While the physical tipping points of the climate system have been the focus of substantial research, social tipping points, in which societies succeed or fail in adapting to climatic change, have received little coverage. An international team including researcher Pia-Johanna Schweizer from the Institute for Advanced Sustainability Studies (IASS) recently published a study that explores social tipping points in connection with climate adaptation and systemic risks.
How can courses at vocational schools encourage their students to work for climate mitigation despite the impeding economic change? Based on workshops with trainees in the German coal-mining region of Lusatia, a team from the Institute for Advanced Sustainability Studies (IASS) offers some guidelines on how to include civics and education for sustainable development in lesson plans.
As the Arctic Ocean is particularly affected by global temperature rise, more knowledge about this special habitat is needed. In six studies on the region, Ecologic Institute and the Institute for Advanced Sustainability Studies (IASS) describe the Arctic marine environment and the environmental pressures it faces. In this interview, lead study author Nicole Wienrich of the IASS discusses the project and its findings.
The rapid rise in temperature in the Arctic is profoundly altering the region – with unknown consequences for the future. At the same time, dwindling sea ice is increasing economic interest in the Arctic Ocean. How can the Arctic be protected and used sustainably against this backdrop? To provide an overview of issues relevant to marine conservation in the Arctic, Ecologic Institute and the Institute for Advanced Sustainability Studies (IASS) have published a series of reports.
The clock is ticking down fast but is there a need to rush? In 2021, the island nation of Nauru triggered a treaty provision known as the “two-year rule” that obliges the International Seabed Authority (ISA) to finalize and adopt regulations for deep seabed mining within 24 months. Researcher Pradeep Singh of the Institute for Advanced Sustainability Studies (IASS) examines the legal implications of this provision in a paper published in the International Journal of Marine and Coastal Law.
International solutions are needed to protect the ocean. Two sets of regulations currently under development offer an opportunity to expand protections, but a greater degree of alignment between the two must be achieved. In a new scientific article IASS researchers outline how this could be realised. States will meet again in July and August to continue their negotiations.
Losland, a cooperation between the IASS and the association Mehr Demokratie, supports municipalities to sustainably shape their future. The Losland team draws from citizen participation methods to develop individualised participation processes in these municipalities. IASS political scientist Daniel Oppold has been scientifically accompanying the process since 2021. In an interview, he explains how the project works, what an “assembly for the future” is, and the project’s aims.
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.
Scientific advice is increasingly used to inform policy. However, when the stakes are high, time is short and uncertainty looms, scientists are often guided more by their intuition than by knowledge. A new study shows that intuitive judgments can substantially influence policy advice – for example, in the setting of fishing quotas. While this is not necessarily detrimental, more transparency around this is desirable.
Many people would like to reduce their consumption of plastic packaging, but face barriers such as the limited availability of unpackaged goods and scarcity of zero-waste stores. An IASS Policy Brief presents three strategic policy recommendations that could help reduce the consumption of packaging in everyday life.
The current geological epoch is defined by impacts of human activities on the environment. The problems related to these effects are not adequately addressed by international environmental law. As Klaus Töpfer Sustainability Fellow for 2022 at the IASS, Louis Kotzé, South African scholar of international environmental law, will develop innovative concepts that can underpin new legal norms to protect the entire Earth system.
Systemic risks are often contradictorily assessed and underestimated by society, leading to delayed policy action. How can science help? A team from the Institute for Advanced Sustainability Studies (IASS) has developed recommendations for policymakers and academics working on the governance of systemic risks such as climate change.
There are increasing signs that negotiations over a global agreement on plastic pollution will begin in February 2022. In an article co-authored by IASS researcher Sebastian Unger and his team published in the journal “Science”, a team of scientists present the three key objectives and a number of supporting actions for an intergovernmental agreement in order to effectively curb the increasing amount of plastic waste.
Germany’s first national Citizens' Assembly on Climate has agreed on over 80 recommendations for climate policy, addressing mobility, construction, heating, food systems, and energy. The assembly was accompanied and supported by a panel of experts, led by Professor Ortwin Renn of the Institute for Advanced Sustainability Studies (IASS) in Potsdam.
Over 100 experts on the Arctic Region, including researchers from the Institute of Advanced Sustainability Studies (IASS) in Potsdam, have prepared a concept paper on “Polar Regions in Transition” for the Federal Ministry of Education and Research. The paper, which presents recommendations on key areas of focus for polar research in the coming years, was presented to the public at an online launch on 19 May 2021.
160 randomly selected citizens, twelve meetings, 25 scientists from the climate and social sciences: Germany’s first Citizens’ Assembly on Climate has commenced its work under the patronage of former German President Horst Köhler. This “Council of 160” will develop recommendations for Germany’s climate policy with the support of a board of experts led by Professor Ortwin Renn from the Institute for Advanced Sustainability Studies (IASS) in Potsdam. In this interview, Prof. Renn explains what the Citizens’ Assembly is setting out to achieve.
Digitalisation can support transitions towards a more sustainable society if technologies and processes are designed in line with suitable criteria. This requires a systemic focus on the risks and benefits of digital technologies across the three dimensions of sustainable development: the environment, society, and the economy. This is the conclusion of a study prepared by a team of researchers at the Institute for Advanced Sustainability Studies (IASS) in Potsdam. Applying this precautionary approach to digitalisation requires the active involvement of developers, users, and regulators.
As investors set their sights on the mineral resources of the deep seabed, the International Seabed Authority (ISA) is developing regulations that will govern their future exploration and possible exploitation. A new IASS Policy Brief, published in cooperation with the Federal Environment Agency (UBA), presents three recommendations to ensure that future deep seabed mining would be to the common benefit all humankind, as required by international law.
Globalization, digitalization, sustainabilization – three major waves of transformation are unfolding around the world. The social upheaval caused by these transformation processes has given rise to populist movements that endanger social harmony and threaten democratic values. What rules and institutions can promote stability in the face of such systemic risks? A new study published by the IASS offers some surprising answers.
The EU is discussing a “Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism” that would impose levies on goods entering the EU based on their carbon content. The consequences for vulnerable developing countries must play a bigger role in this discussion. A new IASS Policy Brief makes three recommendations for the policy design.
The international community's current plans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions do not go far enough to curb global warming. As a result, many governments are considering the use of so-called "negative emissions technologies" that would remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and sequester the captured emissions. A new study outlines some of the strategies available to open up the current debate around these emerging technologies with the aim of developing a responsible regulatory framework for their use.
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.
The next decade will be crucial for the future of our oceans. What role can marine regions play in efforts to achieve the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals? Which approaches have proven successful and what can be done to enhance their coordination? Experts developed solutions to these questions and more at the Marine Regions Forum held in Berlin, Germany last autumn. On 4–5 February, IASS project lead Sebastian Unger will present the most important recommendations at a preparatory meeting for the United Nations’ 2020 Ocean Conference.
Interest in the extraction of mineral resources from the deep seabed has grown in recent years. In order to protect the marine environment, the existing legal framework must be strengthened through the addition of environmental objectives and regulations to minimize harmful impacts. A team of researchers from the Institute for Advanced Sustainability Studies (IASS) in Potsdam recommends the establishment of ecological safeguards for deep-seabed mining in a new report commissioned by the German Environment Agency (UBA).
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.
Climate change is having particularly devastating impacts on the world’s oceans: they are becoming warmer and more acidic, with profound consequences for their complex ecosystem. The special report on “The Ocean and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate”, due to be presented by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) on 25 September, evaluates current scientific research on changes to the oceans. The Marine Regions Forum will convene in Berlin shortly afterwards with the aim of delivering clear recommendations, actionable results, and more support for regional partnerships.
The cause of millions of premature deaths annually, air pollution is a global challenge. It affects both developing and developed countries, with cities, in particular, struggling to meet air quality standards. A new study by a team of researchers at the Institute for Advanced Sustainability Studies (IASS) investigates air pollutant concentrations in urban areas and the factors that affect air quality. The study includes a number of recommendations that will interest urban planners and citizens alike.
Eighteen people were recently awarded the Order of Merit of the federal state of Baden-Württemberg by Governor Winfried Kretschmann. Professor Ortwin Renn, Scientific Director at the Institute for Advanced Sustainability Studies (IASS) was among them. Renn was honoured for his outstanding contribution to the transfer of scientific insights into politics, public administration and management and his unstinting commitment to a just and sustainable economic and social order.
In recent months young people across the world have been going on strike on Fridays to protest about their governments’ failure to adequately address the climate crisis. In their view, lack of political action to protect the climate is putting their future in jeopardy. But Wales is leading by example here with a law passed in 2015 that echoes the demands of the Fridays for Future protesters: the Well-being for Future Generations Act. It requires public authorities in Wales to consider the long-term effects of their decisions and make sustainable development a touchstone for policymaking.
Fifteen renowned scientists gathered in Potsdam for one week to discuss the state of play and the need for action to support the implementation of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals around the world. Their deliberations have resulted in new insights and recommendations to improve policymaking for sustainable development.
Digitalisation is changing not only how we live and work, but also how governments operate and make laws. Synthetic biology and new genetic engineering methods allow for targeted interventions in our bodies, quality of life and private sphere, while also transforming the way we think about society and politics. The erstwhile peace project Europe is mired in crisis, and people are losing faith in democracy and the state. There is an urgent need for innovations to open up new avenues for politics and administration. A new IASS Policy Brief makes a number of recommendations for governing in the twenty-first century.
The international energy transition is already delivering numerous benefits, but it is also creating new inequalities. The risks posed by this transformation will impact especially on developing countries, which lack access to technologies and capital. What, then, can be done to ensure that these countries too can make the transition to a low-carbon economy? This question is the focus of a new project that will study the systemic impacts of the global energy transition.
In September, UN member states will begin negotiating a treaty for the conservation and sustainable use of marine biodiversity on the high seas. But such challenges as ocean conservation cannot be resolved at the global level alone. A new study focusing on the Southeast Pacific shows what role regional organisations can play.
As governments across the world decarbonize their economies, the shift toward clean energy is highlighting new geopolitical tensions, supply chain vulnerabilities, and sustainability challenges associated with raw material extraction. With electrification as the main pathway to achieving decarbonization, one key technology—the battery—plays an outsize role in this shift. As the lithium-ion battery is currently the dominant technology for electric vehicles and stationary energy storage, exponential growth in critical mineral mining is required to meet demand. The International Energy Agency projects that the metals industry would need to build 50 new lithium mines, 60 nickel mines, and 17 cobalt mines by 2030 to meet global demand in line with national emissions-reduction pledges.
While climate change-related disasters are increasing at an alarming rate, concrete action to limit such devastating effects is progressing at a different pace. Instead of addressing the main cause of climate change by curbing anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions from the production and consumption of fossil fuels, the Carbon Majors – the top producers of crude oil, natural gas, coal, and cement in the world – continue to be largely unregulated. In the Philippines, a landmark inquiry recently found legal grounds to hold corporations accountable.
We will not see quick transformations towards sustainable futures without the consideration of past and present inequalities and injustices. We can tackle the climate crisis much more efficiently and sustainably only if equity and justice are treated as top priorities by all countries at the negotiation table. While we acknowledge that there are no one-size-fits-all solutions to today’s complex and diverse challenges, and that the process begins from different starting points, a closer look at the negotiations of the COP26 and ongoing actions around climate change can help us identify locations and processes that promote injustices and inequalities in preparations for the COP27 in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt.
The EU's pending Batteries Regulation is an ambitious framework to impose strict sustainability standards on the technology most important to electrification. To secure access to the lucrative EU market, global battery manufacturers will need to clean up their supply chains. US policymakers should take heed.
From 21 March to 1 April 2022 governments will continue negotiations of international regulations for deep seabed at the International Seabed Authority (ISA). Scientists from IASS will attend the 27th Session of the ISA Council as part of research on environmental standards for deep seabed mining.
From 7 to 18 March 2022, governments will continue negotiations on the conservation and sustainable use of marine biological diversity of areas beyond national jurisdiction under the auspices of the United Nations. After a break of nearly two years due to the coronavirus pandemic, a binding UN instrument should be ready this year.
On November 17, the European Commission proposed a regulation on deforestation-free products. This initiative is groundbreaking in that it tackles legal deforestation next to illegal. What does this legislative proposal mean for commodity-producing countries? In the case of Brazil, effective regulations will depend on a combination of trade, financial, technological, and cooperative measures.
The issue of marine conservation was hardly mentioned in the election campaign and the exploratory coalition talks that followed. This despite the fact that, for years, scientists have agreed that the climate crisis cannot be successfully combated without active marine conservation. Yet with the start of the coalition negotiations, this could now change. A look at the election programmes of the Green Party and the liberal FDP offers hope that a "Blue Deal" – a sustainable marine policy that is in line with the 1.5-degrees target and could improve the livelihood of those living in coastal regions – will be one of the future projects of the new coalition government.
Some German political parties and economists suggest ending the Renewable Energy Sources Act (EEG) surcharge in the power bill and instead financing renewables through the carbon tax. While the recent carbon pricing debate has focused on equity and political feasibility, it has neglected the elephant in the room: how would this change affect Germany’s ability to meet the 2030 climate goals? Here, we show that this refinancing would put climate goals at risk. Purely market-based renewables are not yet viable, the change could therefore slow down their already sluggish deployment. We thus argue that the EEG remains the quintessential instrument for German climate policy in the coming decade.
There is a lot on the international climate policy agenda in 2021. Most importantly, countries will finally have to submit their enhanced Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) under the Paris Agreement. The European Green Deal will contribute to this process and will hopefully lead the EU towards a low-carbon economy with new climate protection targets and many other measures. With pressure growing to further reduce its greenhouse gas emissions and fulfil its international commitments, the EU is now examining the options around methane.
Empowering consumers to adopt more sustainable food habits is one of the foremost goals of the EU’s Farm to Fork Strategy. This goal is diluted by a recent amendment passed by the EU Parliament that imposes strict limits on how substitutes for dairy products can be described and marketed.
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.
In recent years, there have been increasing calls for central banks to become pioneers in sustainability transformation. Is this the best idea - or are there alternatives? In the blog post written by Andrei Guter-Sandu and Steffen Murau, the authors present an alternative and reflect on the implications of their proposal for a "green transition" towards a more sustainable economy. It refers to an essay published in the "Wirtschaftswoche" on the democratization of the Eurozone.
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.
Climate change in the Arctic is unfolding twice as rapidly as in other parts of the world. This poses various challenges for the sustainable development of Northern communities and companies. The European research project Blue-Action evaluates the impact of climate change in the Arctic and develops new techniques to improve forecast accuracy. As part of a case study of the Yamal region in Russia, researchers are exploring the roles, perceptions and interests of various stakeholder groups in the sustainable development of the Arctic. Elena Nikitina, head of the Center for Global Economy at IMEMO, recently visited the IASS and provided insights into the formation of adaptive governance in the Arctic.
Substantial financial assistance is being provided to Germany’s former coal regions to support their socio-economic transformation, but an active civil society will also be crucial to their revitalisation. Grass-roots initiatives in Lusatia are struggling in the face of hostility and a lack of support from local government.
Roll up your sleeves, seize every opportunity and take the future by the horns! Surely that is the best way to approach the transformation of the economy in the region of Lusatia? Played up by policymakers, this upbeat narrative is indeed vital to the success of what is a mammoth undertaking. But so too are the experiences of people and institutions across the region. As scientists working in the field of sustainable development, we must consider the broader social context of efforts to foster a less-resource intensive economy and way of life in Lusatia.
The new German government got down to work in April 2018 and it will be interesting to see how it goes about tackling the big future questions of our time. Together with the Chancellery, the ministries have a huge responsibility to manage and shape the far-reaching technological and societal changes currently under way.
Negotiations on a conservation agreement for the high seas are currently under way at the United Nations in New York. This agreement has to be ambitious if it is to protect our oceans from profiteers. After more than a decade of heated debate, the United Nations have begun to negotiate a new agreement on the...