Otmar D. Wiestler
“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.”
Since the beginning of the industrial era, the average global temperature has risen by more than 1 degree Celsius. How will the climate continue to develop? What are the ramifications? Can we significantly reduce greenhouse gases and thus halt global warming? Science is faced with these and many other questions. As part of the Helmholtz Climate Initiative, scientists will advance their climate research in completely new research projects and network with new contacts to perform comprehensive research on climate change. We have compiled information and answers on our topic page.
Forests are drying out in Brandenburg, glaciers are melting in Bavaria, hurricanes are raging in the Caribbean, and the Arctic is losing enormous amounts of ice. Extreme events such as these are constantly on the rise and have one clear cause: climate change. Humanity now faces a challenge that is as much self-made as it is inconceivably immense. It must curb the causes of climate change as quickly and sustainably as possible while at the same time finding ways to adapt to a massively changing world.
Experts from all over the world have been warning of the need for rapid action for years. Only last year a special report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was published and UN climate change conferences are held annually. At the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris, the international community agreed to limit global warming to +1.5 degrees Celsius if possible and to a maximum of +2 degrees Celsius compared to preindustrial levels. The numbers are clear: Climate change is real and is predominantly caused by us humans.
Helmholtz has been making major contributions in this area for years. The Helmholtz Centers for the research field Earth and Environment are well prepared in many areas of climate research. However, climate research is also being conducted in many other research fields. They can all make valuable contributions to this major topic. This is why Helmholtz plans to go a step further. The new Helmholtz Climate Initiative was launched on July 1, 2019 with an initial endowment of twelve million euros. (Press release 07/01/2019)
The Initiative will focus on the two key areas, namely “Reducing Emissions” and “Adapting to the Impacts of Climate Change”. Helmholtz scientists will advance their climate research in completely new research projects. They will place greater emphasis on networking in order to systemically research climate change. Only Helmholtz, Germany's largest research organization, can achieve such a feat. Our six research fields will carry out interdisciplinary work within the Climate Initiative to find systemic solutions to one of the greatest challenges of our time facing society. This is because climate change has many causes and affects us in many areas of life. Collaboration is needed at the interface between many research fields to investigate the effects of climate change and develop solution models. Changing climatic conditions affect areas such as our health, new energy sources are needed, our mobility and agriculture must change, and much more.
Moreover, Helmholtz is not only breaking new ground in terms of scientific methods, but also in terms of communication. The Climate Initiative will pay particular attention to supporting unique scientific expertise with a specific communication concept. In the process, Helmholtz resolves to enter into dialog with decision-makers in politics and business, the media, the interested public, and above all with young people. On the one hand, Helmholtz regards itself as an independent mediator of current, science-based knowledge. On the other hand, we seek active exchange with our dialog partners in order to jointly take a step forward in facing this major challenge.
The Helmholtz Climate Initiative is financed by the President's Initiative and Networking Fund. The twelve million euros initially provided will be available for two years. Experts from both the scientific evaluation and the communication concept see this as the “right project at the right time”. Thus, in May 2019, they strongly recommended making the Initiative permanent once the two-year start-up phase has ended if it receives a positive evaluation.
The Helmholtz Climate Initiative is headed by an eleven-member Steering Committee which includes scientific directors from all of the Helmholtz research fields. A 50-member competence platform with scientists and communicators from 14 of the 19 Helmholtz Centers met for two days in Berlin in March 2019 to determine which topics and projects to include in the Initiative. From the outset, there was a consensus that an area of research as relevant to society as climate change cannot be advanced and covered by one organization alone. Helmholtz therefore aims to collaborate closely with other national and international scientific partners right from the start. We will work with the best organizations and stakeholders to address climate change globally and across sectors.
Science is working intensively on climate change and its consequences. For one thing, it is a matter of gaining a better understanding of the causes. Secondly, it is perhaps even more important to develop forecasts and models that allow us to predict future climate development – and to derive recommendations on how global warming can be slowed down in the future or how its impacts can be countered. Climate change also plays a major role in Helmholtz research. You can find an overview under the “Research” heading.
At the end of the 2015 UN Climate Change Conference in Paris, 195 countries agreed on the goal of limiting global warming. It should remain “well below 2°C above preindustrial levels”. Otherwise, as scientists around the world warn, our global ecosystem could face serious consequences. How did the agreement in Paris unfold and what happens next with international climate diplomacy?
At the climate change summit in Paris, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was also asked to prepare a special report. This report describes the consequences of global warming of 1.5 degrees Celsius and the extent to which we must reduce our greenhouse gas emissions to still achieve the 1.5-degree target.
Contacts / fact sheets and links can be found in the press portal.
Our goal is to understand the System Earth to ensure that our home planet remains ecologically stable and the climate equilibrium is not knocked out of balance.