German Advisory Council on Global Change
The Scientific Advisory Council on Global Change (German: Wissenschaftlicher Beirat der Bundesregierung Globale Umweltveränderungen, WBGU) is an independent, scientific advisory body to the German Federal Government, established in 1992 in the run-up to the Rio Earth Summit (UNCED). The Council's principal tasks are to:
- analyse global environment and development problems and report on these,
- review and evaluate national and international research in the field of global change,
- provide early warning of new issue areas,
- identify gaps in research and to initiate new research,
- monitor and assess national and international policies for the achievement of sustainable development,
- elaborate recommendations for action and research and
- raise public awareness and heighten the media profile of global change issues.
The WBGU also comments on current events, such as the UN Climate Change Conferences (e.g., in Paris 2015), the UN Conference on Sustainable Development 2012 (Rio+20), the adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals (2015), the United Nations Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development (Habitat III) (2016) or Germany´s G20 presidency in 2017.
- 1 Reports
- 1.1 Flagship Reports
- 1.1.1 Humanity on the move: The transformative power of cities (2016)
- 1.1.2 World in Transition – Governing the Marine Heritage (2013)
- 1.1.3 World in Transition – A Social Contract for Sustainability (2011)
- 1.1.4 World in Transition – Future Bioenergy and Sustainable Land Use (2008)
- 1.1.5 World in Transition – Climate Change as a Security Risk (2007)
- 1.1.6 World in Transition – Fighting Poverty through Environmental Policy (2004)
- 1.1.7 World in Transition – Towards Sustainable Energy Systems (2003)
- 1.1.8 World in Transition – New Structures for Global Environmental Policy (2000)
- 1.1.9 World in Transition – Conservation and Sustainable Use of the Biosphere (1999)
- 1.1.10 World in Transition – Strategies for Managing Global Environmental Risks (1998)
- 1.1.11 World in Transition – Ways Towards Sustainable Management of Freshwater Resources (1997)
- 1.1.12 World in Transition – The Research Challenge (1996)
- 1.1.13 World in Transition – Ways Towards Global Environmental Solutions (1995)
- 1.1.14 World in Transition – The Threat to Soils (1994)
- 1.1.15 World in Transition – Basic Structure of Global People-Environment Interactions (1993)
- 1.2 Special Reports
- 1.2.1 Development and justice through transformation: The Four Big ‘I’s (2016)
- 1.2.2 Climate Protection as a World Citizen Movement (2014)
- 1.2.3 Solving the climate dilemma: The budget approach (2009)
- 1.2.4 The Future Oceans: Warming Up, Rising High, Turning Sour (2006)
- 1.2.5 Climate Protection Strategies for the 21st Century. Kyoto and Beyond (2003)
- 1.2.6 Charging the Use of Global Commons (2002)
- 1.2.7 Environment and Ethics (1999)
- 1.2.8 The Accounting of Biological Sinks and Sources Under the Kyoto Protocol: A Step Forwards or Backwards for Global Environmental Protection? (1998)
- 1.2.9 Targets for Climate Protection 1997
- 1.2.10 Scenario for the derivation of global CO2-reduction targets and implementation strategies (1995)
- 1.3 Policy Papers
- 1.3.1 Human progress within planetary guard rails. A contribution to the SDG debate (2014)
- 1.3.2 Financing the Global Energy-System Transformation (2012)
- 1.3.3 Climate Policy Post-Copenhagen: A Three-Level Strategy for Success (2010)
- 1.3.4 New impetus for climate policy: Making the most of Germany's dual presidency (2007)
- 1.3.5 Development needs Environmental Protection: Recommendations for the Millennium + 5 Summit (2005)
- 1.3.6 Renewable energies for sustainable development: Impulses for renewables 2004
- 1.3.7 Charging the Use of Global Commons (2002)
- 1.3.8 The Johannesburg Opportunity: Key Elements of a Negotiation Strategy (2001)
- 1.1 Flagship Reports
- 2 Quotes about WBGU reports
- 3 Public Relations and Events (Selection)
- 4 WBGU Members
- 5 Latest publications
- 6 External links
The momentum of urbanization and its impacts are so massive that we must face up to this trend. In view of the existing cognitive, technical, economic and institutional path dependencies, a policy of business as usual – i.e. an unstructured, quasi-automatic urbanization – would lead to a non-sustainable ‘world cities society’. Only if cities and urban societies are sufficiently empowered can they make use of the opportunities for sustainability and successfully follow the urban transformation pathways. The success or failure of the Great Transformation will be decided in the cities. The WBGU discusses the relevant conditions for the success of this transformation in this report.
Despite numerous international treaties and voluntary commitments, the seas are still being massively overfished, polluted and increasingly exploited as the Earth's last resort. In view of the oceans’ poor condition, the WBGU developed a long-term vision of the conservation and sustainable use of the blue continent: All marine zones with the exception of territorial waters should be declared as common heritage of mankind. In order to move closer to this ultimate goal for ocean governance, the WBGU also gives recommendations for action that link up with ongoing political processes, especially for two focal themes: food (sustainable fisheries and aquaculture) and energy from the sea. The report shows that sustainable stewardship of the oceans is urgently necessary, that the seas can be incorporated into a transformation towards a low-carbon, sustainable society, and that such a transformation can achieve substantial benefits worldwide both for a sustainable energy supply and for food security.
In this report, the WBGU explains the reasons for the desperate need for a post-fossil economic strategy, yet it also concludes that the transition to sustainability is achievable, and presents ten concrete packages of measures to accelerate the imperative restructuring. If the transformation really is to succeed, we have to enter into a social contract for innovation, in the form of a new kind of discourse between governments and citizens, both within and beyond the boundaries of the nation state.
In view of the major opportunities and risks associated with it, and the complexity of the subject, bioenergy policy has in a short time become a challenging political task for regulators and planners – a task which can only be accomplished through worldwide cooperation and the creation of an international framework. WBGU’s central message is that use should be made of the sustainable potential of bioenergy which can be tapped all over the world, provided that risks to sustainability are excluded. In particular, the use of bioenergy must not endanger food security or the goals of nature conservation and climate change mitigation.
Without resolute counteraction, climate change will overstretch many societies’ adaptive capacities within the coming decades. This could result in destabilization and violence, jeopardizing national and international security to a new degree. However, climate change could also unite the international community, provided that it recognizes climate change as a threat to humankind and soon sets the course for the avoidance of dangerous anthropogenic climate change by adopting a dynamic and globally coordinated climate policy. If it fails to do so, climate change will draw ever-deeper lines of division and conflict in international relations, triggering numerous conflicts between and within countries over the distribution of resources, especially water and land, over the management of migration, or over compensation payments between the countries mainly responsible for climate change and those countries most affected by its destructive effects. That is the backdrop against which WBGU, in this flagship report, summarizes the state-of-the-art of science on the subject of “Climate Change as a Security Risk”. It is based on the findings of research into environmental conflicts, the causes of war, and of climate impact research. It appraises past experience but also ventures to cast a glance far into the future in order to assess the likely impacts of climate change on societies, nation-states, regions and the international system.
At the start of the 21st century, fighting poverty and protecting the environment are two of the most urgent challenges facing the international community. Narrowing the massive disparities in the satisfaction of basic needs and distribution of prosperity must be a primary objective. Extreme poverty, such as that prevailing above all in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, is the most obvious manifestation of the untenable imbalance in the world's social system. The recommendations for action set out in this report are based on an analysis of the systemic links between poverty (income poverty, disease, malnutrition, and lack of education, social stability and social capital) and environmental changes (climate change, lack of water resources, water pollution, soil degradation, loss of biological diversity and resources, and air pollution). The manifestations of and interactions between poverty and environmental problems are investigated in their various forms. This type of integrated analysis is nothing new; what is new, however, is the consistent linking of a holistic approach with the following key questions: which institutional arrangements offer ways of coping with these problems, and where must gaps be closed? To this end, WBGU has evaluated major international political processes and developed recommendations on policy coherence. It also presents various recommendations on further research to identify the strategic gaps in theoretical and practical knowledge.
The report underscores the urgent need to transform global energy systems so that the world’s population has access to energy based on renewable sources. This is necessary in order to protect the global climate and to liberate 2.4 billion people in developing countries from energy poverty. Such an approach would also yield a peace dividend by reducing dependence upon regionally concentrated oil reserves. The scientists stress that such a reconfiguration of energy systems is feasible and fundable if rapid and resolute action is taken in the coming two decades. To this end, they propose a roadmap with specific milestones.
Today, more than 900 bi- and multilateral environmental treaties are in force. Nonetheless, the most pressing problems of global change remain unresolved, some are even intensifying. The international institutional and organisational architecture has proven too weak to provide effective and efficient responses to these challenges. In this situation, the WBGU has developed a vision for reforming the United Nations in the environmental arena. It terms this the ‘Earth Alliance’, comprising three interlocking realms. First, to provide authority in the assessment of environmental problems, the WBGU proposes establishing an independent body whose task is to provide timely warning of particularly risk-laden developments in the sphere of global change – Earth Assessment. Second, the report gives recommendations for redesigning the organisational core of global environmental policy – Earth Organisation. This revolves around the step-wise establishment of an International Environmental Organisation, building on the existing United Nations Environment Programme as its initial nucleus. Third, the WBGU highlights new avenues for financing global environmental policy – Earth Funding.
Biodiversity - the planet's natural capital - is undergoing a dramatic collapse: its 'Sixth Extinction'. The losses, which are due to human activities and overexploitation of the biosphere, are irreversible. They are undermining the basis of future wellbeing and prosperity - including genetic resources and food production, climate stability, and coastal and soil protection. This volume presents an authoritative and alarming analysis of the state of the biosphere. The WBGU shows that the time remaining for remedial action is disappearing fast and sets out a range of initiatives to be undertaken at different levels. The main recommendations are: - protecting 10-20 per cent of the global land area - an 'Intergovernmental Panel on Biodiversity' to provide scientific advice - conservation of the diversity of cultivated as well as wild plant species - extending bioregional management and nature sponsorship - greater multilateral co-operation and implementation of the Convention on Biological Diversity.
Global risk potentials and their interplay with economic, social and ecological processes of change have emerged as a challenge to the international community. Never before has human intervention in nature assumed global dimensions. This has been driven on the one hand by a growing global population, particularly in developing countries, and on the other hand by rising human demands in conjunction with specific patterns of production and consumption, above all in industrialised countries. By presenting this report, the WBGU hopes to contribute constructively to an effective, efficient and objective management of the risks of global change. The approach taken by the WBGU is first to classify globally relevant risks and then to assign to these classes of risk both established and innovative risk assessment strategies and risk management tools. On this basis, management priorities can be set. However, the WBGU notes that it is impossible to safeguard against all global risks, particularly as exploiting opportunities will always entail taking risks.
The global water crisis is expected to become more severe in the near future. The WBGU presents an analysis of specific regions that are presently most affected by water shortages, and regions that will be particularly threatened by future water crises. In line with its past reports on global change, the WBGU examines three major "syndromes of global change" that are strongly linked to the worldwide water crisis. Based on this analysis, explicit recommendations for future research and for political action are presented.
Development and environment problems have reached such alarming dimensions that the very survival of humanity is now subject to critical and unprecedented threats. So far, the scientific community has failed to deliver strategic responses adequate to this situation. Analyses produced by the separate disciplines are similarly inadequate due to the complexity of the problems involved and the intricate interlinkages between them. In this report, the WBGU criticizes Germany's global change research community for its lack of international orientation, its bias towards individual disciplines and for its weaknesses in translating scientific results into a form readily accessible to policymakers. The WBGU identifies alternatives for restructuring the research landscape, focusing primarily on a new "Syndrome Approach" for global change research. By applying this tool, scientists can systematically describe and analyze the "diseases" afflicting the Earth System, and thus elaborate response options. The 16 most important syndromes, or "clinical profiles" of Planet Earth were identified.
In many areas of global change solutions are not at sight. However, dedicated and immediate action could, in principle, avert irreversible or disastrous damage to the global environment. Whether these steps will actually be taken will have to be seen, since substantial efforts and significant reorientations at the local, national and global level are necessary.
Two aspects have to be considered: on the one hand, at the societal level, the prerequisites for solving global environmental problems have to be improved. These measures present a challenge to nations and societies as a whole, where nongovernmental organisations could also play an important role. On the other hand, at the governmental level, international agreements must be formulated or intensified and enforced by suitable measures.
Soils form an essential basis for humanity, but have received too little attention to date. In differing respects, human activities in many parts of the world lead to various levels of soil degradation, from declining fertility to irreversible destruction. Many local processes cumulate to form a global environmental trend that must be counteracted by political action as a matter of urgency. The fact that the slow destruction of soils is a process barely perceptible to human senses has meant in turn that this topic is dealt with in the environmental debate as a somewhat marginal issue. Therefore, the threat to soils must be accorded much greater significance on the environmental agenda - improved legal frameworks must be created, both nationally and internationally, for soils as an environmental asset. This eport is divided into two sections. The first section (standard section) presents and comments on new developments in various fields of Global Change. The second section of the report (focus section) deals with the global threat to soils. The WBGU emphasises that, in view of the seriousness of the soil problems outlined in this report, a new efficient institutional framework should now be established. For this reason the German Federal Government should decide in principle whether a differentiated "Soil Declaration" suffices or whether a global "Soil Convention" has to be striven for. This report provides the relevant arguments for both instruments. Global soil protection must obtain a similar attention on the international agenda as has been achieved for climate policy.
In this report, the WBGU endeavours to provide a holistic analysis of the Earth System, whereby the central focus is directed at the principal interactions between nature and society. The aim here is to demonstrate the complexity of environmental problems, on the one hand, and to create, on the other, the analytical basis for assessing the impact of current trends on the system as a whole. The most serious global problems and major global trends in the estimation of the WBGU are:
- Growth of the world's population
- Long-term changes in the composition of the atmosphere
- Loss of biodiversity
- Degradation and loss of soils
Concluding its report, the WBGU lays particular emphasis on three general recommendations: - German development aid should be increased to 1% of the GNP, whereby the term 'developing countries' should be redefined to include the states of Eastern Europe. - With respect to the instruments discussed in Rio de Janeiro, the WBGU recommends that negotiations concerning a certificate scheme for reducing CO2 emissions should be started, with the aim of achieving its international implementation. Parallel to the reduction of CO2 emissions that would then occur, efforts should be made to increase the financial transfers for the protection of the tropical forests. - Programmes should be developed aiming at sensitising citizens to global environmental problems and promoting environmentally friendly behaviour.
2015 saw a historic double success for sustainability and climate policy. The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, with its Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and the Paris Agreement on climate protection establish a system of ambitious policy goals for the world. The group of twenty major industrialized and emerging economies (G20) now needs to resolutely advance implementation of both agreements, seizing the opportunity of this ‘Great Transformation’ to sustainability as a unique modernization project that could offer substantial economic development opportunities. Complete decarbonization of the world economy, which is necessary to avoid the gravest climate risks, can only be achieved by profoundly transforming energy systems and other high-emissions infrastructures. This transformation could inspire Innovation and channel Investment into sustainability and climate protection, and into the kinds of sustainable Infrastructures that need to be established and expanded. At the same time, the transformation could combat inequality and promote Inclusion within societies and globally, thus becoming an equity project.
The 5th Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) makes it unmistakably clear: unacceptable climatic consequences, which are likely to escalate beyond the 2 °C guard rail, can only be avoided if further increases in greenhouse-gas concentrations are halted as soon as possible. The WBGU therefore recommends reducing CO2 emissions from fossil fuels to zero by 2070 at the latest. This policy goal is both ambitious and incisive, because 'the zero target must be reached' by every country, every municipality, every company and every citizen if the world as a whole is to become climate-neutral. However, the 2 °C line can only be held if a large proportion of stakeholders – especially the OECD countries – start reducing their emissions much earlier. Global society as a whole has only a very limited carbon budget at its disposal; emissions should therefore peak by 2020 if possible, or in the third decade at the latest. In this report the WBGU outlines a two-pronged strategy for global climate protection based on interaction between multilateralism and civil society. To achieve this, on the one hand the Paris Climate Agreement targeted for late 2015 should exhibit certain characteristics set out by the WBGU. In particular, a process should be agreed to ensure compliance with the 2 °C guard rail. On the other hand, all social actors should make their specific contributions towards decarbonization. In this way, an intricate responsibility architecture for the future of our planet can emerge in which vertical delegating and horizontal engagement are not contradictions, but complementary factors that reinforce each other.
At their meeting in the Italian city of L’Aquila in July 2009, the heads of state and governments of the G8 countries and the Major Economies Forum on Energy and Climate (MEF), whose members include India, Brazil and China, acknowledged the importance that global warming must not exceed the 2 °C guard rail if dangerous climate change is to be avoided. WBGU views this as an extremely important step towards the adoption of a binding international agreement which establishes a well-founded target for global climate protection. The task now is to build on this consensus and reach agreement, at Copenhagen, on a follow-up treaty to the Kyoto Protocol, which is due to expire in 2012. This new international agreement should translate the relevant scientific knowledge into a fair and practicable global strategy to combat global warming. So far, however, the lack of unanimity between the countries involved in the negotiating process has meant that there is no clear leitmotif pointing the way towards such an agreement.
Latest research findings show that failure to check mankind’s emissions of carbon dioxide will have severe consequences for the world’s oceans. The marine environment is doubly affected: continuing warming and ongoing acidification both pose threats. In combination with over-fishing, these two threats are further jeopardizing already weakened fish stocks. Sea-level rise is exposing coastal regions to mounting flood and hurricane risks. To keep the adverse effects on human society and ecosystems within manageable limits, it will be essential to adopt new coastal protection approaches, designate marine protected areas and agree on ways to deal with refugees from endangered coastal areas. All such measures, however, can only succeed if global warming and ocean acidification are combated vigorously. Ambitious climate protection is therefore a key precondition to successful marine conservation and coastal protection.
With this special report, the WBGU provides recommendations for future negotiations within the context of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), particularly relating to the Kyoto Protocol to the Convention. The report centres on three questions:
- What is ‘dangerous climate change’ within the meaning of Article 2 of the UNFCCC?
- Which socio-economically and technologically viable pathways are available to prevent such dangerous climate change?
- How can all countries be integrated equitably within a system of emissions reduction commitments?
The report concentrates on the potentials to reduce the emissions of carbon dioxide, this being the principal anthropogenic greenhouse gas. The analysis focuses, on the one hand, on the economic and technological potentials to reduce energy and industry related emissions and, on the other hand, on the relevance of biological sinks of carbon dioxide and the options to preserve them. Finally, based on this analysis, the report contains specific recommendations on ways to shape political and economic instruments in the second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol.
Global common resources like international airspace and the high seas are in danger of overexploitation because the users need not bear the full social costs of their actions. The CO2-emissions of international aviation and of shipping are not subject to the quantitative reduction obligations of the Kyoto Protocol. Imposing user charges can close this regulatory gap and induce environment-related incentive effects to reduce environmental damage. Moreover, additional financial resources are generated, which should be earmarked for the protection and conservation of global common goods. In this special report, the WBGU makes recommendations for a politically viable implementation of the concept of global user charges for three specific areas of application:
- Charges on the use of airspace by aviation,
- Charges on the use of the oceans by shipping,
- Payments for non utilisation obligations.
Should people be allowed to do everything they want? Should humankind be allowed to use nature and the environment completely for its own ends? More and more people are questioning the limits of human intervention in nature. What is ethically allowed and what should be prohibited? The WBGU offers some answers to these difficult questions. At the same time it has drawn up a number of principles, which should not be violated, even where there are big economical gains. In addition, in a democratic and culturally diverse society it is the task of ethics to lay down generally binding criteria for balancing between nature-related and, for example, economic matters. With these tools of ethical and economic criteria the Federal Government of Germany could support the interests of environmental protection at the international level.
The Accounting of Biological Sinks and Sources Under the Kyoto Protocol: A Step Forwards or Backwards for Global Environmental Protection? (1998)
The WBGU assesses the Kyoto Protocol with respect to the accounting of biological sources and sinks. In principle, the WBGU supports the idea of linking climate protection and the conservation of sinks. However, the WBGU considers the form in which biological sources and sinks are accounted in the Kyoto Protocol to be inadequate and in need of improvement if the objectives of climate protection and biodiversity conservation are both to be served. The present accounting approach can lead to incentives with negative impacts upon climate protection, biodiversity conservation and soil protection. In addition, many uncertainties and imponderables attach to the reduction in net emissions that is achievable by means of terrestrial sinks. Even slight climate changes can lead to sinks becoming sources. Over the long run, fossil fuel emissions can not be compensated for by the terrestrial biosphere. The WBGU analyses the provisions of the Kyoto-Protocol and presents the state of knowledge on the source and sink potentials of terrestrial ecosystems and on the existing uncertainties and unresolved issues. This forms the basis for an assessment of the provisions of the Kyoto Protocol as well as for recommendations for the interpretation and concrete application of these provisions.
This statement was issued on the occasion of the Third Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (the Climate Convention, FCCC), and contains recommendations on the commitments to be agreed upon in a protocol to the Convention. According to the "Berlin Mandate" adopted at the first Conference of the Parties, the commitments of the industrialized countries listed in Annex I of the Climate Convention are to be strengthened by setting quantified limitation and reduction objectives within specified time frames for their greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. These measures are aimed at achieving the ultimate objective of the FCCC, namely a "stabilization of greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system".
Scenario for the derivation of global CO2-reduction targets and implementation strategies (1995)
The WBGU derives a global CO2 reduction target by using an "inverse scenario" based on simplified models for climate dynamics and the carbon cycle. By first analysing the maximum stress levels caused by climate change that one can assume to be ecologically and economically bearable, a "tolerance window" for the future climatic development is deduced. In a further step, the set of admissible emission profiles is determined, i.e., those global CO2 emission functions which keep the climate system within the demarcated window. Among the so-defined family of emission options a specific strategy is finally singled out by feasibility criteria. The WBGU believes that such an integrated assessment of the climate change problem in the "backwards mode" has several advantages in comparison with the straightforward approach. It has to be emphasised, however, that the analysis employs a number of assumptions and approximations and therefore has the character of a "Gedankenexperiment".
The year 2015 has special importance for the transformation towards sustainable development. New Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are then supposed to replace the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). The aim is to offer a new orientation for political action in the coming decades. The WBGU recommends orienting the new catalogue of goals towards the key message of the 1992 Earth Summit: that development and environmental protection must be considered together and do not contradict each other. The SDGs should not be reduced to poverty eradication, but must address all dimensions of sustainable development. In particular, global environmental change must be incorporated, otherwise even poverty eradication will become impossible. Up to now, too little attention has been paid to this link in the ongoing discourse on SDGs. Although many reports mention the concept of planetary guard rails or planetary boundaries, they do not back this up with specific targets. The WBGU presents recommendations on how guard rails for global environmental problems should be incorporated in the SDG catalogue and operationalized by means of corresponding targets.
The world faces the challenge of a global transformation to sustainable energy systems. Substantial up-front investments are needed to improve energy efficiency and switch to renewable energies. At the same time, these investments offer great opportunities, because strategic innovations can be triggered and new markets can develop in the course of the transformation process. Savings on the cost of fossil fuels in conventional technologies could completely offset the investment in renewable energy technologies and energy efficiency by as early as 2040. The private capital needed for the transformation is available and can be mobilised if a suitable political framework is put into place. A corresponding regulatory policy should be introduced to make such investment more attractive for the private sector. The WBGU advocates a proactive state that integrates energy, environmental and climate policy; this could reduce existing investment risks by developing a stable, long-term transformative regulatory framework. At the same time, policy makers should expand the opportunities for participation. Germany is currently leading this transformation, both in terms of technological innovations and in the creation of a suitable policy framework. Our country is able to give the world an example of how the Energiewende (energy-system transformation) can generate more, not less prosperity.
International climate policy post-Copenhagen is in crisis. There is currently no prospect of the comprehensive and binding UN climate treaty – the outcome hoped for at the 2009 UN Climate Change Conference – being achieved within the foreseeable future. However, in order to keep the global mean temperature rise below 2 °C by the end of the century, a resolute course must be set in the international climate process within the next few years. The WBGU recommends that in order to revitalise the multilateral climate process, policy-makers and civil society in Europe take on a self-confident leading role in global alliances with selected ‘climate pioneer’ countries and that more intensive support be provided for civil society initiatives. The aim of establishing a binding international regime to limit CO2 emissions – based, for example, on the WBGU’s own budget approach and similar approaches now also being discussed in China and India – must remain in place. The following recommendations are directed primarily towards the German Government in light of its role in the international arena, particularly within the European Union (EU), at intergovernmental level via its bilateral and multilateral cooperation, and in the United Nations context.
If dangerous climate change is still to be avoided, a reversal of current trends must be achieved within the next ten years, and greenhouse gas emissions worldwide must be halved by 2050 compared with a 1990 baseline. However, there is a widening gap between the action that is urgently needed and current climate policy. The WBGU is therefore convinced that a new climate policy dynamic is required worldwide and that Germany´s double presidency of the European Union and P of G8 offers a dual opportunity to drive climate protection forward. The WBGU‘s core messages are:
- Climate protection is both worthwhile and feasible: Investing in climate protection is economically efficient, as the costs of effective climate protection are far lower than the costs of inaction.
- Further development of the UN climate convention: A consensus on the mitigation target must be forged and enshrined in the convention. To this end, the WBGU recommends the adoption of a global temperature guard rail limiting the rise in near-surface air temperature to a maximum of 2 °C relative to the pre-industrial value – equivalent to stabilizing the concentration of greenhouse gases below 450 ppm CO2eq.
- Making the most of the G8 Summit at Heiligendamm: Fresh initiatives from the heads of state and government are required to inject new life into the faltering climate process.
- Reaffirming the European Union‘s leading role: The European Union should expand its leading role in international climate protection.
Development needs Environmental Protection: Recommendations for the Millennium + 5 Summit (2005)
The Millennium + 5 Summit will review progress towards the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and take stock of the United Nations' capacity to act. The Summit offers the opportunity to set a new course in international poverty reduction and initiate a reform of the UN. If the MDGs fail, international cooperation will be plunged into crisis. Yet the current poverty debate tends to overlook the environmental problems which exacerbate poverty in many developing countries. The international community should therefore remind itself of the message sent out by the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992: environmental and development policies are inextricably linked. WBGU's core recommendations are:
- Linking poverty reduction with environmental policy: The MDGs cannot be achieved without environmental protection measures. Environmental policy is therefore a prerequisite for development and must be a key element in any long-term poverty reduction strategy. Conversely, the global environment cannot be protected without development policy.
- Forging strategic partnerships with anchor countries: Due to their size and dynamic economies, developing countries such as China, Brazil and India play a key role both in global environmental changes and in poverty reduction. The strategic foci of development cooperation with these countries must be placed accordingly.
- Reforming the development and environment policy architecture: The division of labour in international development policy should be improved and the fragmentation of the multilateral development and environment institutions overcome. In the medium term, a new Council on Global Development and Environment should replace the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC).
- Increasing the funding commitments: The international community should invest more intensively in poverty reduction and environmental protection: the costs of inaction would be significantly higher. As well as increasing funds committed to development cooperation, new financing instruments, such as charges for the use of global common goods, should be introduced.
Energy is a key theme for future world development. Worldwide energy demand is mounting rapidly, particularly in the developing and newly industrialising countries, which seek to catch up with the level of economic development attained by industrialised countries. The great challenge now is to meet this energy demand in a sustainable manner. However, sustainable development will be inconceivable without a deep-seated reconfiguration of worldwide energy systems. One goal in this context must be to protect natural life-support systems and, in particular, to prevent dangerous anthropogenic perturbation of the climate system. If the present path continues and rising energy demand is met mainly from fossil sources, this would trigger intolerable global climate change with high consequential costs, and would thus also jeopardize economic development. A second necessary goal is to eradicate energy poverty in developing countries in order that these countries can make use of development opportunities. It is essential that 2.4 billion people gain access to modern forms of energy so that they can shake off the yoke of energy poverty. To attain these two goals, energy systems need to be turned towards sustainability. To that end, efficiency must be improved at all levels of the energy system, and fossil energy sources must be substituted by renewable ones. The potential of renewable energies, above all solar energy, is almost unlimited and can be harnessed sustainably. Energy system transformation towards sustainability is thus the first step into the solar age. However, without rapid and resolute international policy support, the expansion of renewable energy sources will not be able to develop the necessary dynamics in time. The International Conference for Renewable Energies (renewables 2004) held in Bonn 2004 is a milestone for this process.
In this policy paper, the WBGU summarizes the key findings of its special report on user charges within the framework of global sustainability policy, and makes recommendations for a politically viable implementation of the concept of global user charges for three specific areas of application:
- Charges on the use of airspace by aviation,
- Charges on the use of the oceans by shipping,
- Payments for non utilization obligations.
Johannesburg in South Africa is a symbolically important venue for the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD). No other continent has been affected worse by the impacts of global change and exhibits in such representative form the critical environmental and socioeconomic situation facing many developing countries. At the same time, the host nation epitomizes new hopes and beginnings following the radical changes it has undergone in recent years. A new beginning is necessary at the international level, too, given the further deterioration in the state of the global environment since the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) in Rio de Janeiro. New problems have arisen and the most critical remain unsolved. The WSSD to be held in September 2002 in Johannesburg provides the international community with yet another opportunity to set the future direction of international environment and development policy. In the run-up to this event, the WBGU would like to focus the attention of the Federal Government of Germany on some crucial issues where decisions in Johannesburg could help to eliminate critical shortcomings in current environment and development policy. A great deal has been achieved in the field of global environmental policymaking since 1992, in particular the international conventions and treaties dealing with a range of global environmental problems such as climate change, loss of biodiversity, desertification, or the impacts of persistent organic pollutants. In the view of the WBGU, the Johannesburg summit should therefore refrain from detailed negotiations on these topics. However, it must be possible to provide new ideas and inspiration, to close gaps and loopholes, and to take the various conventions a stage further
Quotes about WBGU reports
"The reports of the German Advisory Council on Global Change (WBGU) are an indispensable reference and resource on global environmental change policies. Every scientist, decision-maker and institution concerned with the pressing issue of environment and development should have them."
Prof. Dr. Klaus Töpfer, Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) 1998-2006
"Humanity on the move: Unlocking the transformative power of cities, is a notable breath of fresh air at a time when shallow platitudes seem the order of the day. It is bold, meticulously crafted through argument (as opposed to assertion) and evidence, and rooted in a highly original conceptual framework that is both global in scope and differentiated. The report asserts the centrality of cultural and institutional change and does not shy away from being specific and programmatic at a moment when it seems that political discourses are increasingly disconnected from our highly fractious, unsustainable, violent and intolerant times. I recommend it as compulsory reading in the strongest possible terms."
Professor Edgar Pieterse, Director – African Centre for Cities (University of Cape Town) & Chairperson of the Cities Alliance Think Tank.
„The new WBGU-Study „A Social Contract for Sustainability” appears at a time in which people around the world are increasingly committed to creating a future that is both sustainable and climate-safe. The study shows that such a future will only be possible if governments, business and civil society collectively set the right course, making the most of regional, national and global cooperation. An important call to cross-cutting integrated action, the book deserves wide recognition.“
Christiana Figueres, Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) (2010-2016)
"The geopolitical world is changing beyond recognition. The challenge of ensuring that in the future people can live better than today, while doing so within the Planetary Boundaries has yet to be met. Markets and the environment are increasingly globalized. Social protection and the search for equity are not, though there are interesting signs of change. There are many international institutions, but few are global. We have known for some time the necessary individual solutions required for the transition. Now, the WBGU report `World in Transition – A Social Contract for Sustainability´ offers us extremely interesting ideas on how we can bring all this together collectively through a new social contract that is global, equitable and green, and requires a new kind of global citizenship: the first steps toward a global political project for global sustainability."
Janos Pasztor, Executive Secretary UN Secretary-General's High-level Panel on Global Sustainability 2010-12
“The `World in Transition – Governing the Marine Heritage´ report presents a thought provoking look at crucial aspects of oceans governance. It resonates strongly with our thinking in the World Bank and among the partners of the Global Partnership for Oceans. Nation states, civil society and industry need to work together to support more sustainable and productive ocean use. This report makes a valuable contribution to global thinking on how best we might secure a sustainable future from healthy oceans.”
Rachel Kyte, Vice President, Sustainable Development, The World Bank (2014-2015)
"Biofuels have been represented by some as a silver bullet to the climate change threat, and by others as a fatal mistake set to destroy forests and increase hunger; they are neither. Sane and sensibly developed they offer a chance to reduce emissions, generate employment and diversify rural livelihoods. But widespread commercialisation without proper sustainability standards could prove a disaster, causing more environmental and human harm than good. The new WBGU report shows that a sustainable use of bioenergy is possible and outlines how opportunities can be exploited while at the same time minimizing risks. The report thus offers policy-makers valuable guidance for a sustainable bioenergy policy."
Achim Steiner, Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) (since 2006)
"With Climate Change as a Security Risk, WBGU has compiled a flagship report on an issue that quite rightly is rising rapidly up the international political agenda. The authors pull no punches on the likelihood of increasing tensions and conflicts in a climatically constrained world and spotlight places where possible conflicts may flare up in the 21st century unless climate change is checked. The report makes it clear that climate policy is preventative security policy."
Achim Steiner, Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) (since 2006)
„With its interdisciplinary approach, providing a complex and systematic analysis of the poverty-environment nexus, WBGU's latest report breaks new ground. Indira Gandhi's old, convenient maxim was 'Poverty is the biggest polluter'. Put forward at the 1972 UN Conference on the Human Environment in Stockholm, it has been sorely misused ever since to override environmental precaution and prioritize economic development strategies instead. The new WBGU report maps out a way to shape a coherent environment and development policy. This report revitalizes the Rio spirit and gives it a robust scientific base“
Prof Dr Ernst Ulrich von Weizsäcker, Member of the German Bundestag 1998-2005.
"The publication of 'World in Transition: Towards Sustainable Energy Systems' is timely indeed. The World Summit on Sustainable Development gave great attention to this challenge, but failed to agree on a quantitative, time-bound target for the introduction of renewable energy sources. The German Advisory Council on Global Change (WBGU) has now produced a report with a global focus; this is essential in view of the global impacts of climatic changes. The report provides a convincing long-term analysis; this, too, is essential, for global energy policies must take a long-term perspective, over a time frame of 50 to 100 years, while providing concrete guidance for decision makers to be implemented now. There is an urgent need to identify paths by which to secure energy supply for the 2.4 billion people who still depend upon traditional biomass, while keeping clearly in view the need to combine this challenge with the prevention of perilous climatic changes. Our one world must close the gap between industrialized countries’ surfeit and developing countries’ poverty. Policies will need to consider both the broader environmental and specific climate exigencies. I recommend this book very warmly to everyone concerned with global energy issues."
Prof Dr Klaus Töpfer, Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) from 1998-2006.
Public Relations and Events (Selection)
In May 2012, WBGU hosted a high-level international Symposium „Towards Low-Carbon Prosperity: National Strategies and International Partnerships“ in Berlin. At this symposium a variety of important national approaches to the decarbonisation of energy systems and opportunities for innovative partnerships in the transition to low-carbon development were illuminated. The keynote was delivered by Chancellor Dr. Angela Merkel. The summary video of the entire event, all speeches as videos and the text documenation are available here.
The WBGU report „World in Transition – A Social Contract for Sustainability“ is available as an online seminar (http://wit.va-bne.de/ or http://www.wbgu.de/en/trafoseminar/). The E-Course „World in Transition“of the WBGU has been produced in cooperation with the Virtual Academy for Sustainability. The aim is to provide freely available e-courses on sustainability at no charge for university students. This offer is directed at students of all faculties and can be integrated in general studies programmes as well as dedicated bachelor and master courses. The E-Course is also a contribution to the Science Year 2012 of the German Federal Ministry for Research and Education (BMBF) „Project Earth – Our Future“. In 2015 the WBGU produced a cartoon explaining the concept of planetary guardrails. On the occasion of the adoption of the post-2015 development agenda with its Sustainable Development Goals WBGU Co chair Dirk Messner explains in a video the importance of planetary guard rails in implementing these goals. WBGU explains the concept of planetary guard rails in an animated short film.
In 2014 the flagship report „A Social Contract for Sustainability“ was published in a comic version: „The Great Transformation: Climate – Can we beat the Heat?“  In 2015 the French version of this graphic novel has been published under the titel „La Grande Transformation – Climat, inverserons-nous la courbe?“. In 2016 the comic "The urban planet – How cities save our future" has been published in three languages (german, english, spanish).
The Council has nine members, appointed for a term of four years by the federal cabinet (Bundeskabinett), having first been nominated by the Ministries of Education and Research (BMBF) and the Environment, Nature Conservation, Building and Nuclear Safety (BMUB). The current term runs to October 2020. The chairs are elected by the Council members. The current members of the WBGU are:
- Martina Fromhold-Eisebith, Chair of Economic Geography, Dept. of Geography at RWTH Aachen University. Research focus: innovation oriented regional development, global-local dynamics of economic spaces, sustainability and regional development. WBGU member since 2016.
- Ulrike Grote, Director of the Institute for Environmental Economics and World Trade, Leibniz Universität Hannover. WBGU member since 2016.
- Ellen Matthies, Professor of Environmental Psychology, Otto-von-Guericke-Universität Magdeburg. WBGU Member since 2013.
- Dirk Messner, Director of the German Development Institute, Bonn. WBGU Member since 2004, chair since 2009.
- Karen Pittel, Director of the Ifo Center for Energy, Climate and Exhaustible Resources and Professor of Economics, University of Munich. WBGU member since 2016.
- Hans Joachim (John) Schellnhuber CBE, director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, external professor at the Santa Fe Institute and chair of the Governing Board of the Climate-KIC of the European Institute of Innovation and Technology, WBGU member since 1992, 1994–1996 vice chair, 1996–2000 chair, 2004–2008 vice chair again, 2009–2016 co chair, since 2016 again WBGU member.
- Ina Schieferdecker, Director of the Fraunhofer Institute for Open Communication Systems FOKUS and Professor at the Technische Universität Berlin. WBGU member since 2016).
- Sabine Schlacke, Director of the Institute for Environmental Law and Planning Law at the University of Münster. WBGU member since 2008, chair since 2016.
- Uwe Schneidewind, President and Chief Research Executive of the Wuppertal Institute for Climate, Environment and Energy and Professor for "Sustainable Transition Management" at the University of Wuppertal. WBGU member since 2013.
- Flagship report 2016, „Humanity on the move: The transformative power of cities“
- Flagship report 2013, „World in Transition: Governing the Marine Heritage.“
- Flagship report 2011, „World in Transition: A Social Contract for Sustainability.“
- Flagship report 2008, „World in Transition: Future Bioenergy and Sustainable Land Use.“
- Flagship report 2007, „World in Transition: Climate Change as a Security Risk.“
- Flagship report 2004, „World in Transition: Fighting Poverty through Environmental Policy.“
- Flagship report 2003, „World in Transition: Towards Sustainable Energy Systems.“
- Flagship report 2000, „World in Transition: New Structures for Global Environmental Policy.“
- Flagship report 1999, „World in Transition: Conservation and Sustainable Use of the Biosphere.“
- Flagship report 1998, „World in Transition: Strategies for Managing Global Environmental Risks.“
- Flagship report 1997, „World in Transition: Ways Towards Sustainable Management of Freshwater Resources.“
- Flagship report 1996, „World in Transition: The Research Challenge.“
- Flagship report 1995, „World in Transition: Ways Towards Global Environmental Solutions.“
- Flagship report 1994, „World in Transition: The Threat to Soils.“
- Flagship report 1993, „World in Transition: Basic Structure of Global People-Environment Interactions.“
- Special report 2016, „Development and justice through transformation: The Four Big ‘I’s “
- Special report 2014, „Climate Protection as a World Citizen Movement“
- Special report 2009, „Solving the climate dilemma: The budget approach.“
- Special report 2006, „The Future Oceans – Warming Up, Rising High, Turning Sour.“
- Special report 2003, „Climate Protection Strategies for the 21st Century. Kyoto and Beyond.“
- Special report 2002, „Charging the Use of Global Commons.“
- Special report 1999, „Environment and Ethics.“
- Special report 1998, „The Accounting of Biological Sinks and Sources Under the Kyoto Protocol: A Step Forwards or Backwards for Global Environmental Protection?.“
- Special report 1997, „Targets for Climate Protection.“
- Special report 1995, „Scenario for the derivation of global CO2-reduction targets and implementation strategies.“
- Policy Paper 2014, „Human progress within planetary guard rails. A contribution to the SDG debate“
- Policy Paper 2012, „Financing the Global Energy System Transformation“
- Policy Paper 2010, „Climate policy post-Copenhagen: Action at three levels offers prospect of success.“
- Policy Paper 2007, „New impetus for climate policy: Making the most of Germany's dual presidency.“
- Policy Paper 2005, „Development needs Environmental Protection: Recommendations for the Millennium + 5 Summit.“
- Policy Paper 2004, „Renewable energies for sustainable development: Impulses for renewables.“
- Policy Paper 2002, „Charging the Use of Global Commons.“
- Policy Paper 2001, „The Johannesburg Opportunity: Key Elements of a Negotiation Strategy.“
- http://www.cambourakis.com/spip.php?article581/ La Grande Transformation
- WBGU Comic 2016, „The urban planet – How cities save our future“