Invitation: Virtual Science Policy Talk

Rethinking Climate Change, Sustainability and Innovation: Discussing Academic and Policy Perspectives on the Upcoming Transformation

Tuesday, 26 October 2021, 15:30 - 17:00 - Virtual Event

The European Green Deal aims to transform the EU into a modern, resource-efficient economy that reduces net emissions to zero by 2050 while at the same time ensuring economic growth and improving people`s health. Research and innovation are key prerequisites for tackling the challenges that come with these goals. 

In this context, it is crucial to think about climate change in a multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary way. Likewise, a successful climate policy requires that climate and environmental protection be approached as a central cross-sectional task of government. It is imperative that ecology, economics, and social justice be looked at together. Rigorous research must provide the evidence to back new policy approaches.

The Mercator Science-Policy Fellowship Programme of the Rhine-Main Universities (RMU) and the Representation of the State of Rhineland-Palatinate to the European Union cordially invite you to discuss the various perspectives and approaches to the topic with researchers in small online working groups.


Welcome address

Dr. Deniz Alkan,
Director for European and International Affairs; State Chancellery Rhineland-Palatinate

Professor Stefan Müller-Stach,
Vice-President for Research and Research Careers, Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz

Small online working groups

Participating professors

from the Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz:
Petra Ahrweiler (
Sociology of Technology and Innovation),
Eva Maria Griebeler (Ecology and Evolution)
Volkmar Wirth (Theoretical Meteorology and Atmospheric Physics); 

from the Goethe University Frankfurt:
Joachim Curtius (
Experimental Atmospheric Research), and

from the Technical University Darmstadt:
Markus Lederer (Political Science)

An overview on the participating experts and their key messages is available below.

What is the format of the event? How does the event work?

The event is structured around two breakout sessions of 40 minutes each that allow for discussions in small groups. Each professor will have his or her own breakout session that policy professionals can join. After 40 minutes of discussion, the policy professionals will move to a different breakout session. Each participant will therefore have the opportunity to ask questions and discuss policy challenges related to climate change, sustainability, and innovation in two breakout-sessions. This setup will enable the participants to become acquainted with different scientific perspectives.

Below you will find the short bios of the participating researchers and their key messages. 

When registering for the event, please indicate with which two professors you would like to discuss the issues you are interested in. We will allocate the participants based on their preferences.


We look forward to seeing you and ask that you register by 21 October 2021 via email to

Registered participants will receive a link prior to the event.


Petra Ahrweiler

Petra Ahrweiler is Professor of Sociology of Technology and Innovation, and Social Simulation at Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz. She has received various research awards and has gained many years of experience in the coordination and implementation of international, especially European, research projects. She publishes interdisciplinary articles in international journals and is an appointed member of the German Academy of Science and Engineering acatech and of AcademiaNet, the network of excellent female researchers in Germany. She currently holds the position of President of the European Social Simulation Association (ESSA). In the AI FORA research project, she is currently investigating the use of artificial intelligence in awarding social services in the context of ten country case studies. The central question here is: How are culturally specific values technologically embedded and can the automation of a value decision take into account the perspectives of all stakeholders?anges.

Key messages

(1) Addressing climate change requires the development of new technologies. Technological innovation should always be understood as a social transformation process.

(2) Finding sustainability strategies and preventing uncontrollable climate change are not only European but global challenges. Above all, taking into account the different underlying societal value systems is crucial to finding solutions.

(3) Every political decision changes society in ways that cannot be foreseen. For example, a measure to reduce CO2 emissions in a complex societal context may produce a fundamentally different outcome than anticipated. Simulation methods allow different measures to be tested and possible scenarios in a sandbox society to be analysed.

Joachim Curtius

Joachim Curtius is Professor of Experimental Atmospheric Research at the Institute for Atmospheric and Environmental Sciences at Goethe University Frankfurt. His research focuses on trace gases, aerosols, and clouds, specifically the formation of aerosol particles in the atmosphere. He serves as the spokesperson for several coordinated research projects and is a member of the steering committees for the CLOUD project at CERN and for the German research aircraft HALO. Prof. Curtius was named a Highly Cited Researcher in Geosciences in 2018 and received the Scientist-of-the-Year award from Goethe University in 2017. He is highly committed to the scientifically sound communication to the public about climate change and sustainability. 

Key messages

(1) To limit climate change to the targets of the Paris agreement most of the known fossil resources have to remain underground. This means that all oil, gas, and coal companies will have to abandon their business models within the next 2-3 decades and forego a large share of their already calculated profits. European politics and legislation will be largely preoccupied with making this happen in the EU and worldwide. 

(2) By significantly reducing meat production, huge agricultural areas that are currently used for growing animal feed will become available for rewetting marschlands, reforestation, and solar farming. This means less methane from cows, less CO2 from drained marshlands, more biodiversity, more carbon uptake, and more renewable energy production. 

(3) The non-CO2 climate effects of aviation are greater than its CO2 effects from burning kerosine. These non-CO2 effects from persistent contrails and ozone production have to be included in the ETS system. Most of these effects will remain even if aviation changes to hydrogen or sustainable aviation fuels. This means that it is highly questionable as to whether sustainable aviation can be reached at all.   

Eva Maria Griebeler

Eva Maria Griebeler is Professor of Ecology and Evolution at the Johannes Gutenberg-University Mainz. She received her Ph.D. with a thesis on the survival of animal populations living in fragmented landscapes. She was a member of the research project “The Impact of Climate Variability on Aquatic Ecosystems (AQUASHIFT, DFG)" and heads the biodiversity module of a project on changes in climate and land use in Rhineland-Palatinate (KlimLandRP). As a researcher, she is chiefly interested in what makes a species survive and how it reacts to environmental changes.

Key messages

(1) We are currently facing a serious biodiversity crisis caused by the increase in the human population and economic growth. The first Global Assessment on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES report 2019) reports that about one eighth of animal and plant species living on earth are already endangered. This is mainly due to the overexploitation of nature, accompanying habitat loss and fragmentation, pollution, climate change, the commercial depletion of species, and the expansion of exotic species.

(2) Biodiversity and functional ecosystems are essential for humans. Ecosystems with their species provide many important services to humans. For example, they provide the air we breathe, drinking water, food, medical plants, and building materials.

(3) Although we are far from understanding how the loss of species affects the functioning and long-term stability of our ecosystems, we are already experiencing its consequences and we must respond. The establishment of protected and restored areas, stopping habitat destruction as well as reducing contaminants from industry, agriculture, and settlements will counteract the ongoing species decline. A sustainable use of nature at the societal and individual level and a shrinking world population will decrease the overexploitation of nature and mitigate climate change and other threats to biodiversity to maintain functional and stable ecosystems for future generations. 

Markus Lederer

Markus Lederer is Professor of Political Science, with a focus on International Relations at Technical University Darmstadt. His research interests cover international relations, security politics, and global climate politics where he focuses on the politics of green transformations in the global South, the institutional aspects of setting up market mechanisms, and the role of forest governance. Markus currently leads a research project on “The Political Institutionalization of Climate Change Mitigation in Emerging Economies" funded by the German science foundation.

Key messages

(1) Dealing with climate change is a highly complex task and there are no silver bullets. On the contrary, economic and technical interventions often have negative social or political consequences that have to be taken into account. The earlier and more openly this is done, the more legitimate and eventually effective policies will evolve. The EU's Green Deal is a first, very first, step in this direction.

(2) There is no solution to the climate problem or to many environmental crises without including the most important emerging economies and eventually the global South as a whole. This has changed the structure of world politics and requires the active engagement of the EU and its member states in global climate politics on all levels and with various governmental and non-governmental actors. But the EU and its members cannot just lead by example; they will have to invest heavily in mitigation and adaptation programs in the global South. Climate policy must therefore become part of the EU's foreign policy and foreign economic policy.

(3) Within many countries of the global South, climate and environmental policies will be successful only if a new and more responsive institutional setup is put into place. This requires state- and institution-building and very often entails a strengthening of national administrative systems. For example, if the EU really wants to stop deforestation in Indonesia, not only will its citizens have to change their consumption patterns, but Indonesia will also have to change the way its bureaucracy works. 

Volkmar Wirth

Volkmar Wirth is Professor of Theoretical Meteorology and Atmospheric Physics at the Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz and head of the Institute of Atmospheric Physics at that same university. His main interest is dynamic meteorology, which is concerned with understanding the circulation of the atmosphere. His recent publications deal with the impact of the jet stream on extreme weather and how this might change in a future climate. Prof. Wirth is co-speaker of the collaborative research centre 'Waves to Weather', which deals with the prediction and predictability of weather. He also served as chair of the advisory board of the German Weather Service for several years.

Key messages

(1) It is beyond any reasonable scientific doubt that humans have changed the climate on earth through greenhouse gas emission. This climate change is practically irreversible and will become much more severe in the future if the emission of greenhouse gases is not phased out very quickly.

(2) Anthropogenic climate change materialises through, among other things, a strongly enhanced frequency of extreme events (such as heat waves and heavy precipitation). Such weather extremes will be an increasing problem for human society, health, and the economy. The cost incurred by these man-made problems may soon outweigh the cost of decarbonizing the world economy.

(3) The climate system contains so-called tipping points, which means that passing a certain threshold in global warming will irreversibly push a number of climate subsystems into a new state that human society has not yet experienced. The likelihood of passing such thresholds increases with rising temperatures, and this, again, calls for fast decarbonization.

(4) There are open questions regarding the change of the atmospheric circulation that need to be settled. However, these remaining uncertainties do not detract at all from the urgent need for fast action motivated by the well-established facts formulated in items (1)-(3).