Following a two-year delay due to the pandemic, the Institute for Advanced Sustainability Studies (IASS) celebrated the tenth anniversary of its foundation and its forthcoming integration into the Helmholtz Association with a festive ceremony in Potsdam under the motto “10+2”. The President of the German Environment Agency, Dirk Messner, gave the keynote speech and IASS Founding Director Klaus Töpfer attended as the guest of honour. The event concluded with a tribute to IASS Scientific Director Ortwin Renn, who will retire at the end of the year.
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.
The Franco-German Forum for the Future has published seven recommendations to strengthen environmental transformations and promote economic and social resilience in towns and communities. The recommendations are addressed to the governments of France and Germany and follow eighteen months of dialogue with stakeholders from local politics, public agencies, and civil society in both countries.
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 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].
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 coronavirus pandemic has created enormous social, economic and political challenges worldwide. The demand for immediate action often pushed climate policy ambitions into the background. Scientists from the University of Waterloo (Canada), together with Ortwin Renn from the IASS and Hans Joachim Schellnhuber of PIK have developed a new operational approach that provides guidance to decision-makers seeking to reconcile the demands of competing goals, including effective climate protection.
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.
Climate change is gaining prominence as a political and public priority. But many ambitious climate action plans foresee the use of climate engineering technologies whose risks are insufficiently understood. In a new publication, IASS researchers describe how evolving modelling practices are trending towards “best-case” projections.
Transformative politics is not the result of continual progress, nor is it possible to the same extent at all times and in all places. It depends rather on favourable moments, which are described in political theory as kairos after the Greek god of opportunity. In his book Die Gelegenheit ergreifen – Eine politische Philosophie des Kairós (Seizing the Opportunity – A Political Philosophy of Kairos), IASS researcher Alexander Neupert-Doppler analyses the use of this term in modern theories of societal change.
Ministerial representatives and experts from around the world met in Berlin over two days at the Climate Opportunity 2019 Conference to learn from each other about the co-benefits of transitions towards more sustainable energy systems. The conference also provided a space for the development of strategies to leverage the co-benefits of individual climate protection measures in the course of political decision-making processes.
The future has always been an important frame of reference for sustainable development. Indeed, the concept of sustainability emerged from the realisation that we need to use our planet’s resources sparingly in the interests of future generations. Many different people are working on ideas and solutions for the future and taking steps towards their implementation. But who are they? What steps are they taking? And what kind of futures do they want to bring about? These are the questions addressed by a special feature of the journal Sustainability Science.
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.
Digitalisation and globalisation are fundamentally changing the working world. International experts discussed the consequences at the “Thinking Space on the Future of Gainful Employment” held at the IASS on 30 November and 1 December.
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?”.
“We have to imagine a society before we build it”, Justine Norton Kertson says, “And when it comes to adapting and solving the climate crisis, defeating fossil fuel empires, and creating a relationship of harmony rather than conflict between humanity, technology and nature; then we have to move from the imaginary to the real, from theoretical to practical”. There is no doubt that we have a long road ahead to build a carbon-neutral environment and create sustainable ways of living in the near future. But more importantly, at least from my point of view, we need to decide on what we would like to change exactly and what kind of a world we want to establish in the first place. Otherwise, we will not be able to take life-changing steps that will have long-lasting results.
Today marks International Women’s Day (IWD), a global celebration of the cultural, political, and socio-economic achievements of women throughout history. IWD is an opportunity to raise awareness of women’s rights and of the importance of empowering women and working towards gender equality.
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.
A symphony composed by the melting arctic deeply touches an audience of policymakers at COP25. A photograph inspires a political scientist to expand her research on the Amazon with a performance set in a Berlin city forest. And a museum about possible futures doesn’t just have an education team running workshops for its exhibitions but dedicates a whole floor to a lab where scientists and artists can “go nuts” in collaborative projects.
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.
On 29 April 2021, Germany’s Federal Constitutional Court handed down a truly historic judgement when a complaint filed by nine young people against the Federal Climate Change Act (2019) (Bundes-Klimaschutzgesetz – KSG) met with partial success, with the court ruling that some of the provisions of the Act are incompatible with the fundamental rights of youth especially.
The behavioural and production patterns of humankind have put the world on a collision course with our planetary boundaries. As global warming leads us towards large-scale disaster, ecosystems are becoming more fragile by the day and social inequality is growing fast. We must urgently move towards a more sustainable and equitable collective existence. This text is about the consequences of current unsustainability, rather than its causes.
"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.
Election Sunday left me at once elated, uncertain, and angry. Voter turnout has improved, the Greens were the clear winners in many places, and the climate crisis is taking centre-stage at last. At first glance the AfD appears to have lost some of its momentum. But this is only true if one ignores their successes in the former East German states – sadly, that is impossible to do.
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.
Today, emerging visions of a better society are forged in practical experience and experimentation. The contexts, approaches, and methods employed by activists differ radically from one experiment to the next. As researchers with the IASS project Politicizing the Future, we were keen to facilitate exchange on the subject of societal visions among activists from very different contexts and to see what could be learnt from their experiences for the development of more sustainable societies.
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 “Green Me Global Festival for Sustainability” is an annual event hosted at different locations around the world. Recent iterations of the festival have explored the elements earth, water and air across film screenings, discussions, and other initiatives. Researchers from the IASS have contributed to a number of these events over the years. The eleventh GreenMe Festival will take place in Berlin later this year under the motto “Action, Passion, Fire”. This prompted me to explore the themes of fire and sustainability in a dinner speech at a recent function to which sponsors and supporters of the festival were invited in early May. The following essay draws upon my comments there.
The knowledge about global warming and its consequences for people and the environment is now part and parcel of mainstream society, and most people are well aware of the goal of the Paris Climate Agreement to limit warming to well below 2 degrees above preindustrial levels. Many proposals for reducing human emissions of CO2 hinge...