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What we work on

Transformative Sustainability Research

RIFS conducts research with the goal of understanding, advancing, and guiding processes of societal change towards sustainable development. Our researchers collaborate with diverse actors from science, policymaking and public administration as well as business and civil society to develop a common understanding of sustainability challenges and generate potential solutions. The research approach is transformative, transdisciplinary, and co-creative.

About us

In brief

Fellowship „Planetary Transitions: Potsdam Artist Residency”

The German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD), the city of Potsdam and RIFS have issued a joint fellowship call on “Planetary Transitions”. International artists can apply until 14 April 2024

What the EU Green Deal Means for the Ocean

A new report by the RIFS CrossGov project provides a mapping and reflections of the EU Green Deal policy landscape relevant to the marine domain.


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Climate Policy

Crises as Critical Junctures for Decarbonisation

Economic crises can positively affect efforts to protect the climate. However, policymakers must ensure that energy and climate policies are resilient to the pressures that occur in times of crisis. During crises governments are advised to use green economic stimulus packages to support structural change consistent with the goal of deep decarbonisation.

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Planetary Commons: Fostering global cooperation to safeguard critical Earth system functions

Tipping elements of the Earth system should be considered global commons, researchers argue in a new paper published in the renowned journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS). Global commons cannot - as they currently do - only include the parts of the planet outside of national borders, like the high seas or Antarctica. They must also include all the environmental systems that regulate the functioning and state of the planet, namely all systems on Earth we all depend on, irrespective on where in the world we live. This calls for a new level of transnational cooperation, leading experts in legal, social and Earth system sciences say. To limit risks for human societies and secure critical Earth system functions they propose a new framework of planetary commons to guide governance of the planet.

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#FactoryWisskomm Fellow to Tread New Ground in Science Communication with Podcast

The sheer wealth of information and fast pace of modern life can make it difficult for researchers to engage policymakers in dialogue. A new fellowship established at the RIFS offers researchers the opportunity to explore developments in science communication targeting political decision-makers. The fellowship is funded by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) and is part of the #FactoryWisskomm platform established by the BMBF to promote science communication. The inaugural FactoryWisskom Fellow will be Sébastien Vannier of the Centre Marc Bloch, a Franco-German research centre for social sciences and humanities in Berlin, who plans to launch a podcast.

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Deliberative Mini-Publics Dossier

Deliberative mini-publics are participatory processes in which a randomly selected and heterogenous group of citizens cooperate for a period to develop recommendations, ideas or solutions on a specific issue. RIFS accompanies these processes in various roles.

Focal Topic 2022/2023

Justice in Sustainability Dossier

The issue of justice is increasingly playing a greater role in the transformation towards sustainability. Calls to improve justice outcomes touch on a variety of issues, in particular the distribution of the costs and benefits of transformations as well as the burdens of climate change and environmental degradation. Other claims target procedural aspects: Who should have access to decision-making about transformation towards sustainability? A third set of justice claims focuses on recognition: Which groups are or should be recognized as rights-holders or as affected or especially vulnerable populations?

Sustainability in Brandenburg Dossier

Brandenburg is facing major sustainability challenges, such as agrarian transformation, energy transformation, mobility transformation, transformation of Lusatia, adaptation to climate change, promotion of rural areas, revitalisation of the economy after the Corona pandemic, and water supply and water protection. As a Potsdam institute, RIFS is actively involved in sustainability work in Brandenburg.

Systemic Risks Dossier

Modern societies are vulnerable to “systemic risks” such as pandemics, financial crises, or climate change. Due to their complex and interconnected nature, systemic risks pose a particular challenge to conventional approaches to risk analysis and management. The research group on systemic risks at RIFS analyses risks and opportunities around transformation processes for sustainable development and, in a second step, develops policy recommendations for the governance of systemic risks.