35 per centin the first quarter of this year means that a recession is imminent. The energy sector is also affected, with the price of oil plummetingand renewable energies also facing difficulties. Coronavirus infections, prolonged curfews, short-time work, and border closures are all affecting the supply chains of wind and solar energy technologies. Investment has all but dried up. In this situation we can learn from the experience of tackling previous economic crises and should opt for a “green” stimulus package in a three-step government programme of relief, recovery and reform. To accelerate and bolster the energy transition, all of the measures implemented in these three steps need to be scrutinised for their long-term viability.
In the concluding part of Margaret Atwood’s MaddAddam trilogy, set in an unspecified but not too distant future, an artificially designed virus brings humankind to the verge of extinction. Told over long stretches through the flashbacks of the few remaining survivors, the pandemic, short and devastating, is what holds the plot together. Yet it’s not the pandemic that I’m reminded of in the midst of the corona crisis, but rather the social conditions in which it plays out. In Atwood’s dystopia, high-tech production centres are surrounded by gated communities where the business and technology elites live in sheltered luxury. Beyond these compounds, in the so-called pleeblands, most people are at the mercy of criminality and the whims of private security services, as well as being subject to higher mortality due to sporadic, localised epidemics. When the ultimate virus strikes, it wreaks havoc in the absence of solidarity and a functioning state.
The international health crisis has exposed a serious problem for energy systems – we’re not taking renewable energy technology seriously as a critical asset. Most solar panels today are made in China, and a shortage of key components means that Europe is now facing major delays in new installations. Wind power faces a double whammy – manufacturing is down, and countries may not have the personnel and parts locally to keep systems running. Countries should aim to build up national clean tech infrastructure in the same way that they ensure strategic reserves of fossil fuels.
Humans are intrinsically connected to the natural environment. This fundamental truth has been neglected by the way we conceive our development choices and we implement policies. The Covid-19 pandemic is an unfortunate reminder. Occurrences of diseases that cross over from wildlife to human populations (zoonotic diseases) are increasing and highlight how human health, animal health, and natural ecosystems are one. The current crisis shows us that we’ve lost a necessary symbiotic relation between humans and their natural environment. We, humans, are not separate from nature. We are nature.
The spread of the coronavirus has had rapid and far-reaching effects on the daily life of individuals and across professions and industries. The waste management sector is no exception here. This blog will highlight some of the challenges faced by the waste management sector in Germany. Similar to other European countries, the two most prominent measures taken by Germany to halt the spread of the coronavirus are the closing of its borders and the enforcement of reduced social contact.
The current outbreak of the new coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) will affect virtually every person on Earth, either directly or indirectly. Many people will die of the infectious disease caused by this coronavirus (Covid-19), and others will lose people close to them. Many more will suffer other extreme hardships – psychological, social and financial – due to the extensive physical distancing measures that are reducing the spread of the virus. While there may be some perceived “silver linings”, such as temporarily reduced air pollution and CO2 emissions, and for some an opportunity to slow down and contemplate their ways of living, in the balance the effects are already tremendously challenging for the world, and are likely to get much worse before the pandemic is over.
The coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 has fundamentally changed our lives within a short period. The world is in a state of emergency and there is no end in sight. The pandemic triggered by the coronavirus is a dynamic event shaped by many different factors, in particular human behaviour (e.g. hygiene behaviour and social interactions), making it highly variable. In many countries, the number of infections is rising exponentially. In the absence of effective therapeutic drugs or a vaccine, the number of infections can only be reduced by adopting far-reaching measures to restrict direct social contact ("physical distancing").
Just two weeks ago, the suggestion that many people would soon be working exclusively from home would have been met with disbelief. Home office? Out of the question! Yet in the short time since then curfews have been imposed in some German states and teleworking has become the new normal – at least for jobs that depend largely on a computer and Internet access.
The Europe-wide shutdown is reducing both energy consumption and carbon dioxide emissions. At first glance, this might seem like good news. But it has also caused CO2 certificates traded under the European Union Emissions Trading System to lose a third of their value since March. Economic activity is expected to be significantly depressed over the coming weeks and months and production capacities underused.
Affiliate IASS scholar Man Fang has been working online from Germany since late January as a volunteer coordinator to support her hometown of Wuhan, organizing donations and helping to transport medical resources from around the world to the local hospitals. Here on the IASS-Blog she answers a few questions how differently the pandemic is dealt with in Germany and China and expresses her thoughts and feelings about it.
Worldwide over one billion people are on coronavirus lockdown. Overnight, the frantic economies of the twenty-first century ground to a halt. All of the sudden, an invisible organism became our number one enemy, demonstrating the fragility of an über-connected planet. The coronavirus pandemic is an unprecedented event and will leave a much changed world in its wake. The question of global cooperation looms large in thinking about the post-pandemic world. Are we entering a world that is less free and open? A world of more authoritarian states? Or is this pandemic an opportunity to “unlearn” mistakes and build our societies based on trust, knowledge and cooperation?
Scientists from the fields of mobility research, psychology and health sciences call for the provision of a mobility infrastructure in the face of the corona pandemic that enables the required spacing and promotes people's health. As society is faced with the COVID-19 pandemic, limiting contact between potentially infected and uninfected people is a primary public health concern. This necessitates urgent changes to public spaces to enable safe mobility and physical activity.
Given the fact that the Coronavirus (COVID-19) and its implications are dominating not only the news but the daily lives of nearly the whole globe, it is unsurprising that many have been thinking about the consequences of the coronavirus on climate action.