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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

Co-creative Reflection and Dialogue Space at the Climate Conference

At the climate conference in Dubai, RIFS is offering a "Dialogue and Reflection Space" to facilitate an alternative form of encounter and discussion. There will be daily events with guided reflection and discussion in various interactive formats.

Podcast on Climate Security

What are the most important discourses and practices for climate security around the world? RIFS research group leader Cecilia Oliveira was interviewed on the Centre Marc Bloch podcast.

Marine Regions Forum puts participants at forefront of ocean governance processes

This disclosure was made by Anthony Akpan, President of the Pan African Vision for the Environment, who attended the conference: “Navigating Ocean Sustainability in the Western Indian Ocean and Beyond”. Read article here.


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No Significant Link Between Industry 4.0 and Energy Consumption Or Energy Intensity

To what extent does the digitalisation of industrial and manufacturing processes (Industry 4.0) improve energy efficiency and thus reduce energy intensity? A team from the Research Institute for Sustainability (RIFS) analysed developments across ten industrial manufacturing sectors in China between 2006 and 2019. Their findings show that contrary to the claims of many policymakers and industry associations, digitalisation may not automatically lead to anticipated energy savings in manufacturing and industry in China.

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Climate Finance

Green Climate Fund Fails to Strengthen Private Sector Engagement

The Green Climate Fund (GCF) is the world’s largest dedicated multilateral climate fund, and aims to support climate mitigation and adaptation efforts in developing countries. Mobilizing financial resources from the private sector is an important priority for the donor countries backing the GCF. However, so far the GCF has underperformed in this respect. According to a new study by Thomas Kalinowski (Ewha Womans University, Seoul, and Research Institute for Sustainability - Helmholtz Centre Potsdam) this is due to numerous shortcomings in the GCF’s strategy.

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Marine Regions Forum 2023

Enhancing Cooperation and Coordination to Advance Ocean Governance

Hosted in the Western Indian Ocean (WIO) region by the United Republic of Tanzania and the Republic of Seychelles, the Marine Regions Forum 2023 met under the theme, “Navigating ocean sustainability in the WIO and beyond.” This conference, designed as an interactive platform for active and open engagement, brought together experts from the WIO and other regions to share knowledge and exchange best practices on ways of enhancing cooperation and coordination to advance ocean governance in the WIO region and beyond.

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Klaus Töpfer: Building Bridges for Sustainable Development for All

Sustainable Development: A Challenge for All Humankind" - was the title of an event held on 7 November 2023 to celebrate the 85th birthday and achievements of Prof. Dr Klaus Töpfer. The event was organised by the Konrad Adenauer Foundation, the Research Institute for Sustainability - Helmholtz Centre Potsdam (RIFS - formerly IASS) and the foundation Stiftung Zukunftsfähigkeit, which is affiliated with the NGO Germanwatch. In this report, Klaus Milke, Chair of the Board of Stiftung Zukunftsfähigkeit, shares his impressions of the evening.

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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.

Focal Topic 2022/2023

Justice in Sustainability Dossier

The issue of justice is increasingly playing a greater role in the transformation towards sustainability. Calls to improve justice outcomes touch on a variety of issues, in particular the distribution of the costs and benefits of transformations as well as the burdens of climate change and environmental degradation. Other claims target procedural aspects: Who should have access to decision-making about transformation towards sustainability? A third set of justice claims focuses on recognition: Which groups are or should be recognized as rights-holders or as affected or especially vulnerable populations?

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.