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What we work on

Transformative Sustainability Research

RIFS conducts research with the goal of understanding, advancing, and guiding processes of societal change towards sustainable development. Our researchers collaborate with diverse actors from science, policymaking and public administration as well as business and civil society to develop a common understanding of sustainability challenges and generate potential solutions. The research approach is transformative, transdisciplinary, and co-creative.

About us

In brief

The EU CBAM and the U.S. Inflation Reduction Act

In a webinar organised by the American-German Institute, RIFS researcher Charlotte Unger discussed avenues for bridging differing U.S. and EU climate policy starting points in a way that advances the decarbonization goals of the UNFCCC Paris Agreement.

RIFS Fellow at Science Slam

"If 'podcast' is the answer, what was the question again?" That's what Sébastien Vannier, #FactoryWisskom Fellow at RIFS, will discuss at the 3rd Brandenburg Science Slam on May 31, 2024, 7 p.m., at the Uckermärkische Bühnen Schwedt/Oder.

Polycrisis in the Anthropocene

On May 27-28, 2024, a workshop at the RIFS will co-host scientists from around the world to work together to better understand the growing interconnections between the world’s problems


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Research stay

RIFS Invites Applications for 2025 Fellowship Programme

Each year around 30 fellows come to the Research Institute for Sustainability – Helmholtz Centre Potsdam to pursue research projects in the field of sustainability. Applications for the 2025 cohort of RIFS Fellows are now open through to 14 July 2024. With the Fellowship, the Institute offers the opportunity to explore innovative ideas in a transdisciplinary research environment.

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Ensuring the Vulnerable Are Heard in International Climate Decision-Making

Nicola Sharman joined RIFS as a Fellow in April 2024. She comes from the University of Eastern Finland, where she is part of the 2035Legitimacy project. Her work focuses on the democratic legitimacy of international climate change law and the exercise of procedural rights within the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change from the point of view of those most affected by climate change.

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Towards Arctic Research Upholding Indigenous Peoples’ Rights

Contemporary Arctic research frequently perpetuates colonial injustices against local Indigenous communities. A team of researchers, including scientists from the Research Institute for Sustainability – Helmholtz Centre Potsdam, have published a policy brief with recommendations aimed at upholding the rights of Indigenous Peoples and fostering the parity and complementarity of Traditional Knowledge, Indigenous Knowledge, and academic scientific knowledge. The policy brief is a contribution to the International Arctic Science Committee’s multi-year planning process for the Fourth International Conference on Arctic Research Planning.

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Success of German Hydrogen Strategy Depends on Production Capacities in Partner Countries

Germany aims to become a global leader in hydrogen technologies. In contrast to other countries, its hydrogen strategy places a strong focus on promoting “green hydrogen” based on renewable energies, supported by cooperation with partners in distant regions. While this approach is likely to constrain progress at first, it may be the only way for Germany to achieve its climate targets in the longer run, RIFS researchers argue in a study published in Energy Strategy Reviews. At the same time, this means that the success of Germany’s hydrogen strategy depends on the development of production capacities in partner countries.

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Deliberative Mini-Publics Dossier

Deliberative mini-publics are participatory processes in which a randomly selected and heterogenous group of citizens cooperate for a period to develop recommendations, ideas or solutions on a specific issue. RIFS accompanies these processes in various roles.

Protecting the Marine Environment: An International Treaty on Plastic Pollution Dossier

Marine plastic pollution poses a threat to the marine environment and negatively affects human health. An international treaty is currently being negotiated under the auspices of the United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA) to provide a comprehensive global legal framework addressing plastic pollution, including in the marine environment. Scientists within the Ocean Governance research group at RIFS are closely following the negotiation processes and exploring the role of the future treaty in ocean governance.

Sustainability in Brandenburg Dossier

Brandenburg is facing major sustainability challenges, such as agrarian transformation, energy transformation, mobility transformation, transformation of Lusatia, adaptation to climate change, promotion of rural areas, revitalisation of the economy after the Corona pandemic, and water supply and water protection. As a Potsdam institute, RIFS is actively involved in sustainability work in Brandenburg.

Systemic Risks Dossier

Modern societies are vulnerable to “systemic risks” such as pandemics, financial crises, or climate change. Due to their complex and interconnected nature, systemic risks pose a particular challenge to conventional approaches to risk analysis and management. The research group on systemic risks at RIFS analyses risks and opportunities around transformation processes for sustainable development and, in a second step, develops policy recommendations for the governance of systemic risks.