When Ottmar Edenhofer looks out of his office window, he sees a more than 100-year-old former gasometer in Schöneberg – a listed landmark in this district of Berlin that once symbolized Germany’s industrialization. “Back then, people felt as if they were embarking on a bright new future; we need to feel the same again today as we move towards a future that is characterized by the idea of sustainability”, says Edenhofer, a Bavarian who is known better than almost any other expert in Germany for his dedication to questions related to climate change. Among other things, Edenhofer is a professor of the economics of climate change at Technische Universität (TU) Berlin. He is also a co-chair of one working group of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change which received the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007, the chief economist and deputy director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, and the director of the MCC, based here at the former gasworks next to the gasometer. MCC stands for “Mercator Research Institute on Global Commons and Climate Change” and refers to a joint initiative of Stiftung Mercator and the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research.
Drawing up “knowledge maps” to show consistent and viable ways of achieving sustainable economic growth and climate mitigation
The challenges posed by climate change present politicians and society as a whole with highly complex tasks. Simply imagining that politicians can set targets and that scientists can then explore the instruments that can be used to achieve these targets most efficiently is not tenable. After all, some of these instruments – such as the increased use of biomass for energy – may have consequences that society is unwilling to bear, such as greater deforestation, higher food prices or the loss of biodiversity. This is where the Mercator Research Institute on Global Commons and Climate Change (MCC) comes in. Its basic idea is that social goals may need to be reviewed and reassessed as we learn more about the consequences of measures aimed at countering climate change and promoting a sustainable economy. New instruments may need to be developed in order to avoid or at least to minimize conflicts between targets.
What are the objectives?
The objective of the MCC is to draw up “knowledge maps” as part of an interactive process of social learning. The maps highlight consistent and viable options for sustainable economic growth and climate mitigation and can be used as the basis for political decision-making. Explicit consideration is given to the risks, uncertainties and value assumptions of the various paths.
How will this be achieved?
Climate change and its consequences are not viewed in isolation by the MCC’s experts – which include economists, natural and social scientists – but always in the context of possible interrelations. To this end, five working groups have been created: from “Economic Growth” and “Land Use, Infrastructure and Transport”, “Resources and International Trade” and “Governance” to “Assessments and Scientific Policy Advice”). The core question to be explored in all their work is as follows: “How can the needs of humankind be reconciled with climate mitigation and the preservation of natural resources and habitats?” The MCC releases publications and its scientists give lectures – as well as answering the questions of the media.
How is the project organized?
A non-profit organization based in Berlin, the MCC was jointly established by Stiftung Mercator and the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK). MCC Director Ottmar Edenhofer is supported by Secretary General Marek Wallenfels, who is responsible for administration, communication, strategy and cooperation.
As every Thursday, the senior members of the MCC have come together around the conference table in Edenhofer’s office to discuss the tasks that lie ahead. The first item on the agenda for today is that a leading politician has requested a consultation in order to learn about the results of the latest research into the consequences of climate change. Just another ordinary day at the MCC, in other words.
Two hours later, in the office of MCC Secretary General Brigitte Knopf. The MCC is a research institution dedicated to global commons and climate change – can it be that it is pursuing no lesser goal than to save our planet from environmental harm such as global warming? “We want to provide decision-makers with a solid information basis so that they can preserve the fundamental conditions for human life and enable economic development”, she says. “As scientists, we naturally want at the same time to play our part in the international research landscape – placing a corresponding emphasis on the academic world.”
“There is no shortage of expert reports on climate change. What is lacking are analyses that gather together experiences of climate policy instruments such as emissions trading in such a way as to support decision-makers and the public in introducing and reforming these instruments”, says Christian Flachsland. He is one of the two heads of the Assessments and Scientific Policy Advice working group. “At the MCC, we draw up maps showing alternative ways of handling global commons such as the atmosphere or social infrastructures such as cities.” Their work is based on a special interpretation of scientific policy advice: “We do not present ready-made action recommendations but view ourselves as cartographers. It is up to politicians themselves to set the course they wish to take.”
The MCC enjoys a high degree of credibility, partly because of the excellent academic reputation of its 30 researchers and total staff of 40, and partly because of the independent research work it is able to carry out thanks to the funding it receives from Stiftung Mercator. The foundation is making available around 17 million euros to the MCC over a period of eight years – the highest individual funding grant ever provided by a private foundation in Germany in the field of climate change.
It appears as if climate change is not currently the main focus in the public debate in Germany. Knopf nods. “The issue is subject to the usual media fluctuations”, the MCC expert explains, though she goes on to say that this is not because the problem has become any the less urgent. On the contrary, the situation is more dramatic than is generally thought. Nonetheless, climate change and its consequences are not viewed in isolation by the MCC’s experts – which include economists, natural and social scientists – but always in the context of possible interrelations. Research into such correlations is conducted by five working groups (from “Economic Growth” and “Land Use, Infrastructure and Transport”, “Resources and International Trade” and “Governance” to “Assessments and Scientific Policy Advice”). The core question to be explored in all their work is as follows: “How can the needs of humankind be reconciled with climate mitigation and the preservation of natural resources and habitats?” After all, according to the MCC’s philosophy it helps no-one to discuss measures that will never have any hope of being implemented because their side effects would be intolerable for nations and their populations. The premise applied in the organization’s work is therefore that economic growth is needed, but that such growth must be sustainable. Highlighting viable paths and offering solutions for improvement despite the very real threat posed by climate change – that is the objective of the MCC.
What concrete form might such possible solutions take? Felix Creutzig, who heads the Land Use, Infrastructure and Transport working group, names one example: the mayors of big cities have to battle on a daily basis with traffic problems such as congestion and air pollution, so climate change is something of a side issue for them. On the other hand, if they are presented with smart transport concepts that reduce congestion and urban pollution, while at the same time reducing harmful carbon emissions, they will be all ears. Anyone then able to demonstrate that building an underground railway may be very expensive but can be financed out of the value it subsequently adds to inner-city real estate will certainly be able to convince a city mayor. “Co-benefit” is the magic word, says Creutzig, and a way in which to make climate policy work in practice. Or to put it somewhat less scientifically – killing several birds with one stone.
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