Marshland Restoration Counteracts Climate Change

International conferences like the Lindau Meetings with hundreds of participants flying in from all over the world leave a large carbon footprint. To compensate for the environmental impact of #LINO18, we are supporting a local marshland restoration project in the Degermoos area.


Excess carbon dioxide in the atmosphere heats up the climate

The combustion of fossil fuels to power our industries, heat our homes and drive our cars, vessels and planes has released vast amounts of carbon dioxide (CO2). In the atmosphere, CO2 acts as a greenhouse gas, meaning it traps heat radiation just like the windowpanes trap heat in a gardener’s greenhouse. Consequently, more CO2 in the atmosphere results in a warmer climate. Besides CO2, water vapour and clouds are also very important, and there are other greenhouse gasses, for instance methane (CH4) and nitrous oxide (N2O) that are both much more potent in trapping heat radiation than CO2. However, due to their low abundance they are currently of minor relevance in climate warming.

The Earth’s atmosphere saw CO2 in variable concentrations long before the dawn of mankind. These prehistoric CO2 changes usually took place over millions of years. In contrast, since the industrial revolution the burning of crude oil, coal and natural gas has reallocated significant amounts of carbon from its below ground storages into the atmosphere. Moreover, cement production and land-use changes, e.g., the expansion of farmlands, cities and roads, mainly replacing forests and marshlands, are additional major sources of excess CO2. Thus, the problem is not that there is CO2 in the atmosphere, which is indeed very important for our climate. The problem is that there is too much CO2 that has arrived in a very short time and results in rapid additional warming of the planet.

It is difficult to foresee the consequences of global warming in all its dimensions, but experts from all kinds of disciplines have gathered alarming data that this anthropogenic climate change will most likely have severe ecological and socio-economic consequences. For more information on this topic please have a look at the latest assessment report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

What can we do against excess CO2 in the atmosphere and to mitigate climate change?

Since we are aware of all these fascinating processes and have a great amount of papers, magazines, and books full of alarming facts about the potential risks and consequences of climate change, the question is obvious – how can we fix this problem? The most evident action is to reduce CO2 emissions as much as possible. However, that is not always easy to achieve in a world where substantial amounts of the energy and transportation needs are still powered by fossil fuels.

Therefore, while working towards more environmental friendly technologies, we can also start tackling the problem with CO2 compensation measures. There are many interesting approaches that have been shown to efficiently save significant amounts of CO2. To better understand the science behind these approaches, we will take a closer look at the Earth’s carbon budget, starting from CO2 in the atmosphere, to organic carbon in the tissues of plants and animals, to dead biomass and to fossil fuels, which eventually return to CO2 in the atmosphere.

Green plants and algae take up atmospheric CO2, bind it into organic carbon and use it to build biomass, such as leaves, branches, trunks and roots. In annual plants, the carbon taken up in summer is mostly released back into the atmosphere in autumn when the plants die and are decomposed by microorganisms. In contrast, the organic carbon of bushes and trees stored in their trunks, branches and roots can be bound for decades or even centuries. Therefore, planting trees is one potential strategy to compensate for CO2 that was produced by burning fossil fuels.

When trees die, microorganisms even degrade their wood and the organic carbon is released as CO2 back into the atmosphere. In a forest, where dead trees are continuously replaced by their progeny, a certain amount of organic carbon can be stored for centuries or as long as the forest exists. Much larger amounts of organic carbon can be stored for thousands or even millions of years when biomass is buried in oxygen deficient environments where it cannot be degraded by microorganisms. That is what happened to prehistoric plants that formed the coal we are mining today and to prehistoric algae that turned into the oil we are drilling for.


Illustration/Credit: Wolfgang Huang & Kai Lohbeck/Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings


Prehistoric plants and algae turned into today’s fossil fuels 

Fossil fuels originate mainly from prehistoric plants and algae that have been deposited and preserved in the ground for millions of years. For example, most of the crude oil that we use today to fuel our cars, vessels and planes comes from tiny planktonic algae that once thrived in warm and shallow seas, where they eventually died and sunk to the seafloor. Throughout millions of years, this process of sinking and depositing created thick layers of mud from dead biomass.

Limited gas exchange between these muddy subsea sediments and the seawater above resulted in conditions where oxygen was absent. In consequence, the dead biomass was not decomposed by microorganisms but instead, the organic carbon was preserved in the muddy sediments. Over millions of years it got buried deeper and deeper under the seafloor where high temperature and pressure built up and transformed the dead biomass into crude oil.

Unfortunately, storing away substantial amounts of organic carbon by coal or oil formation takes much too long to help us mitigate today’s climate change. A more feasible strategy to reduce atmospheric CO2 that works in a similar fashion but on a much shorter time scale is the restauration and preservation of marshlands.

Marshlands can help us to mitigate climate change

Marshlands are unique ecosystems that are rich in biodiversity and home to many plant and animal species that have adapted to this extreme environment. Unimpaired marshlands take up CO2 from the atmosphere; however, from a greenhouse gas perspective they are essentially climate neutral. The reason for this is that in addition to CO2 uptake by mosses and other wetland plants, small amounts of the potent greenhouse gas methane are released into the atmosphere and compensate the positive climate effect of CO2 uptake. Nevertheless, on the long run marshlands can accumulate substantial amounts of organic carbon and store it in their wet anoxic soils.

Contemporary marshlands store about 700 tons of organic carbon per hectare; a comparably large amount that took about 12,000 years in the making. It was after the last ice age, when extensive meltwater lakes created shallow deposition zones where dead plant biomass accumulated. Low oxygen conditions prevented degradation by microorganisms, and in consequence peat was formed. Over thousands of years thick peat layers arose, turning the shallow lakes into marshlands.

In Germany, nearly all of the original 1.5 million hectares of marshland (4.2% of the total area of Germany) were drained between the 18th and 20th century. Most of these areas were turned into farmlands or used for harvesting peat. Drained marshlands release large amounts of CO2 into the atmosphere. This is because the organic carbon that has accumulated over thousands of years becomes accessible to degradation by microorganisms as soon as drainage removes the wet anoxic environment.

Drained marshlands where peat degradation is not completed can be restored by well managed rewetting measures. When drained marshlands are properly rewetted, they return to an essentially climate neutral state where CO2 emissions from peat degradation cease. Each hectare of restored marshland can save up to 30 tons of CO2 per year when compared with the drained state in farmland use. Thus, the restoration of former marshlands can be an immediate and efficient measure to mitigate climate change. In addition, it has the positive side effect that valuable ecosystems are restored, fostering biodiversity and the return of rare wetland species.


Illustration/Credit: Wolfgang Huang & Kai Lohbeck/Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings

The Green Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings

Back in 2014, we implemented and documented the first measures to make the Lindau Meetings greener, i.e., more environment-friendly. Many details can be found in this blog article. But what happened since then?

The Mainau Declaration 2015 on Climate Change

One year later, at the 2015 meeting, several Nobel Laureates, among them Brian Schmidt and David Gross, started an initiative to make the voice of science heard clearly in the climate change debate. Only a few months before the COP21 climate summit in Paris, they discussed the so-called Mainau Declaration on Climate Change. During the closing ceremony of the 65th Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting, 36 Nobel Laureates signed the declaration, and another 40 followed in the following weeks. On 7 December 2015, the Declaration was handed over by Nobel Laureates Serge Haroche and Claude Cohen-Tannoudji as well as Joachim Schellnhuber and Jean Jouzel to the President of the French Republic, Francois Hollande, as part of the COP21 climate summit in Paris. As we know, the summit had a positive outcome, at least as positive as political summit results can get in the field of climate change. We like to think that the Mainau Declaration played a part in this success. 


What We Do (Now)

We are still working to make the Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings more eco-friendly. Here are a few of the measures we have implemented so far:

At the Meeting

  • Our renovated and improved venue is now more energy-efficient than before. The Inselhalle is also part of a network implementing sustainable event management measures.
  • We offer fully organic food, wherever possible of local origin.
  • We try to avoid disposable (plastic) catering items.
  • All our printed materials are CO2 neutral (using certificates).
  • Wherever possible, materials are produced without mixed materials (i.e. paper-plastic compounds) in order to make recycling easier.
  • Our meeting bags are made of felt, and our umbrellas are also eco-friendly.
  • We try to sort and recycle all waste produced.
  • We encourage our partners and suppliers to implement similar measures.
  • We try to achieve CO2 emission compensation through our marshland project.

In Our Office

  • We try to avoid printing whenever possible and use recycled paper.
  • We buy equipment made from sustainable, recycled and/or recyclable materials, with high energy efficiency, trustworthy certificates, etc.
  • Our power comes from renewable sources, and we try to avoid unnecessary heating or other resource consumption.
  • We try to limit travel, preferring trains over cars and planes, when reasonable.


The Problem of CO2 Emissions Caused by Travel

Everyone joining us in Lindau traveled a greater or shorter distance by some means of transportation. You came by train, car and many by plane from Europe, Africa, Asia, Australia, North or South America. On average, each of your individual journeys to Lindau has generated an astounding 1,280 kg of carbon dioxide (CO2). Catering, lodging and printed matters lead to emissions as well, but as for climate effects, participant travel plays by far the largest role. For a typical meeting, participant travel causes 93% of all CO2 emissions.

Distance, routes and aircraft types determine emissions, but can hardly be influenced by travellers. The map below shows average CO2 emissions for flights from various destinations to Zurich and the approximate CO2 compensation costs.


Taking this into account, one could think it would be best to host fewer conferences and travel less.
We, however, also believe that scientific exchange and the inspiration we share during the Lindau Meetings are of utmost value. So, what can we do to minimise or compensate the negative consequences of our actions?


What You Can Do

Already back in 2014, we invited participants to compensate their flight’s CO2 emissions by donating to atmosfair. And while 97% stated in the post-conference survey that this is a good idea, only very few actually donated. There may be many reasons as to why, but we felt that it could help to have a specific project that you could support something that definitely exists, and where there will be tangible results. And although having trees re-planted in the rainforest may be most efficient when it comes to immediate effects, we decided for a local project. It may take a little longer, but we know pretty well what we are doing. Thus, we would like to invite you to support our Degermoos marshland renaturation project it is only 15 km away from Lindau.

Why Marshlands?

  • Marshlands play a key role when it comes to climate protection – they are highly efficient natural carbon reservoirs.
  • Marshlands accumulate and preserve dead biomass because low oxygen conditions prevent its degradation. Consequently, most organic carbon remains in the soil and only little is remineralised and ends up as CO2 in the atmosphere.
  • Marshlands on average store 700 tons of carbon per hectare. That’s six times the amount a forest can store!
  • Around 30% of the world’s soil-bound carbon is stored in marshlands, even though they only cover 3% of the land surface.
  • The drainage of marshlands leads to the creation of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide (CO2) and nitrous dioxide (N2O), which is 310 times as climate damaging as CO2.

Renaturation of Marshlands

  • Marshlands in their natural state are mostly climate neutral or can be CO2 sinks. The most important factors are the water levels and an intact ecosystem.
  • The renaturation of marshlands has the great benefit of binding and saving vast amounts of greenhouse gases, most notably CO2.
  • Restoration particularly includes the careful rewetting of marshlands by removing drainage channels.

You can read more about the science of CO2 compensation by marshland renaturation here.


How to support the project:

During #LINO18, we will have a donation box available at the meeting’s registration counter.

You may also donate online (using Paypal):



We believe that everyone of us should be conscious of our actions and their consequences. Therefore if you, for example, use a plane to fly to a conference or to holidays, you should be aware of the negative climate effects. And if you can, you should do something about it, e.g., by compensating. Flying less (or generating less emissions and waste in general) would also be an option. Or finally get those waste- and emission-free super safe fusion reactors working, together with some high-efficiency batteries…

Thanks for considering!

Your team of the Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings


Impressions from the Degermoos Marshlands

Is the Paris Agreement on Climate Change ‘Bad for Business’?

Concerns are growing about the impact of climate change on macroeconomic and financial stability. Researchers, policy-makers and other stakeholders are trying to calculate the costs of climate change – and also whether there are potential opportunities from global warming.

Many see the costs in term of the economic losses from natural disasters associated with climate change. There is a considerable body of research estimating these costs of the physical risks of climate change. But the financial costs potentially go far beyond that, notably as a result of the risks from climate policy.

Growing public awareness of climate change has led many countries to emphasise the importance of ‘turning down the heat‘, aiming to keep global warming to no more than two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. This ultimately resulted in the 2015 agreement made in Paris within the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.

The Paris agreement seeks to mitigate the greenhouse gas emissions that cause climate change, in particular by encouraging ‘fossil fuel divestment’. Climate policies that are being implemented to achieve that ambition include the European Union’s emissions trading system and carbon taxes – fees imposed on the burning of carbon-based fuels such as coal, oil and gas.

Risks from these policies arise from the fact that some financial assets will have to be re-evaluated: for example, firms in the fossil fuel sector will lose their value, while renewable energy firms will rise in value. Financial market participants that own shares in these firms need to know their exposure to climate-sensitive sectors of the economy.

It is important to note that while the physical risks of climate change are difficult to avoid, climate policy risks can be evaluated and diminished if recognised early enough. The crucial questions for policy-makers and the public are first, what are the costs of the transition to a low-carbon economy (‘decarbonisation’); and second, how can the costs of climate change be transformed into opportunities?


A Coal-fired power plant, solar energy and windmills. Photo/Credit: rclassenlayouts/

What are the costs of a transition to a low-carbon economy? Photo/Credit: rclassenlayouts/


Research Evidence

As the inevitable process of decarbonisation gathers speed, more and more financial institutions are becoming concerned with climate policy risks. Many banks, insurance companies and pension funds are recognising the need to ‘stress-test’ their asset portfolios for their resilience to climate policy.

It is important to highlight that shocks imposed on the financial system as a result of climate policy risks are not necessarily negative: they can also be positive and could boost the economy. Financial institutions are interested in finding the best portfolio of assets for the transition to a low-carbon economy.

Several global initiatives are seeking to estimate the costs and gains for the economy on the path to decarbonisation. One example is the Financial Stability Board of the G20, which has launched a Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosure, aiming to give firms the incentives to disclose publicly their climate-relevant information and thereby help investors create a sustainable portfolio.

Another example is a Green Finance Study Group, launched under China’s G20 presidency with the support of the Bank of England and proposing to address the challenges of achieving a climate-friendly economic and financial system. Both initiatives have lead to wider awareness of the issue and are working towards a deeper understanding and the development of appropriate measures.

The question of climate-related exposure is also being addressed at the national and regional level. For example, the Carbon Bubble project, commissioned by Germany’s environmental agency, is creating tools for investors to evaluate their climate-related risks for all important asset classes and sectors. Several central banks have conducted analyses of climate stress testing, and the European Commission recently published the interim report of its high-level expert group on sustainable finance.

Most of the proposed new stress-testing methodologies focus on the direct exposure of individuals, firms, pension funds or banks to climate policy risks. But it is also important to consider ‘counterparty climate policy risks’. For example, a pension fund wanting to invest in low-carbon firms might find that the investment fund it uses has a ‘brown’ portfolio rather than a ‘green’ one. This is an illustration of so-called second-round effects.

One recent climate stress test proposes a methodology to take account of second-round effects. By analysing the listed equity holdings of firms, the analysis shows that such effects can amplify positive and negative shocks caused by climate policy and, therefore, could decrease the accuracy of climate policy risk estimations.

Despite growing interest in methodologies for assessing climate-related financial risks, as yet there are no estimates of the magnitude of the exposure of the euro area to climate policy risks. Building on the recently proposed climate stress test methodology, our research is trying to estimate the monetary value of gains and losses for the euro area on the path to decarbonisation.

Taking account of various channels of exposures between euro area governments and financial institutions, our preliminary estimates show that the most exposed to climate-sensitive sectors of the economy are governments, investment funds, insurance companies and pension funds, while banks have relatively little exposure.


Future Challenges for Research and Policy Action

There are many open issues associated with estimating monetary exposure to climate change. First, there is no standardised economic classification for firms that would allow easy estimation of their climate sensitivity; and second, there is no financial transparency that would make it possible to calculate the costs of climate change and, in particular, take account of second-round effects. New policies need to be introduced to resolve these issues.

Finally, not everyone supports the Paris agreement, notably the American president who said during his election campaign that ‘the climate change deal is bad for business.’ Is this really true?

Preliminary findings of our research show that it is not the case. The actual exposure to fossil fuels is small for the euro area and the exposure to climate-sensitive sectors is about 50 percent, which could be both a loss and an opportunity.

Research estimating the extent of climate change effects on business continues and there are many issues to be resolved. But it is widely realised that change is inevitable and society needs to be better prepared for it. With further research on well-defined paths to decarbonisation, safe asset allocation and climate-related financial disclosure, it will be possible to tackle climate change and ‘make our planet great again.’

An Effort to Make an International Conference More Sustainable

Maybe it’s not the first thing that comes to mind when you think about meetings and conferences, but these events often leave colossal carbon footprints. Think about the CO2 emissions of hundreds (for really big conferences even thousands) of people that travel by car or plane, think about a sea of mostly plastic trash, and think about countless pages of printed out conference materials. Worrisome, right? And these are only some of the more obvious ecological aspects.


View on Lindau Island. Credit: Lisa Vincenz-Donnelly/Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings

View on Lindau Island. Credit: Lisa Vincenz-Donnelly/Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings


In 2015, on the occasion of the 65th Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting, 36 Nobel Laureates signed the Mainau Declaration on Climate Change. Subsequently, 40 more Nobel Laureates added their names to the list of signatories. On 7 December 2015, the declaration was handed over by Nobel Laureates Serge Haroche and Claude Cohen-Tannoudji to the then President of France, Francois Hollande, as part of the successful COP21 climate summit in Paris. Within this declaration, the laureates warn of the danger of climate change and urge all countries to cooperate and find a way to limit future global emissions. Therefore we, as an organisation, are obliged to contribute to this purpose, too.

“In many lectures and discussions, Nobel Laureates like Christian de Duve, Steven Chu, Mario Molina, Brian Schmidt and others emphasised the importance of acting sustainably and responsibly. We therefore see this as an obligation for our work in organising the meetings,” says Wolfgang Huang, Managing Director of the Executive Secretariat of the Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings. That’s why several years ago the idea of “green conferencing” became a new focus of attention during the planning of the annual Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings.

Katja Merx, project manager of Lindau’s conference management, is responsible for incorporating sustainability aspects into the planning of the meetings. “To me, it was only natural to devote myself to this issue in my working environment, too. I have been following the principle of sustainability for years in my private life, anyway,” Katja remarks. It’s not all about environmental protection though, according to Katja: “Many people tend to forget that sustainability also includes economic and social aspects – and we’re steadily trying to increase our efforts in these areas, too.”

We review all measures each year in the early planning phase of a meeting and try constantly to explore further possibilities within the limits of what we can do as a non-profit organisation. These are the measures we will take in 2017 in an effort to make the 6th Lindau Meeting on Economic Sciences more sustainable:

  • All electricity used for the meeting is provided by the Lindau municipal utilities, which run on 100% green energy
  • Young economists may use Lindau’s public bus system during the meeting week for free
  • The shuttle service for the Nobel Laureates partly consists of hybrid cars
  • Meeting bags are produced from sustainable materials
  • Meeting lanyards are produced from materials that are 100% recyclable, and no plastic covers are used for the name badges
  • Meeting tents: flysheets and floor coverings are reusable
  • All tents use energy saving lamps
  • Catering: regional and seasonal food
  • Mineral water is provided in glass bottles in order to avoid plastic trash.  
  • Local companies are selected for services such as catering, technical support or logistics
  • The proportion of printed conference materials is reduced to a minimum, and instead we make an advanced use of online devices 
  • Young economists are encouraged to use Atmosfair for their flights (details below)


If you can’t avoid it, compensate!




An international conference can hardly avoid CO2 emissions caused by air travel of its participants; however, there is the possibility of making up for that by donating money to climate friendly projects. For this, we are partnering with the trusted German NGO Atmosfair. They offer a service that calculates the CO2 emission generated by your flight as well as the amount of money that should be donated in turn to climate protection projects to equalise these emissions.

If you are considering using Atmosfair for your Lindau flights, we would like to ask you to please use the embedded form below. This way, we will be able to analyse how many of our meeting participants are actually making use of Atmosfair (you can change the language settings on the bottom right of the window): 


We encourage all participating young economists to consider using this service for their travel to and from Lindau. As travel is organised by the young economists themselves, this is of course absolutely voluntary.

Why Finance Ministers Prefer Carbon Taxes

‘In Germany, there is massive under-investment in infrastructure’, warns Joachim Käppner of the Süddeutsche Zeitung, one of the country’s most read daily newspapers. He continues: ‘[schools], streets and bridges are crumbling. In Germany, investments of more than 100 billion euros are needed.’ Economists Pedro Bom and Jenny Ligthart confirm Käppner’s warning in a study showing that there is a shortage of investment in infrastructure almost everywhere.

Why is there such an under-supply? One reason is that finance ministers throughout the world are constrained by tight budgets. Next to the need to repay debt, governments are under pressure to lower corporate tax rates to prevent private capital – and with it jobs – from leaving the country.

With the growing integration of world markets, this has become an increasingly harmful ‘race-to-the-bottom’. The problem of crumbling roads, schools and bridges is thus compounded by the problem of finding sources of public revenue to finance maintenance of existing infrastructure as well as investments in new infrastructure.


Photo/Credit: yio/

Photo/Credit: yio/


Carbon taxes can help to solve the problem of tax competition and the under-provision of public goods

 A solution can be found off the beaten track in a study of mine that makes a strong case for green tax reform for the sake of the national budget. My co-authors and I analyse how governments should reform their tax system when they find themselves competing for mobile capital and are constrained by tight budgets, but have to finance productive public investments.

Our results show that it is best to lower corporate taxes and instead put a price on the carbon content of fossil resources. That way, the tax system distorts the economy less while raising higher revenues. If the additional revenues are then invested to increase productivity – for example, in education and infrastructure – everyone is better off.

In short: It’s better to tax ‘bads’ instead of ‘goods’. Protecting the environment and stimulating the economy can go hand in hand.

What explains this result? At first glance, both kinds of tax seem to harm the economy in a similar fashion. Both increase the costs for businesses, potentially encouraging the private sector to react by moving part of its activities abroad.

But a carbon price has the decisive advantage of shifting part of the tax burden away from businesses that produce goods and services, and towards the owners of fossil resources. That way, the carbon price captures the ‘resource rent’ – that portion of a resource owner’s total revenue that is in excess of the costs needed to supply the resource.

When the resource owner’s rent is thus reduced via a carbon tax, resource extraction decisions do not change and there is no adverse impact on the real economy. (The Economist explains rent income using the example of a soccer star’s income.) 

Unless a corporate tax is paid by a monopolist, it cannot capture as much rent as a carbon tax would. This is because businesses in a competitive market have comparably little revenue in excess of their production costs, when we include payments on interest, insurance against risk and managerial activities. Otherwise, high excess revenues would be competed away. 


Even if carbon taxes are implemented only for fiscal reasons, they will help to mitigate dangerous climate change

 Now let’s suppose that finance ministers actually implement our suggested tax reform and succeed in balancing their budgets. Is there not a danger that resource owners will anticipate higher carbon taxes in the future and accelerate extraction? Might carbon taxes then actually harm the environment due to an increase in emissions?

The answer is a clear no: when carbon taxes are used to finance productive public investments, this will affect both the demand for and supply of fossil resources. With supply, the rate of extraction will not increase because rent taxation has no effect on extraction decisions. Therefore, the demand side will fully determine when and how much of a resource is extracted. For buyers of resources, the price of carbon increases, which lowers demand, postpones extraction and reduces emissions. 

This is not to say that we don’t need a global agreement on climate change. A unilateral fiscal reform that includes a carbon tax will not solve the climate problem just by itself. But when politicians, and finance ministers in particular, understand that green fiscal reforms benefit the whole economy, fiscal considerations can be an entry point for more stringent climate policy.


This blog post is based on research reported in ‘Why Finance Ministers Favor Carbon Taxes, Even If They Do Not Take Climate Change into Account’ by Max Franks, Ottmar Edenhofer and Kai Lessmann, published in Environmental and Resource Economics in 2015. The study was recognised as the ‘best overall paper’ at the third annual conference of the Green Growth Knowledge Platform, hosted in partnership with the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), the OECD and the World Bank.

Chemists Respond to Climate Change with Sustainable Fuel and Chemical Production

Climate change is a common lecture topic at the Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings. At the opening of the 67th Lindau Meeting, William E. Moerner presented the keynote speech prepared by Steven Chu, 1997 Nobel Laureate in physics and former U.S. Secretary of Energy. In his speech, Chu described how clean energy technologies provide an insurance policy against the societal risks of climate change.

At previous meetings, Nobel Laureates Mario Molina, Paul J. Crutzen, and F. Sherwood Rowland have detailed how greenhouse gases produced by burning fossil fuels alter atmospheric chemistry and warms the planet. Reducing greenhouse gases, particularly carbon dioxide emissions, is key to stopping the planet’s warming temperature. But instead of viewing carbon dioxide as a problem, what happens if it is also part of a solution to climate change?


Science Breakfast Austria during the 67th Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting, Photo/Credit: Julia Nimke/Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting

Science Breakfast Austria during the 67th Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting, Credit: Julia Nimke/Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting


Research discussed by Nobel Laureates and young scientists at the 67th Lindau Meeting included ways to use carbon dioxide as a renewable source of synthetic fuel and useful chemicals. Currently, fuels and chemicals come from refined and processed oil and natural gas. Producing these compounds from carbon dioxide captured from the atmosphere or factory emissions could be environmentally sustainable because carbon dioxide released during production or consumption is recycled to make new fuel or material. Sustainable and renewable feedstocks are one aspect of green chemistry, a key topic at this year’s meeting.

During a science breakfast hosted by the Austrian Federal Ministry of Science, Research, and Economy on Tuesday morning, Bernard L. Feringa, 2016 Nobel Laureate in Chemistry, outlined three challenges for carbon capture and utilisation: separating carbon dioxide from other gases, efficiently concentrating it, and catalytically converting the inert molecule to useful fuel and chemicals.

In addition to his Nobel-winning work on molecular machines, Feringa also studies catalysis. While working at Shell in the early 1980s, he developed lithium catalysts to reduce carbon dioxide. The project ended after a couple of years, however, when the researchers realised they would need all the lithium in the world just to make a reasonable amount of fuel.


and Melissae Fellet during a Poster Session at the 67th Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting, Picture/Credit: Christian Flemming/Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings

Biswajit Mondal and Melissae Fellet during the Poster Session at the 67th Lindau Meeting, Credit: Christian Flemming/Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings

Since then, researchers around the world have developed various electrochemical and photothermal catalysts that reduce carbon dioxide into compounds such as carbon monoxide, formic acid, ethylene and methane. Several young scienists attending the meeting are studying these catalysts, and two presented their work during the poster session.

Biswajit Mondal, at the Indian Association for the Cultivation of Science, studies the mechanism of iron-porphyrin electrocatalysts for carbon dioxide reduction. With an understanding of the precise molecular changes during every step of the reduction reaction, researchers can then tailor the catalyst structure to enhance the reaction efficiency.

Dayne F. Swearer, at Rice University, combines two reactive functions in one aluminum nanoparticle to unlock new catalytic mechanisms for known reactions. In his nanoparticles, the aluminium core absorbs light and generates an energy carrier called a plasmon, which can alter and enhance the activity of a metal catalyst on the outside of the nanoparticle. For example, a particle with a shell of copper oxide its aluminium core reduces carbon dioxide to carbon monoxide faster and more efficiently than particles made of either material alone.

Back at the science breakfast, Feringa encouraged young scientists to investigate photoredox catalysts that reduce carbon dioxide using absorbed light energy. These catalysts can create a variety of reactive intermediates, including radical anions and cations, which could be used to add carbon dioxide to hydrocarbons. Such reactions provide renewable ways to make building blocks for plastics and other common polymers.


Young scientist Anna Eibel during the Science Breakfast, Credit: Julia Nimke/Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings

Young scientist Anna Eibel during the Science Breakfast, Credit: Julia Nimke/Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings

Renewable routes to acrylic acid, the building block of acrylate polymers common in dental work, are interesting to Anna Eibel, a young scientist at the Graz University of Technology in Austria and a speaker at the science breakfast. She develops new molecules to induce acrylate polymerisation with light at longer wavelengths than the ultraviolet used now.

To really address carbon dioxide emissions, however, renewable routes to synthetic fuels such as methane and methanol are needed. In 1998, George Olah, the 1994 Nobel Laureate in Chemistry, talked about synthetic methanol production from carbon dioxide at the 48th Lindau Meeting, and the topic reappeared at the science breakfast this year.

Chemists are in a unique position to advance renewable fuels and chemicals, Feringa said. The main research questions in this area involve problems of catalysis, electrochemistry, photochemistry, material synthesis and chemical conversions. Feringa encouraged the young scientists to take opportunities to tackle these questions. “Of course you may contribute only a small step, but of course we have to do it. It is our duty to society […] to open opportunities for the future.”

Science in Mexico: Long Tradition, Bright Future

Two stelae from Monte Alban, an archaeological site in Oaxaca in south Mexico. These stelae contain what is thought to be one of the oldest calendar signs from Mesoamerica. Image: Siyajkak, CC BY-SA 3.0

Two stelae from Monte Alban, an archaeological site in Oaxaca in south Mexico. These stelae contain what is thought to be one of the oldest depiction of calendar signs from Mesoamerica. Image: Siyajkak, CC BY-SA 3.0

Did you know that Mexico’s first university was founded already in 1551? Or that today’s Mexico is the largest flat-screen TV manufacturer in the world? Mexico has a long and varied tradition of science and technology. The Olmec civilization invented the number zero. Mayan mathematicians and astronomers have perfected its use, for instance in the famous Mayan calendar: this calendar was crucial for determining seedtimes, rainy seasons, festivities, and much more.

On the one hand, there are particularly Mexican topics, like the research of Mayan, Olmec and Aztec civilizations, or the exploration of the Chicxulub crater. The American Nobel Laureate Luis Alverez first suggested in 1980 that an asteroid or comet impact was a major cause for the dinosaurs’ extinction 66 million years ago, together with his son Walter Alvarez. A giant crash would result in an impact winter, making photosynthesis impossible for plants or plankton, thus effectively cutting off major food chains. The discovery in the 1990s of Chicxulub crater near Yucatan peninsula bolstered the Alvarez hypothesis.

On the other hand, Mexican scientists have made several significant contributions to international research. An early example from the field of chemistry is the 1801 discovery of the element Vanadium in Mexico by Andrés Manuel del Río, chair of chemistry and mineralogy at the Seminario de Minería (College of Mines) that had been established in 1792 in what was then called ‘New Spain’. One hundred years later, vanadium was used in steel alloys for the first time: Henry Ford applied these alloys to build the chassis of his famous Model T. Vanadium allowed for reduced weight while simultaneously increasing the tensile strength of steel. Today it’s still mainly used to reinforce steel, and vanadium pentoxide is a common catalyst to produce sulfuric acid.

The Model T is an early example of the long-term and vital economic and scientific connections to the United States. Today, Mexico is the world largest exporter of flat-screen televisions, as well as the second largest electronics supplier to the US, notably smartphones and tablets. The North American Free Trade Agreement NAFTA, established in 1994, has boosted close trade relations in the last twenty years. And although the incumbent American president had rallied against NAFAT, he now declared he won’t terminate it after all.


The rectorate building (left) and the CETEC towers at the Monterrey Institute of Technology and Higher Education, Monterrey Campus, in Monterrey, Nuevo León, México. Credit: Creative Commons Monterrey, CC BY-SA 3.0

The rectorate building (left) and the CETEC towers at the Monterrey Institute of Technology and Higher Education, Monterrey Campus, in Monterrey, Nuevo León, México. Photo: Creative Commons Monterrey, CC BY-SA 3.0


For the current electronics boom, Mexican managers can resort to a skilled workforce with experience in automotive and pharmaceutical production. As Aristóteles Sandoval, govenor of Jalisco, a federal Mexican state, points out: “All the products made in Jalisco can be delivered anywhere in the U.S. in less than 24 hours, (…) and the time zone is almost the same.” Besides geographical, there’s cultural proximity: Mexicans speak American English, not British English like many Asians, and American culture and products are well known and understood.

Of course, education contributes considerably to Mexico’s hightech boom. The prestigious Monterrey Intitute of Technology alone has 31 campuses in all regions of the country, teaching more than 90,000 students. And even in remote areas like Oaxaca in the south, the founder of the Oaxaca State Universities System, Modesto Seara-Vázquez, found that the local indigenous languages, which are tonal like Mandarin, give his students a special aptitude to learn mathematics and coding. All students here are at least trilingual: they speak Mixtec or Zapotec, Spanish and English.


Computer engineering students at UNAM building a mobile robot. UNAM, the National Autonomous University of Mexico, is one of the oldest and most prestigious universities of the country. Photo: PumitasUNAM, CC BY-SA 4.0

Computer engineering students at UNAM building a mobile robot. UNAM, the National Autonomous University of Mexico, is one of the oldest and most prestigious universities of the country. Photo: PumitasUNAM, CC BY-SA 4.0

But as Octavio Paz wrote, the Mexican Nobel Laureate in Literature: there are always two Mexicos, one developed, one underdeveloped, existing side by side. And although the topics and players have changed since 1950, this sadly still holds true. The news we hear about Mexico is too often about drug wars and murders of politicians and journalists.

There are places where the two Mexicos meet, for instance at the military-style checkpoint for Intel’s ‘Guadalajara Design Center’, Intel’s only research lab in Latin America. The jobs here are not about manufacturing, they’re about creating chips and apps for next generation smartphones. Guadalajara, Jalisco’s capital, is often dubbed the ‘Mexico’s Silicon Valley’, a term it shares with Monterrey further north. More than 120 million dollars have been invested in 300 start-ups since 2014, with at least 25,000 engineers working here.

Even if the distances seem huge between Intel’s lab on the hilltop and the shanty town below, and not just in terms of kilometers, education can help to bridge this gap. As the city’s mayor Enrique Alfaro confides to the Washington Post: “Graduates being courted by Google don’t pick up a gun,” meaning that poverty and unemployment can make the recruitment by drug cartels too easy. Ultimately, only education and employment will brake the vicious cycle of poverty, drugs and violence. This is why the new mayor is implementing school programmes to encourage STEM training, and why he’s installing a tech zone and wants to improve municipal infrastructure for companies. And on the national level, the 57th Mexican president Enrique Peña Nieto announced a new research agenda with increased spending for science and education in 2013.

Mario J. Molina is the first Mexican to be awarded a scientific Nobel prize. In the 1970s, he described, together with his boss F. Sherwood Rowland, how chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) destroy the ozone layer in the stratosphere, thus weakening the Earth’s protective shield against UV radiation. The two chemists found that CFCs released into the atmosphere do not decay until they reach the stratosphere, where they are destroyed by solar radiation. In this process, chlorine atoms are released that finally destroy ozone. They not only published their findings, but also announced them outside of the scientific community to stop the further emission of CFCs.

Finally, their warnings were taken seriously and the harmful substances were banned in the Montreal Protocol in the mid-1980s. This protocol, together with the Vienna Convention two years earlier, can be considered as “perhaps the most successful international treaties the world has seen”, as the prestigious Michigan Journal for International Law wrote. For their findings, Molina, Rowland and Paul Josef Crutzen were awarded the 1995 Nobel Prize in Chemistry. In recent years, Molina has been informing the public about the data and dangers of global warning with the same fervour as his fight against CFCs. He is one of the 76 Nobel Laureates to sign the Mainau Declaration 2015 on Climate Change that urges international governments to take decisive steps against global warming. This appeal is now more urgend than ever, as US President Donald Trump plans to reverse his predecessor’s climate policy.

Molina has attended six Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings, and has given four lectures and joined panel discussions on climate change. We’re looking forward to this year’s lecture on June 27th, 2017: ‘Climate Change: Science, Policy and Risks’.

This year, Mexico hosts the International Day at the Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting on Monday, June 26th. This day will start bright and early with a Science Breakfast at 07:00 a.m., with Mario Molina attending and Christian González Laporte as moderator, Brussels representative of CONACYT. In the evening, CONACYT Director General Enrique Cabrero Mendoza will give a speech on ‘Science in Mexico: Research and Policies’. The band Mariachi El Dorado will provide a genuine Mexican ambience.


Mario Molina delivering his lecture 'The Science and Policy of Climate Change' at the 62th Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting in 2012. Photo:

Mario J. Molina delivering his lecture ‘The Science and Policy of Climate Change’ at the 62th Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting in 2012. Molina had received his first academic degree at UNAM and later became an assistant professor there. In 2004, he started teaching at the University of California in San Diego. Before that, he has worked at the UC in Irvine, for the Jet Propulsion Laboratory and for MIT. In Mexico City, he set up a center for the studies in energy and environment. Photo: Christian Flemming/LNLM

When Science Is Under Attack…


Written by Ulrike Boehm (Washington, DC) and Hermann Broder Schmidt (San Francisco)


Thousands of scientists protested in Washington, DC, and over 600 other cities on six continents on Saturday, 22 April 2017, to voice support for science, with calls for evidence-based public policy and increased funding for scientific research.


The March for Science in Washington, DC

The rally of the March for Science in DC, which was supported by more than 100 scientific organizations and advocates, started at 10 am with a four-hour rally of speeches and musical performances on the grounds of the Washington Monument, with its main stage facing the White House.


Participants of the March For Science in Washington DC on 22 April 2017. Photo: Ulrike Boehm

Participants of the March For Science in Washington DC on 22 April 2017. Photo: Ulrike Boehm


During the rally an overwhelming large number of speakers like Bill Nye (American science educator and television presenter), Megan Smith (Former U.S. Chief Technology Officer), Rush Holt (CEO, American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS)), Rachel Kyte, (CEO and Special Representative to the UN Secretary-General for Sustainable Energy for All), Leland Melvin (astronaut and S.T.E.A.M. explorer) and many more stressed the importance of science and evidence-based public policy.

“Without scientifically literate citizens, the United States – any country, in fact – cannot compete on the world stage,” said Bill Nye in his speech. “Yet today we have a great many lawmakers – not just here, but around the world – deliberately ignoring and actively suppressing science. Their inclination is misguided, and in no one’s best interest.” Nye furthermore touted the ways scientific discoveries have improved global quality of life, arguing that science is not merely “purview of a different, or special, type of citizen.” “Our numbers here today show the world that science is for all,” he said, and government must come to recognise that “science serves every one of us.” (Video of Bill Nye’s speech)

After the rally, the crowd – organisers received a permit for up to 75,000 people – marched down Constitution Avenue to the foot of Capitol Hill at 2 pm. Some people wore lab coats; others pink, knitted “brain” hats, but almost everyone was carrying a self-made sign with statements like “In peer review we trust”, “The oceans are rising, and so are we” or “There is no planet B”.

Besides being one of the largest protests for science in US history in Washington, DC, the March for Science was also a huge celebration of science and the difference it makes for all of us.


Impressions from the March for Science in Washington, DC, 22 April 2017 (to proceed to the next one, simply click on the image):



Photos: Ulrike Boehm


The March for Science in San Francisco

More mitosis, less division!’ was one of the key messages put forward by the more than 15,000 science enthusiasts that gathered in San Francisco. This nerdy reference to the molecular process in which the genetic material of a cell is duplicated and orderly passed on to its daughter cells beautifully highlighted that the crowd did not intend to further divide the public in already tumultuous times. In fact, their main demand simply was that politics and policies must be based on proven facts, rather than mere belief. The very same message was echoed by marches throughout the Bay Area, including San Jose and Santa Cruz, where another estimated 15,000 people spoke up for science, immigration and protection of the environment.

In addition to the rallies and fairs that were part of the marches and featured a diverse mix of Nobel Laureates, aspiring young investigators and prominent science advocates from TV, many local scientific institutions such as the renowned University of California San Francisco (UCSF) opened their doors for additional public events. Hundreds of scientists of all ages and career stages from nearby Stanford University already started their march on the CalTrain, and engaged with the public en route to San Francisco or San Jose. All in all, the Bay Area enthusiastically celebrated science on its streets, peacefully bringing together scientists and their families, friends and pets – even some alternative cats were spotted!


Impressions from the March for Science in San Francisco 22 April 2017:



Photos: Hermann Broder Schmidt


The beginning of a new activism for science

The March for Science in DC was organised shortly after US President Donald Trump’s inauguration in January, largely in response to widespread alarm about his administration’s attitude towards science. Trump has repeatedly called global warming a “hoax” and promised to roll back numerous environmental protection laws, whose importance was only recently stressed by several Nobel Laureates in a common statement, the Mainau Declaration 2015 on Climate Change. Furthermore, in March, the White House released a budget proposal that included double-digit cuts to agencies such as the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH). According to this proposal the NIH funding would be cut by 18 percent, to $25.9 billion, making it one of the hardest-hit research agencies. This cut would undermine the fiscal stability of US universities and medical schools, many of which depend on NIH funding, and it would therefore diminish opportunities to discover new ways to prevent and treat diseases.

Faced with such attacks on science, Harold Varmus, Nobel Laureate and former director of the NIH from 1993 to 1999 and of the National Cancer Institute from 2010 to 2015, said that we should “…speak up, even when other important issues crowd the political horizon, and frame the issue properly: As I have learned from my own time at the NIH, this is not about Republicans versus Democrats. It is about a more fundamental divide, between those who believe in evidence as a basis for life-altering and nation-defining decisions and those who adhere unflinchingly to dogma.” (New York Times article)

On Saturday, 22 April 2017, scientists and science enthusiasts worldwide raised their voices and spoke up for science.


Although the March for Science is over, it may be only the beginning of a new worldwide movement for sciences.

“Every [scientist] should go public to talk about science and its impact for society, because science is too important to be downgraded and dismissed,” said Rush Holt (CEO, American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS)) during his pre-rally speech at the AAAS headquarters in Washington, DC. “We have to defend the conditions under which science can thrive.”

Julie Pullen (professor in Ocean Engineering and member of The Oceanography Society) also encouraged scientists in her speech to “share [their] stories with the world,” and she stressed that “the energy and excitement should not end today.”

Nobel Laureate William Daniel Phillips furthermore said that scientists “need to tell [their] stories to remind people of how essential science is for our society, in particular now that science is under attack.”


The author and Nobel Laureate William Daniel Phillips, who spoke during the pre-rally of the march for science at the AAAS headquarters in Washington, April 22, 2017. Photo: Ulrike Boehm

The author and Nobel Laureate William Daniel Phillips, who spoke during the pre-rally of the march for science at the AAAS headquarters in Washington, 22 April 2017. Photo: Ulrike Boehm


To help scientists to tell their stories and to engage and educate, AAAS put in place a very helpful Advocacy Toolkit.

Also, the organisers of the march for science extend their activism for science beyond the march. Currently, they are planning to build an organisation centered on informed advocacy, community building, and accessible education and aim to create new programmes and scale existing programmes to improve the relationship between science and society.

Extend your activism as well and become an active advocate for science in your community and beyond. Let’s stand up for science!

The Beauty of Natural Differences

I have voluminous, curly hair – and lots of it! Nowadays, my hair and I co-exist quite happily. When I was a child I hated my hair, because it is so distinct out and made me stand out – something that every teenager inevitably hates. Of course, I look back on my past and realize now that this is ridiculous! Fortunately, I grew up and I became a more reasonable person who learned to love my amazing hair that accompanies and identifies me wherever I go. I now see my “crazy” hair as the result of many genetic laws, some environmental conditions, loads of years and of course, a string of coincidences: the prevalence of curly hair in European descendants is only 15%! Sometimes, though I do not know why, humans make decisions based on appearance alone. In my humble opinion the most interesting things are deeper and explain why living things have evolved in various ways.

My relationship with my curly hair inspired the content of this post. I realize, though, that it may not be so important for potential readers… so, let’s move on to the main topic: The differences observed in plant leaves. If you are lucky enough, you can look out of your window now and see trees and their leaves. Maybe there are different trees with consequently different leaves. Some may look more beautiful than others, simply because they follow a typical beauty principle which is pre-established. Plant leaves grow to different sizes, shapes and colors due to many factors. Just like our different types of hair or skin colors, some leaves are better or worse prepared for responding to particular stimuli in a given situation. These differences sound quite exciting, don’t they?


Different plant leaves. Photo: Flickr/ © CC 2011 Kristine Paulus

Different plant leaves. Photo: Flickr/ © CC 2011 Kristine Paulus

During my thesis, my hair and I had the opportunity to work with plant leaves. When I first began, I even used to confuse different species of leaves. Informally, I classified the leaves on a scale of ugly to stunning, and included levels that ranged from “regular” to “beautiful” (you can imagine how easily I confused similar species!). Nowadays, not only can I distinguish between many species, but I can also easily identify which leaves are older, and which have grown under more or less amounts of light. My lab specializes in ultrasounds. In 2009, my supervisor and colleagues proved that many mechanical characteristics of leaves could be extracted using the Non-Contact Resonant Ultrasound Spectroscopy Technique (NC-RUS). Since biological tissues often present high attenuation and can be geometrically challenging, it was not expected to obtain such good measurements of coefficient transmission for plant leaves in air. The cell wall which is present on vegetal tissues enables multiple reverberations inside the leaf as consequence of wide-band ultrasonic pulses propagation through it. These generate a mechanic response that can be sensed. This NC-RUS technique is non-contact, non-destructive, non-invasive and rapid, which are key advantages over many other materials characterization techniques, particularly in this case. Additionally, we discovered that many parameters can accurately estimate the plant water status based on intrinsic properties of the leaves, such as density, attenuation, sound velocity, thickness, acoustic impedance or elastic modulus. This is of high interest to many fields, from ecophysiology to agriculture – and even to increase the accuracy of some climate change models.

In some experiments conducted during my thesis, we studied the response of several leaves with changes in abiotic stimuli such as light and water. We selected leaves that represented different growing conditions. We used evergreen and deciduous species as well as dicotyledons and monocotyledons. Also, we included leaves of the same plant that grew in varying levels of darkness and direct sunlight.


Evolution of the thickness resonant frequency of a Dracaena marginata and Vitis vinifera leaves over 3.5 days. Photosynthetic photon flux (PPF) and ambient temperature measurements are also shown.

Evolution of the thickness resonant frequency of a Dracaena marginata and Vitis vinifera leaves over 3.5 days. Photosynthetic photon flux (PPF) and ambient temperature measurements are also shown.


The results of these experiments were amazing: Accounting for the variation of the frequency at the first peak of thickness resonance in the transmission coefficient of the leaf showed an inverse relationship between the amount of light received by the leaf and this frequency, which is related to the velocity at which sound travels through it, its density or its thickness. This makes sense, since leaves tend to close their stomata at night when there is no sunlight for continuing photosynthesis. Doing this minimizes evapotranspiration. And, surprisingly, this produces a mechanic response than can be sensed by ultrasonic waves in the [0.1- 2] MHz frequency range. Also, we monitored leaves attached to the plant during several days in order to follow this variation of resonant peak frequency with varying amounts of solar light. Results depended not only on the plant species but also on the conditions in which they grew: Some behave as if they have a threshold. In case this threshold is reached the resonant frequency is maximized, and increasing amounts of light don’t make this frequency go higher. Instead, it stays in a saturated state. At the same time, other leaves have a frequency variation range which is significantly higher, so small changes in the amount of light cause changes in frequency without reaching a saturated state under regular sunlight conditions.

I could keep writing on these issues, but I think this is enough for the primary objective of this post: Next time you see someone with a “prolonged” bad hair day… Don’t unfairly judge them outright but instead investigate deeper! There is a lot of scientific evidence behind different looks and characteristics.


For more information:

Fariñas, M.D. et al., 2014. Monitoring Plant Response to Environmental Stimuli by Ultrasonic Sensing of the Leaves. Ultrasound in medicine & biology, c, pp.1–12. Available at:

Sancho-Knapik, D. et al., 2013. Ultrasonic spectroscopy allows a rapid determination of the relative water content at the turgor loss point: a comparison with pressure-volume curves in 13 woody species. Tree Physiology, 33(7), pp.695–700. Available at:

Why the Paris Climate Summit NEEDS to be a Success

The Earth has already warmed by one degree and this change has had a huge impact on many parts of the world. But what is the current situation? Is there any hope for a major shift in policy? And what does climate change have to do with civil wars? First, let’s take a brief look at the scientific background to climate change. The link between the burning of fossil fuels (and therefore the emission of CO2 into the atmosphere) and global warming is nothing new. In fact, the Swedish physicist and chemist Svante August Arrhenius realised the importance of carbon dioxide for the Earth’s climate as early as the end of the 19th Century. The Nobel Prize-winning chemist devised his greenhouse gas theory in 1895. Regular recording of greenhouse gas began in 1957 when the US researcher Charles David Keeling began collecting data. The so-called Keeling Curve is widely seen as the first scientific evidence of man-made global warming and therefore the basis for current global climate research. Keeling’s measurements have been continuously collected ever since, with the exception of 1964. In 1988, the UN put together its Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), tasking its expert members with recording the research findings of thousands of scientists worldwide. In addition to CO2 emissions from the combustion of fossil fuels such as coal, oil and gas, which is thought to be responsible for around two thirds of climate change, global warming is also promoted by deforestation. Historically, around 70 percent of the world’s carbon has been stored in forests. A total of 20 percent of the current greenhouse gas emissions stem from the deforestation of huge swathes of forest, such as in South America and Indonesia. Industrial agriculture has also impacted negatively on climate change for various reasons.
Shifting of climate zones

Animation starts after 10 seconds and is repeated continuously. Shifting of climate zones according to the IPCC’s worst case scenario (A1FI): a temperature rise between +2,4 and 6,4 degrees centrigrate until 2100 due to high economic and population growth, accompanied by high fossil fuel comsumption; after 2050, the increased use of renewable energy sources leads to emission decreases. The 13 different climate zones shown in this graph are based on simplified versions of the Köppen-Geiger climate classifications. Image: Ökologix (Own work) CC BY-SA 3.0

What are the consequences of climate change? Some regions are becoming more arid, others hotter, some wetter, and extreme weather events are becoming more common. Periods of heavy rainfall or long droughts are wreaking havoc on agriculture. The increase in water temperatures is spawning more violent storms, the meltwater of the glaciers is raising sea levels and floods are becoming more frequent. Smaller island states will likely disappear completely in future. According to the Climate Risk Index, states like Honduras, Myanmar and Vietnam were hardest hit by extreme weather events between 1994 and 2013. The so-called “two-degree target” is based on scientific forecasts which predict incalculable changes if global warming were to exceed this mark. Scientists fear that a greater increase will change so-called tipping elements in the climatic system, in combination with other factors, and therefore dramatically accelerate climate change. Possible tipping elements include ice caps, rain forests and ocean currents. This science forms the basis for global diplomatic and environment policy efforts. When asked whether the two-degree target is even achievable given the continued rise in CO2 emissions, the physicist Anders Levermann from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK) offered a very clear answer: “The two-degree target is technically possible. But society has to decide for itself whether it is economically and politically possible to move away from fossil fuels.” What is the current situation at international climate conferences? The so-called United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) forms the basis for action on this matter, with 195 member states having signed up to date. The body’s secretariat, which is based in Bonn (Germany), has the same title. All member states obligate themselves to regularly publish reports on their current greenhouse gas emissions and come together every year for a ‘climate summit’. The upcoming summit in Paris is particularly important for the process of finally setting an obligatory climate target that every one of the member states has to adhere to. That is why this year’s conference has been preceded by several large-scale meetings on a scientific and political level. While a total of 164 states have already submitted written commitments, these would still be insufficient for achieving the two-degree target. Moreover, the countries worst effected by climate change are pushing for the enforcement of a 1.5-degree target. There is certainly no shortage of serious warnings as to what could happen if negotiations in Paris were to fail. The World Bank’s report from the start of November carried the telling title “Shock Waves. Managing the Impacts of Climate Change on Poverty” and claimed that if rapid action isn’t taken, a further 100 million people could slip into poverty by 2030. There can therefore be little doubt that climate change would create further increases in refugee flows in the future. Sustained global warming will continued to promote the desertification of the Middle East, which will only serve to intensify social and political tensions in the region. In the case of the Syrian civil war, one study even suggests that climate change could have been a decisive trigger in the outbreak of violence. The civil war was preceded by an extremely dry period, which led to rural-urban migration and additional distribution and resource conflicts in the urban centres. The task for the future is therefore to save liveable areas with suitable measures. Unfortunately, the summit was dramatically preceded by the deadly attacks in Paris on 13 November 2015. Due to the threat of terrorism, all large events surrounding the climate conference, such as demonstrations and concerts, have had to be cancelled for safety reasons. After the attacks, many leading politicians immediately emphasised that the threat of terrorism would not prevent them from taking part. But this commitment alone is not enough – they now have to be prepared to make uncomfortable decisions going forward.