Michaela Büsse is a fellow at the Research Institute for Sustainability (RIFS). Her work casts a spotlight on socio-material transformations in the context of speculative urbanism, the energy transition, and climate change. In this interview, she explains her current research on visionary energy islands and talks about her forthcoming event at Berlin Science Week on 3 November: "Building (with) Nature".
The ocean will play a key role in efforts to tackle the climate crisis, according to scientists and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The use of so-called “negative emissions technologies” to enhance carbon sequestration and storage in the ocean is increasingly being discussed. In a study published in the scientific journal "Frontiers”, RIFS researchers Lina Röschel and Barbara Neumann describe the challenges that these technologies present for both the marine environment and society, and identify cornerstones for their responsible use.
More inclusive, equal and just ways in which Arctic research is conducted and research programs and funding processes are conceived, these are some of the main goals of the Roadmap to Decolonial Arctic Research. On 19 June 2023, a group of non-Indigenous and Indigenous rights holders and engaged scholars, from RIFS and several other organisations across Europe and the Arctic, presented the Roadmap to Decolonial Arctic Research to the public. The publication addresses the greatest challenges, needs and potentials of Decolonial Arctic Research over the next ten years.
Over close to three years, researchers with the Ariadne project have surveyed public opinion on the energy transition. Citizens' conferences, which included the first in-person discussions of the process, were complemented by two surveys. Experts from MCC Berlin and RIFS have now presented the findings of their research in a new analysis of the Ariadne citizen deliberation processes. Their results show that the majority of those surveyed are willing to back measures that will support Germany’s efforts to achieve climate neutrality. The research also reveals that citizens attach great importance to access to sustainable alternatives and affordable mobility as well as public participation and local value creation along the energy supply chain.
The LOSLAND project has supported ten municipalities across Germany in their efforts to facilitate public participation processes on issues that will shape the future of communities. On 20 April, participants and organisers took stock of the project's outcomes at the symposium “Forging a sustainable democracy through public participation in municipalities”. Discussions at the symposium show that public participation can enrich democracy, but processes must be tailored to the demands of specific issues and target groups.
The EU plans to introduce a new levy that puts a price on carbon-intensive goods entering the EU. RIFS researchers have identified measures to ensure that the scheme addresses issues of justice and participation.
Public participation is widely considered to be crucial for the success of the energy transition. In three new research projects, RIFS researchers are investigating the impacts of participatory processes, the potential of energy communities, and the application of digital visualization and communication tools in transition planning.
Structuring discussions, explaining contexts, identifying perspectives: all of these are among the tasks of facilitators. In cooperation with the city of Magdeburg, RIFS researchers designed and accompanied three mini-publics that were facilitated in different ways. Their analysis of strengths and weaknesses contributes to a better design of future participation processes.
The UN climate change conferences (COPs) are attended annually by tens of thousands of actors working on climate change topics. Outside of the formal negotiations, the communication culture is dominated by 'side events,' a format that relies on conventional presentations and panels. In a new commentary, RIFS scientist Kathleen Mar and co-authors make a case for reimagining these communication formats in order to strengthen the COP’s role as a platform for learning and community-building.
The need for public participation has been called into question in the current debate on turbo-charging Germany’s transition to renewable energy. But excluding citizens from decision-making processes is likely to jeopardise the public’s support for measures to protect the climate. This is a key insight of a new paper prepared by the steering committee of the Science Platform for Climate Action.
On 20 December 2022, the Berlin Senate issued a statement on the recommendations prepared by the Berlin Citizens’ Assembly on Climate and announced that it would partially or fully incorporate 42 of the assembly’s 47 recommendations into its Energy and Climate Protection Programme (BEK 2030). RIFS (then IASS) advised the Citizens’ Assembly on Climate and accompanied the participation process.
Not abstract goals but the paths we take towards their implementation will determine whether we are able to forge a sustainable society in this century. Policymakers will need to negotiate with key societal actors on the concrete steps if this transformation is to succeed. Political institutions must embrace public participation as a means to develop actionable solutions in cooperation with citizens, argue RIFS researchers Jörg Radtke and Ortwin Renn in the new anthology "Umkämpfte Zukunft. Zum Verhältnis von Nachhaltigkeit, Demokratie und Konflikt“.
Local and regional actors play a key role in sustainable development in Brandenburg. Bringing them together to support joint action is a core focus of the Platform for Sustainability in Brandenburg. Members gathered on 8 December for the platform’s annual conference drew a positive balance and acknowledged the platform’s role in developing potential solutions and mobilizing society. The platform called on government to step up the pace of change for sustainability.
Publics in Germany and Australia are broadly supportive of efforts to decarbonise energy systems. However, opposition to the rollout of renewables is growing. In a new study, researchers show that community participation plays a key role in building acceptance for energy transition policies. The governments of both countries are pursuing different strategies to foster public acceptance of various measures.
In a podcast series, RIFS researchers discuss the role of carbon in climate and sustainability politics. They talk to academics, activists and artists whose work has influenced their own research on the transformations of our carbon-dependent society. In the fourth episode, Usha Natarajan (Columbia University/Dalhousie University) and Julia Dehm (La Trobe Law School) discuss their book “Locating Nature: Making and Unmaking International Law”.
Transdisciplinary research brings together the knowledge of people from different backgrounds. It is considered to be particularly useful for developing solutions to complex sustainability challenges. A team of researchers at the Institute for Advanced Sustainability Studies in Potsdam, Germany, have developed an online platform (https://www.ama-project.org) to facilitate strategic exchange and dialogues between researchers and stakeholders. In a new publication, the researchers describe the platform’s design and functionalities as well as its development in cooperation with a range of stakeholders.
In recent years, the rights of children and youth to participate in political processes have been expanded. But there are still deficits when it comes to putting these rights into practice. In a new publication, IASS researchers make recommendations on how to successfully engage young people in processes of structural change.
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.
Sustainability policy in Germany currently falls short of what is needed, despite ambitious rhetoric. In a study, IASS researchers show that the established way of mediating interests between politics, industry and trade unions stands in the way of a more ambitious agenda. For a successful transition, policymakers must remould the relationship between capitalism, democracy, and sustainability.
The conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity in areas beyond national jurisdiction (ABNJ) is a shared responsibility of all nations. But current regulations and policies are ineffective to address comprehensive marine environmental protection. Over its five-year duration, the STRONG High Seas project (‘Strengthening Regional Ocean Governance for the High Seas’) has advanced the development of integrated approaches for ABNJ in the Southeast Atlantic and Southeast Pacific.
The Berlin Senate has set itself the goal to make the city "climate-neutral" by 2045. For that to happen, the everyday lives of Berliners are going to have to change in a number of areas, including housing, mobility, and energy use. To get the ball rolling, the Senate has taken up an initiative from civil society and created the Citizens’ Assembly on Climate Change, which brings together randomly selected citizens to discuss climate mitigation measures in the city. The IASS will be providing scientific input for the work of the assembly.
What approach must sustainability research take in order to sucessfully advance the transformation toward a sustainable future? In a new publication, IASS Scientific Director Ortwin Renn outlines an approach that integrates different research concepts.
In contemporary societies, the relationship between democracy and sustainability has become ever more complex. A new handbook edited by IASS researchers provides comprehensive and critical coverage of this topic from both a theoretical level and through analysis of political discourses and practices.
The State of Berlin has begun the process of selecting members of the public to join a citizens' assembly to address the climate crisis. The Berlin Citizens’ Assembly on Climate will meet through to summer and develop recommendations for future climate policy at the state level. The IASS has been invited to advise the assembly throughout its deliberations.
The complex challenges of our time increasingly require scientists to step outside their conventional roles. A team of researchers from the Institute for Advanced Sustainability Studies (IASS) has examined innovative approaches to policy advice that support actors from politics and government in the development of collaborative processes to address socio-ecological issues. Their paper identifies the knowledge, skills and practices required to design collaborations.
Germany’s coal exit is associated with widespread and far-reaching structural change in the mining region of Lusatia. Decisions made today will shape the region for decades to come. Enhancing Lusatia’s appeal for young people is one important goal within this broad transformation process. A new IASS Policy Brief offers recommendations on how policymakers can involve young people in shaping the future of Lusatia.
How do trainees at the energy company LEAG view the structural transformation unfolding in Lusatia? What life paths and plans are they pursuing? Do they see their future in the region or further afield? What factors shape their thinking? And what kind of employment opportunities do they hope to see in the region? In a series of workshops, the trainees discussed these questions and developed a quantitative survey together with a team of researchers from the Institute for Advanced Sustainability Studies (IASS). The results of the survey have now been published in the study “Auszubildende im Lausitzer Strukturwandel” [Trainees in Lusatia’s Structural Transformation].
The communication culture at the UN Climate Change conferences relies heavily on conventional presentation and panel formats that are not conducive to mutual engagement and learning. In a new IASS Policy Brief, researchers make recommendations to reinvigorate the COPs through new formats of dialogue that can better foster collaboration and co-creation of climate change solutions.
What does it feel like when science and society begin a dialogue with one another? This is the question taken up by the new podcast "hör mal : Lausitz" (English: listen in : lusatia), which follows the trail of transdisciplinary cooperation in the transformations taking place in the Eastern German lignite-mining region.
The environment in the Arctic Circle and the Yamal region of Western Siberia is changing rapidly and the outlook for the region’s social, political, economic, and environmental future is clouded in uncertainty. A new IASS Discussion Paper presents the findings of the research project “Yamal 2040: Scenarios for the Russian Arctic”, in which researchers explored different future scenarios in cooperation with local stakeholders.
How can science help societies to abandon unsustainable practices and tackle systemic risks? Initiated by IASS Scientific Director Ortwin Renn and funded by the Volkswagen Foundation, the Global Sustainability Strategy Forum (GSSF) has developed a range of recommendations. In an article published in the journal “Global Sustainability” the GSSF core team outlines how science can use creative approaches to promote a just and sustainable future in different cultures and contexts.
The measures imposed to contain the coronavirus pandemic have hit children and young people especially hard, including in the town of Lauchhammer in Brandenburg, Germany. A new survey reveals how children there have fared since the outbreak of the pandemic and sheds light on their experiences and where and how they spent their time. Youth participation around local issues and projects is common in Lauchhammer and the survey also looks at how civic engagement could be jumpstarted again after the pandemic.
Ending our dependence on coal is essential for effective climate protection. Nevertheless, efforts to phase out coal trigger anxiety and resistance, particularly in mining regions. The governments of both Canada and Germany have involved various stakeholders to develop recommendations aimed at delivering just transitions and guiding structural change. In a new study, researchers at the Institute for Advanced Sustainability Studies (IASS) compare the stakeholder commissions convened by the two countries, drawing on expert interviews with their members, and examine how governments use commissions to legitimize their transition policies.
The citizens’ assembly “Germany’s Role in the World” convened in January and February of this year. The ten meetings held online saw 152 randomly selected citizens deliberate on German foreign policy and develop recommendations for the Bundestag and Federal Government. What worked well and what improvements need to be made for the future? Who participated in the assembly and how did the virtual format shape the process and its results? The Institute for Democracy and Participation Research (IDPF) at the University of Wuppertal and the Institute for Advanced Sustainability Studies (IASS) in Potsdam presented their analysis on 20 May.
How can school pupils get to grips with the transformation processes underway in the former coal-mining region of Lusatia and take an active role in shaping change? In a new study, IASS researchers show how teachers can engage with these issues in and outside their classrooms. The aim is not only to stimulate discussions, but also to empower young people to participate in the transformation process.
Societal transformations are often driven by the findings of science. The edited volume "Wissenschaft im Strukturwandel" shows how the interactions between science and society are changing research practice.
The development of the United Nations' Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) was supposed to be more inclusive, transparent and participatory than previous processes, and to this end, civil society organizations were explicitly involved in the process. In a new study, IASS researchers Henrike Knappe and Oscar Schmidt analyse the engagement of these organizations and the visions of a better future that guided their contributions.
Science and policy are not worlds apart. They interact in countless ways and would both benefit from closer cooperation. This has become clearer than ever during the Covid-19 pandemic. A team of researchers has now investigated deficiencies on the science side and shown how science-policy can be done better.
Climate change is is accelerating rapidly, but the results of the UN Climate Change Conferences regularly fall short of what is required. Does this have something to do with how these international conferences are organised? Could a new mindset help us to make more progress in the climate policy arena? Which inner qualities and mindsets are conducive to better forms of communication and collaboration?
Energy policy debates tend to revolve around the technical feasibility of shifting from fossil to renewable energies. But energy policy measures will only be successfully anchored in society, and lifestyle changes sustained, if they are supported by broad swathes of the population. Edited by IASS Director Ortwin Renn and researchers from the Kopernikus project E-Navi, “The Role of Public Participation in Energy Transitions” offers theoretical insights as well as practical examples of how participation processes can succeed.
Modern times are characterised by an increase in “wicked problems” that threaten established forms of democratic governability. What can labs ¬¬– collaborative spaces for testing innovative ideas – contribute to democratic innovation and sustainability in government? In the workshop “Toward Democratic Transformation: A Lab on Labs” at the IASS, international practitioners, leading researchers and government experts explored lab methods and principles to promote democracy and sustainability.
The IASS will host a “Dialogue and Reflection Space” at the forthcoming climate conference in Madrid. The space will provide an alternative setting for discussion, with daily events including guided reflection and a variety of interactive discussion formats. The space will be used to explore how a culture of cooperation can be leveraged to advance climate negotiations at the COP.
As the evidence for disruptive climate change has mounted over the last decades, organised attacks on climate science have grown, flanked by conspiracy theories, disinformation, and false claims. How is disinformation produced, to what end, and by whom? A workshop addressing these and related questions took place at the Institute for Advanced Sustainability Studies (IASS) in Potsdam and was attended by a host of international scholars.
The region of Lusatia in Eastern Germany is experiencing a structural transformation due to the dwindling significance of lignite. In a new research project, the IASS will investigate the changes taking place there. Karl Eugen Huthmacher from the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) and IASS Scientific Director Patrizia Nanz presented the project at the Lusatia Dialogue on 25 June.
The small town of Loos-en-Gohelle in the north of France is a fascinating example of how culture can be harnessed to foster socio-ecological change. We were so intrigued by this story of transformation that we decided to take a closer look. Our findings are published in a new RIFS Study.
Gilles de Margerie, who has led the French government’s policy analysis institute France Stratégie since 2018, has served as the French Co-Director of the Franco-German Forum for the Future since its founding in 2020. As de Margerie’s term of office as Commissioner General at France Stratégie draws to a close, his German counterpart Frank Baasner spoke with him about the Forum’s achievements.
The Transformations Conference, with the main theme: "Transformative Partnerships for a Better World" was actually held on-site in Sydney from 12-14 July 2023, but due to environmental considerations to reduce international travel by activists and researchers, it was extended to include a workshop in Portland, Maine, and a European Hub in Prague. The different strands were brought together via an online platform with live broadcasts and networking opportunities. Together, they were able to discuss and highlight the role of effective, inclusive, and transformative partnerships in practice.
Global challenges such as the Covid-19 pandemic and climate change have boosted interest in the findings of scientific research. Liliann Fischer, Head of Quality and Transfer at Wissenschaft im Dialog, and Philipp Prein, Head of Communications at Agora Verkehrswende, spoke with RIFS fellows and researchers in late April on building better dialogue between science, society and politics. Effective science communication should not be left to chance and requires input from communications experts, participants at the workshop agreed.
Political leaders and researchers from 15 European cities met in Barcelona at the end of March to share experiences transforming cities towards more urban resilience, more urban green, and more traffic-calmed public spaces. Their learnings can inspire the German mobility transition.
For just over 11 years, from October 2011 until the end of 2022, I worked as a scientific director at the Institute for Advanced Sustainability Studies (IASS) in Potsdam, helping to build it up from an experimental idea into an established institution. Now the IASS has become RIFS: the Research Institute for Sustainability – Helmholtz Center Potsdam. During this time, I’ve learned a lot, and have also puzzled over many challenging questions. One of these seems quite simple: “How can I live sustainably?”.
Transformations towards sustainability need change at all levels. It takes people who have the courage to embrace goals and are empowered to pursue them. We need pioneers and projects that show that sustainable change and lifestyles are possible. And we need targets and incentives to help ensure that transformations are broad-based and lasting. One aspect that is rarely considered is the role that regions play in sustainability transformations. This was the focus of the workshop "Transformations towards sustainability at the regional level" on 25.11.2022 at the IASS in Potsdam.
A visit to the ACHEMA 2022 trade fair for process industries has strengthened my conviction that dialogue between the business sector, science, politics and society will be crucial to achieving our climate goals.
The BMBF-funded accompanying research project "Social Transformation and Policy Advice in Lusatia" at the IASS is coming to an end after almost four years. In seven theses, we spotlight some of the findings from our research in this stormy field.
The debate on “Kiezblocks” (similar to the concept of low-traffic neighbourhoods) in Berlin has so far been driven by civil society. Now, the engagement of more than fifty of them has got the new red-red-green government coalition in Berlin to anchor Kiezblocks in their coalition agreement. Even researchers and the public administration are starting to take the idea seriously. But how does an idea go from a demand to a democratically taken decision, and then to implementation? Are these processes a symbol of participative urban planning, or is their being taken up in the coalition agreement instead a top-down government programme? Does it even matter? In this blog post, we hope to shed some light on these questions.
They advocate climate protection, criticise daily experiences of racism, and work toward fairer structures in world trade: The scope of German NGOs is highly diverse. But their personnel are not: They are mostly made up of white academics. It is time for this to change.
We are happy to announce the adoption of the institute’s inaugural focal topic. Throughout 2022 we will undertake collaborative research activities, hold public events, and publish research exploring themes related to matters of social justice.
It is not uncommon for the German name of the IASS to evoke confused looks on people’s faces: Institut für transformative Nachhaltigkeitsforschung – “I’m sorry, but what is ‘transformative’ supposed to mean, and what is ‘transformative research’?” A comprehensive yet straightforward answer is given in Jan Freihardt’s book “Draußen ist es anders” (“Out there, it’s different”), subtitled “Treading new paths towards a science of transition”.
What kind of help do remote rural villages in developing countries need to sustainably improve their infrastructure? What is the state of electricity supply and services, the availability and quality of cooking solutions, and the quality of water access in these settlements? Is there a nexus between access to basic services and nutrition in these areas? And, if a project is implemented, how can progress made at the household level be monitored, reported, and evaluated? These questions are at the heart of the project “Action-Based & Impact-Driven Research: Establishing Collaborative Frameworks for Researchers, Impact Makers, and Sustainable Entrepreneurs (IMPACT-R).”
Since 2020 artist and photographer Sven Gatter has been documenting traces of decay and renewal in Lower Lusatia that are simultaneously new beginnings and occasions for discourse. He is now bringing the results of this work together in the artist's book "ECHO TEKTUR. Ruins and Models". IASS researcher Johannes Staemmler has penned a contribution to this publication, which we publish here in an abridged version. Sven Gatter's works will be shown at Brandenburg’s State Museum of Modern Art from 10 September through to 21 November 2021.
The energy transition raises many questions about how to achieve and design net-zero emission energy systems. Energy models can support decision-makers by providing virtual laboratories in which different energy futures can be explored. But what are the requirements of different stakeholders on these energy models? Which challenges of the energy transition should they tackle? What questions should these models be able to answer? In order to identify needs and discuss the expectations placed on energy modelling in the framework of the project Sustainable Energy Transition Laboratory (SENTINEL), we conducted an online survey in summer and held an online expert workshop on the 1st of October.
What are some of the key frameworks that can be used for transdisciplinary research? What are their particular strengths? How can you choose one that’s most suitable for your transdisciplinary project?
For scholars it is always hard to reflect about their role in sustainability transformations and conflicts. This predicament is tackled in a new special issue of the journal Social Epistemology that Ulli Vilsmaier (Leuphana) and I have just published. Contributors from several disciplines discuss the dilemma of control in transdisciplinary research in this special issue and consider how scholars can deal with their own involvement in power-ridden constellations.
As part of a pilot project funded by the State of Berlin, the borough of Tempelhof-Schöneberg is currently experimenting with a new form of citizen participation: citizen councils. The IASS is supporting the process and helping to establish citizen councils as a permanent fixture in the locality.
"Future generations" have become an integral part of discussions about sustainability. This stems all the way back to the very definition of sustainable development in the Brundtland Report, but has gained new significance with the explosion of youth environmental movements we’ve seen in recent years. The general public seems to agree that future generations should be taken into account in political decision-making processes: More and more people are understanding that their children’s or their grandchildren’s lives are under threat because of our decisions and lack of action on environmental degradation, climate change, and other sustainability challenges.
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.
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.
Both sustainability ambitions and obstacles are growing exponentially. This begs for the kind of expectation management arguably performed by the IASS Potsdam and other organizations, for instance the Future Earth network.
Both sustainability ambitions and obstacles are growing exponentially. This begs for the kind of expectation management arguably performed by the IASS Potsdam and other organizations, for instance the Future Earth network. In addressing the advisory role of science in sustainability, Future Earth is building advisory capacities and raising expectations at the same time.
How can local governments and civil society partner to produce sustainable cities? This was one of the central questions cutting across four panels of the conference “Co-producing sustainable cities?”, which was organized by the Heinrich Böll Foundation in cooperation with the Technical University of Berlin. This conference served as a discussion forum in preparation for the adoption of the “New Urban Agenda”, which will be steering sustainable urban development for the next twenty years.