The European Union faces a growing number of complex, overlapping, transboundary crises, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, climate change, and Russia's invasion of Ukraine. It must better prepare for and respond to them, according to the scientific and ethical opinion delivered to the EU Commission at the European Parliament in Strasbourg on Nov. 22, 2022.
Systemic risks such as climate change, cybercrime, pandemics and social inequality are complex and interconnected. Accordingly, managing such risks requires effective organisational structures and processes. A new special issue of the journal Risk Analysis presents theoretically robust, evidence-based approaches for assessing and managing risk. The special issue is edited by IASS Director Ortwin Renn and Research Group Head Pia-Johanna Schweizer.
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.
The EU Horizon 2020 project “RECIPES” has published its final policy brief. A team from the Institute for Advanced Sustainability Studies (IASS) led by Pia-Johanna Schweizer was involved in the project and examined how participatory approaches can support the application of the precautionary principle. This issue is explored in depth in a chapter of the project’s report “Guidance on the application of the precautionary principle in the EU”.
Global heating, pandemics, cyberattacks, and large-scale forced migrations are among the increasingly interconnected and mutually reinforcing challenges faced by humanity over the last decades. A team of scientists has taken a look at the triggers and consequences of overlapping crises (polycrises), investigating what processes facilitate the interaction of crisis-triggering events as well as how this interaction can be prevented, or mitigated. The team has also developed an analytical framework that helps identify complex and interrelated crises.
The systemic and uncertain risks facing the world today can have cascading impacts across systems and sectors. To better understand and respond to these risks, an integrated perspective that incorporates the inherently complex nature of climate-related hazards, vulnerability, exposure and impacts is needed. This insight is at the centre of a new briefing note co-authored by IASS research group leader Pia-Johanna Schweizer and published by the International Science Council, the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction and the Risk Knowledge Action Network.
Agriculture is a large but controversial area of gene technology. What opportunities and risks for sustainability are associated with applications like resistance breeding and genetic engineering to improve nutritional quality? IASS Director Ortwin Renn examines these issues in the “Fifth Gene Technology Report” of the Berlin-Brandenburg Academy of Sciences and Humanities. He also recommends new forms of dialogue that can promote the responsible use of “green gene technology”.
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.
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.
The precautionary principle aims to anticipate and prevent hazards to the environment and human health from arising. It plays an important role in environmental and consumer protection and in the regulation of domestic markets, for example in the approval of products and processes. The challenge of reconciling this principle with efforts to foster innovation is the subject of ongoing debate in European politics and business communities. Researchers at the IASS have now presented their findings to the European Commission.
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.
Systemic risks like climate change, cyber security and pandemics are characterised by high complexity, uncertainty, ambiguity, and effects beyond the system in which they originate. That’s why novel research approaches and regulatory measures are indispensable for the evaluation and management of these risks. An interdisciplinary team around IASS Scientific Director Ortwin Renn recently published a paper on this subject, which appears as the first article in a special issue of the journal “Risk Analysis” edited by Renn and IASS Research Group Leader Pia-Johanna Schweizer.
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.
How can digitalisation serve sustainable development? At the Digital Summit hosted by the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy, Ortwin Renn presented a paper outlining concrete steps to improve the sustainability of the digital transition.
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.
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.
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.
Today, more than ever, politicians rely on sound scientific advice to make decisions. The political issues that most need scientific input are those where the science itself is often complex and uncertain. A SAPEA working group under the leadership of Ortwin Renn has developed proposals for good scientific advice.
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.
Populations are growing in disaster-prone areas around the world. The interaction of natural hazards with physical infrastructure in these regions can trigger devastating chain reactions, harming societies and their technical foundations. What can be done to address these challenges? A team at the Institute for Advanced Sustainability Studies (IASS) has developed a multi-level risk governance concept for natural disasters.
The transition to a net-zero-emission economy will create new rivalries, winners and losers. What scenarios are possible? As part of the Geopolitics and Energy Transformation 2030 (GET 2030) project at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP), a team of international experts has looked into the developments that are conceivable in the international energy transition and their geopolitical implications. A team led by Professor Andreas Goldthau has commented on the results of this investigation in the journal “Nature”. In an interview with the IASS, Goldthau outlined the different possible scenarios.
“Green growth” promises to foster sustainable development while promoting economic prosperity and advancing social justice. But how does this work in practice? The EU-funded research project “Green Growth and Win-Win Strategies for Sustainable Climate Action” (Green-Win) has studied a range of green growth strategies. Its research results include a new guide to green business models and policy recommendations to foster green growth and support small and medium-sized enterprises.
Cities are more vulnerable than rural areas to a host of risks. Natural hazards like earthquakes or social risks like vandalism and crime have a far greater impact there. Moreover, the infrastructure of our cities is increasingly networked, and while smart cities may offer more in terms of security and convenience, data protection often falls by the wayside. Since risks are frequently interconnected, we need to take an integrated approach to managing them. A concept for risk governance elaborated by IASS researchers in the International Journal of Disaster Risk Science reflects just such an approach.
How powerful is fear and what effect does it have on our society? These questions are at the heart of a recently published book by the environmental and technical sociologist Ortwin Renn. In “Zeit der Verunsicherung” (Anxious Times), the Scientific Director at the Institute for Advanced Sustainability Studies (IASS) probes the causes and effects, as well as the perception and handling of fears in our society.
The Covid-19 pandemic gives us a glimpse of what climate change has in store for us concerning our globalized economic system. More research is needed to help us better understand these complex interconnections and to translate such insights into instruments to support decision-making.
Hopes were high last Christmas that the pandemic would subside once a vaccine became available. Twelve months later, it’s obvious that this hope was premature. Roughly 20 percent of the German population have declined to be vaccinated. As the pandemic continues to take its toll, Germany is mired in a bitter debate about vaccines, vaccine mandates, and other containment measures.
Exactly why a not inconsiderable minority believes that vaccines pose a greater risk than the disease itself, and therefore refuse to be vaccinated, is puzzling to my colleagues in the field of risk governance and many others besides.
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.
The world watched with astonishment and horror at the violence unfolding in and around the Capitol as Congress convened to confirm the results of the United States' presidential election. How is it possible, one wonders, that a country whose traditions of democratic government span more than two hundred and thirty years could fall prey to such chaos?
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.
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 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").