Climate Initiative

“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.”

Otmar D. Wiestler

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.

The nations agreed on a new climate accord at the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris. The goal is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to such an extent that global warming is limited to less than 2 degrees Celsius and even to 1.5 degrees if possible. 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 in order to achieve the 1.5-degree target. It shows that a 1.5-degree limit is feasible and that the risks to humans and nature can thus be significantly reduced.

On August 8th, 2019, the IPCC summarized the state of scientific knowledge on climate change and land systems in a special report (SRCCL). The experts plead for an urgent reduction in land exploitation, CO2 pollution, and food waste from agriculture.

Detailed information on the special report on climate change and land systems can be found on the IPCC website.

Click here to read the main points of the IPPC special report (German PDF file).

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)

The Geneva-based intergovernmental organization acts as a think tank, collecting scientific research on climate change issues and evaluating the significance of the results. In three working groups, scientists from different countries are addressing the risks of global warming, its impacts, and mitigation and adaptation strategies. The IPCC was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for its work in 2007.

The IPCC has produced five comprehensive Assessment Reports since it was founded in 1988. The latest Fifth Assessment Report was published in 2014. Seven scientists from the Helmholtz Association have been actively involved in writing the World Climate Report (Assessment Report). The sixth Assessment Report is due to be published in 2021/22.

Helmholtz experts involved in the Fifth Assessment Report:

Prof. Dr. Hans-Otto Pörtner (Alfred Wegener Institute, Helmholtz Centre for Polar and Marine Research), coordinating lead author for the chapter “Ocean Systems”.

Dr. Josef Settele (Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research), coordinating lead author for the chapter “Terrestrial and Inland Water Systems”.

Prof. Dr. Peter Lemke (Alfred Wegener Institute, Helmholtz Centre for Polar and Marine Research), reviewer (review editor) for the chapter on the “Ice-Covered Earth Surface – the So-Called Cryosphere”.

Dr. Veronika Eyring (German Aerospace Center), lead author for the chapter “Evaluation of Climate Models”.

Prof. Dr. Robert SausenSausen (German Aerospace Center), lead author for the chapter “Transport”.

Prof. Dr. Daniela Jacob (Helmholtz-Zentrum Geesthacht Centre for Materials and Coastal Research) main author for the working group “Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability”.

Prof. Dr. Hans von Storch(Helmholtz-Zentrum Geesthacht Centre for Materials and Coastal Research) main author for the working group “Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability”.

1.5 or 2 degrees?

What seems to be an academic dispute over decimal places has a huge impact on the environment. During the last ice age, when glaciers covered Central Europe, the average temperature was just four degrees below current levels. The two-degree mark as agreed upon at the summit in Paris is a political goal, however it is based on science. Climate researchers expect uncontrollable processes to occur above this limit, such as the melting of large ice sheets. We are also in danger of exceeding tipping points in the Earth system. A recent report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) shows the immense impact that the difference between 1.5 and 2 degrees has. It is already on average about 1 degree warmer on Earth compared to the preindustrial era. We have seen the 18 warmest years since records began in 1850 in the past 20 years alone. The number of droughts has risen and the availability of water has fallen in many places. However, the report also shows that it is still possible to limit the temperature rise to 1.5 degrees. We are running out of time, but we can still do something about it.


Contact: Helmholtz-Climate Initiative

    • Georg Teutsch
    • Gesamtkoordinator und Koordinator des Bereichs Adaptation
    • Daniela Jacob
    • Koordinatorin des Bereichs Netto-Null


    • Communications and External Affairs
    • Helmholtz Head Office
  • Photo of Roland Koch
    • Roland Koch
    • Press Spokesperson / Deputy Head Communication & External Affairs

Research Field Earth and Environment

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.

Find out more about the research programmes.