Helmholtz to invest 12 million euros in new climate initiative

With climate change, humanity is facing one of its greatest challenges ever. Helmholtz has been making major scientific contributions in this area for many years. Now it is further expanding its focus on this future field of research: By establishing the Helmholtz Climate Initiative, Helmholtz is facilitating a systematic and interdisciplinary approach for the first time. This means that more intensive research will be conducted into ways of adapting to a changed climate and strategies to reduce emissions.

“Increasing numbers of forest fires in Brandenburg, severe storms in Southern Germany, melting ice in the Arctic – we are seeing the catastrophic impacts of climate change on a global scale,” says Otmar D. Wiestler, President of the Helmholtz Association. “Scientists have been working on this for a long time. But now we are going a step further. In addition to our previous efforts, we have launched a Climate Initiative that cuts across the various research fields. Through this initiative, we will make new comprehensive contributions to this highly important and wide-ranging subject area.” The Helmholtz Climate Initiative encompasses all six research fields of Germany’s largest research organization. It is being launched on July 1, 2019 and will initially run for two years.

“At the 2015 UN Climate Change Conference in Paris, the international community agreed to limit the increase in global warming to plus 1.5 degrees if possible, and to a maximum of plus 2 degrees, compared to preindustrial levels. If we want to achieve this target, we must not waste any more time,” says Georg Teutsch, Scientific Director of the Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research (UFZ) in Leipzig, who heads the Climate Initiative. “Climate change and its consequences are tangible. They have numerous causes and impact many areas of our lives. In order to really understand these complex relationships and interactions, we have to conduct research into the issue in a holistic way, beyond subject boundaries.” In the German research system, Helmholtz is particularly capable of taking on this task.

The Climate Initiative will focus on the two key areas of “Reducing Emissions” and “Adapting to the Impacts of Climate Change”. In the first cluster, the plan is to develop scientific contributions to a road map that will show how Germany can reduce its carbon dioxide emissions to net zero by 2050. The second cluster will focus on researching possible ways of adapting to the impacts of climate change in diverse areas of life such as health, agriculture, energy supply, and transport. In both clusters, researchers will also seek dialogue with society and close collaboration with initiatives that already exist as well as other scientific organizations in the area of climate research, says Teutsch. Initial results in the two areas are expected to be available by next summer.

However, the Climate Initiative will not only take a new approach in terms of scientific methods, but also in terms of communication: “We will pay particular attention to supporting our unique scientific expertise with a specific communication concept,” says Otmar D. Wiestler. “In the area of climate research, Helmholtz can not only contribute its strengths as a source of expertise and information but also as a communicator of science-based knowledge.” This is of interest to many sectors of society, such as decision-makers in politics and business, the media, and the public in general.

Helmholtz is investing twelve million euros from the President’s Initiative and Networking Fund in the two-year pilot phase of the new Climate Initiative. If the evaluation of the initiative produces a positive result, it could lay the foundation for long-term involvement in this area by Helmholtz, says Wiestler. This would also be an important signal to attract young scientists to the subject of climate research.

Helmholtz contributes to solving major challenges facing society, science, and the economy through top-level scientific achievements in six Research Fields: Energy, Earth and Environment, Health, Key Technologies, Matter, and Aeronautics, Space, and Transport. With more than 40,000 employees at 19 Research Centers and an annual budget of around 4.7 billion euros, Helmholtz is the largest scientific organization in Germany. Its work is rooted in the tradition of the great natural scientist Hermann von Helmholtz (1821–1894).

July 01, 2019


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