The implementation of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is indispensable for building a sustainable and just future. For that reason, technological innovations need to be assessed in terms of their compatibility with these goals. A new study shows that technologies for carbon capture and utilisation (CCU) can make a positive contribution to the energy transition.
In 2019, the new Packaging Act entered into force in Germany, tightening regulations governing packaging and resulting waste. However, improvements to this legislation are needed in order to further reduce the ecological impact of packaging waste. A new IASS Policy Brief offers three recommendations.
Faced with the challenges of digitalization and the climate crisis, many companies are keen to improve their sustainability. In a new study, researchers examine the potential uses of data analysis to strengthen corporate environmental management in the automotive industry. The study reveals that Big Data could enhance corporate environmental management in a variety of ways and that many of these opportunities are going untapped.
For customers, investors and consumers alike, it can make a difference whether a company operates sustainably and adheres to ethical and ecological standards. Standardized and verifiable reports are needed so that companies can provide credible and verifiable evidence of their ability to walk the talk of sustainability. Reporting standards should present corporate contributions to sustainable development in manner that facilitates comparison and be universally applicable to companies of all sizes and types.
The European Union aims to achieve climate neutrality by 2050 and is relying largely on renewable electricity to reach this goal. The implementation of this energy transition is the subject of heated debate: A continental-scale system that concentrates energy generation infrastructure in the most suitable locations would provide the most afforable solution but many citizens favour smaller, more dispersed supply networks. A new study prepared by researchers in Potsdam and Zurich shows that the implementation of such systems would not incur significant additional costs.
Transitioning our energy supply from coal, oil and gas to wind and solar power is feasible. However, renewables require more land than conventional forms of energy generation. A new study explores the options to reduce the land requirements of a fully renewable energy supply in Europe and their possible impact on the cost of electricity.
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.
Innovations in the area of carbon utilisation are the subject of growing interest. Novel technologies that capture CO2 emissions for industrial use can contribute to building a circular carbon economy and reduce consumption of fossil‐based raw materials. A recent study analyses the economic challenges and opportunities these technologies present to different industries.
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.
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.
How can science and business help build sustainable societies? This question took centre-stage at the second Global Sustainability Strategy Forum, held on 22 – 24 March 2020. The event did not take place in Bangkok as previously planned due to the coronavirus pandemic. Instead, 25 leading experts from business and sustainability science came together online to discuss how the two sectors could work together more effectively.
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.
The days of Germany’s lignite-mining industry are numbered, that much is clear. The Coal Commission appointed by the Federal Government now has the job of planning how exactly the phaseout will proceed. One issue that is often overlooked in this context is the question of how the rehabilitation of former coal-mining sites is to be financed. A new IASS Discussion Paper examines the risks inherent in the existing financing practice and makes concrete proposals for changes.
"The Packaging Act of 2019 is already having an effect here [on recycling]. But there is still far too much packaging waste in Germany. More than half of all plastic waste is disposable packaging, and that really bothers many citizens, and it really bothers me personally", remarked Minister of the Environment Svenja Schulze on the latest amendment to Germany’s Packaging Act (the Verpackungsgesetz).
Green hydrogen is set to play a central role in the efforts of the European Union and many EU member states to decarbonize different sectors in order to reach their 2050 climate goals. The hydrogen strategy adopted by the European Commission in July 2020 seeks to make green hydrogen an integral part of Europe’s energy system by 2050. In particular, the strategy emphasizes the potential of green hydrogen in sectors where direct electrification is a challenge, including energy storage, heavy-duty transport, aviation, shipping, and energy-intensive manufacturing. However, in order to enable a market ramp-up for hydrogen, low-carbon hydrogen derived from fossil fuels is also being considered as a production option alongside green hydrogen.
Brazilian geographer Bertha Becker referred to the Amazon region as the oldest periphery of the capitalist world system. Its colonial occupation, or 'frontier economy', is based on the continuous incorporation of available land and the exploitation of their resources – both of which are regarded as infinite. This perspective on the Amazon has existed for centuries and continues to loom large in Brazil today. To meet its growing demand for raw materials, the outside world assumed the rainforest to be of little value, discounting the services that it provides to humankind. This view encourages the rainforest’s destruction and is not sustainable. A model for the sustainable development of the Amazon region is feasible however and could play an important role in Brazil's post-pandemic economic recovery efforts.
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.
In the European Commission’s “Coronavirus response”, President von der Leyen recently announced the aim of building “a modern, clean and healthy economy, which secures the livelihoods of the next generation”. But what does that mean for high emitting industrial sectors such as cement production? Are they part of “yesterday’s economy”, or will they successfully transition to more sustainable modes of production? Over half of all the materials that humans use on Earth are “cementitious” – including concrete, cement and other building materials – and it is difficult to imagine a life without cement.
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 May 2020 I was a guest on an episode of the TV show “Planet Wissen” dedicated to “Pathways out of the Plastic Flood”. It was an opportunity for me to talk about the preliminary results of our work in the ENSURE project on “Plastic: Social Perception and Behaviour Patterns”. The journalist Andrea Wojtkowiak had sent me a few questions in advance, but – as is so often the case – there wasn’t enough time to discuss everything in detail during the programme itself. So for all those interested in the issue of plastic, here are the more in-depth answers.
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.
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?
The German naturalist, writer, and statesman Alexander von Humboldt taught that all things are truly connected to everything else; that our entire world is an interwoven tapestry. The only way to ensure a dignified life for all, without poverty and hardship, is to make climate change and the limits of global resources central criteria in all political and economic decisions. One proposed solution to the growing problem of poverty is unconditional basic income (UBI).
In the upcoming days Japan will hosts its first ever G20 Summit. As the main contributers to global warming, the G20 states agreed 2009 on a phase out plan of fossil fuel subsidies. Ten years later the failure of the G20 to act on global warming is evident: around $63.9 billion was spent by G20 countries this year to develop coal industries in the global south.
Ever since Mark Carney, the Governor of the Bank of England, spoke in 2015 before Lloyd’s of London about climate change, the future of the energy industries, and financial stability, finance ministers and central bank governors around the world have underscored climate protection’s systemic threat to the world’s financial system.
As a child, I lived near the forests and walked everywhere on foot because we did not have motorable roads, nor could my parents afford to buy a family car. If I were to narrate this story to sociologists or media reporters, then I would feel that I was exposing my limited wealth compared with people in developed countries. But when I shared my story with scientists at the IASS, I narrated it confidently, because they think that we are on the right path towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
To improve air quality in the long term diesel vehicles must be subject to the same emissions standards as other vehicles and the tax advantages that diesel enjoys must be abolished.
At the recent ‘Diesel Summit’ in Berlin, politicians, car manufacturers and others met to discuss possible ways out of the current diesel mess. The measures on the table include banning diesel vehicles from cities, introducing a ‘blaue Plakette’, and retrofitting older models. But none of these will suffice.
Without China, little can change in Africa. This is why Germany should work closely with Beijing on the issue of investments in climate-friendly infrastructure in Africa.
Following the USA’s announcement of its withdrawal from the Paris climate agreement, the international community is facing the first serious crisis of global climate policy since the breakthrough in 2015. Initially, this may not have much impact on reducing emissions in the USA itself.
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) .
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?
The IASS has produced what is probably the most comprehensive overview on the results of recent renewable energy auctions yet. The study, which is soon to be published in English (it’s available here in German), thus fills a crucial gap. Policymakers will want to know the findings so they can improve policy design – and the study sheds light on some surprising gaps.
Once again, the political discussion is focusing on a state fund to finance renewables in Germany instead of using a surcharge on power consumption. This time, Bavarian state premier Horst Seehofer is calling for it. At first glance, it seems to be a good idea." For a long time, Germany’s Renewable Energy Act (EEG) provided renewable technologies with support similar to that given to other technologies, such as nuclear power, by means of taxes.
A couple of weeks ago, I had the opportunity to attend the latest Arctic Summit Science Week in Fairbanks, Alaska. Building on the outcomes of last year’s summit in Toyama, Japan (see my previous post), the scientific community is increasingly seeking to unify synergies between the social and natural sciences to tackle problems related to Arctic change.
Over a leisurely Sunday family dinner, when the conversation turns to putting the world to rights, your niece or second cousin may have asked you the following question: Why not simply create money and give it to poor people in order to make a better world?
You may have smiled at the ingenuity of this question and told them that this is simply not possible. Otherwise, money would just lose its value and inflation would rise.
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?!
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.
When the German Foreign Office asked me in March whether I would like to become a member of the Working Group on Sustainable Arctic Development in the German Observer Delegation of the Arctic Council, of course I did not hesitate. What a splendid opportunity for an Arctic scholar to experience Arctic governance first-hand!
What does reforming the international monetary system have to do with saving the climate? As it happens quite a bit, says Robert Wade, Professor for Political Economy and Development at the London School of Economics. At a guest lecture at the IASS on 15 June, he described a number of proposals for reducing macroeconomic imbalances and strengthening the resilience of the international financial system.
Growth, too, isn’t what it used to be. Nowadays, it has to be ‘qualitative’, ‘pro-poor’, ‘inclusive’, ‘sustainable’, ‘green’, or even ‘smart’. And if one attribute doesn’t suffice, a mix of all of them will do: “smart, sustainable and inclusive growth” (EU Commission), “sustained, inclusive and sustainable growth” (UN) or “inclusive, pro-poor, green growth” (World Bank). This wonder-working growth cocktail, which is supposed to cure all of the twenty-first century’s ills, is nothing more than hot air.