Global Change Science Report


1996 Annual Report of the German Advisory Council on Global Change

Assessing Global Environmental Change Research

Bonn, June 26, 1996. Today the German Advisory Council on Global Change presents its fourth Annual Report to Dr. Angela Merkel and Dr. Juergen Ruettgers, the Federal Ministers of the Environment and of Science and Technology. In the Report "World in Transition: Challenges for Science" the experts have developed options for science to address the most pressing issues of global environmental change. One of the central statements is that the scientific contributions of Germany have to reflect its above-average responsibility for global environmental changes.

New priorities for global change research

According to the experts, global change research in Germany is lacking an international perspective and co-operation, and it is too much focussed on single scientific disciplines and too little on applied research for the tangible policy needs. These problems are amplified by often undifferentiated job cuts in global change sciences. The Council therefore calls for structural changes within the scientific institutions, though more or less without providing additional financial resources, but by better utilizing and connecting existing research capacities. It is necessary to reconsider existing research priorities, to focus more on global problems as well as to improve the international scientific cooperation.

In order to facilitate the prioritization of research topics the Council has developed so called "relevance criteria". These criteria, e.g. the urgency of a problem or Germany's responsibility, can help to select the most relevant research topics.

In particular, the Council considers it very important to comprehensively monitor the environmental as well as social developments on a global scale. Monitoring of the natural environment calls for large-scale technical equipment - research ships, satellites etc. - and the development of global models. Within the social sciences cross-cultural comparative research as well as comprehensive social monitoring programmes are needed, especially in order to understand the driving forces of human behaviour.

Foundation of a German Strategy Centre for Global Change

The Council appeals for a foundation of a German Strategy Centre for Global Change in order to generally strengthen the problem solving capacity. Such an institution would conduct research on natural and social global developments in a politically understandable and relevant manner. Correspondingly, it would have to ensure reciprocal social and political feedback on its work. Despite shrinking public financial resources the Council considers establishing such a centre very important.

Initializing new financing mechanisms

The Council further suggests that German industry should initialise and finance a Global Change Foundation in order to facilitate the dialogue between science, politics and business. Its activities could become a topic of the World Exhibition in Hanover in 2000 (EXPO 2000).

Compilation of global reports by the federal government

The Federal Government is asked to compile a Global Report for every legislative period (in Germany every four years), where the political actions and initiatives in the field of global change should be presented. It should also indicate as well as assess the results and developments of global change research in the aftermath of the 1992 Rio conference.

Identification of the 16 most important global "diseases"

For the first time in its history mankind has reached a point where the scope and magnitude of environmental and development problems have led to a serious and global crisis. Science has not yet been able to develop adequate strategies to cope with this development, since the "classic" disciplinary approach has no mechanisms to address the complexity and connectivity of Global Change issues. Therefore a true challenge for modern GC Science is the development of an approach for this specific problem structure. Along that line the Council has developed a so-called syndrome approach that can define, explain and help solve the "diseases" of our planet. The Council has identified the following 16 syndromes that encompass the phenomenon of global change as a whole.

Utilization syndromes - Syndromes as a result of inadequate use of natural resources as inputs for production

1. Overcultivation of marginal land - Sahel Syndrome

2. Overexploitation of natural ecosystems - Overexploitation Syndrome

3. Environmental degradation due to the elimination of traditional agricultural practices - Rural Exodus Syndrome

4. Non-sustainable agro-industrial use of soils and bodies of water - Dust Bowl Syndrome

5. Environmental degradation due to the exploitation of non-renewable resources - Katanga Syndrome

6. Development and destruction of nature for recreational purposes - Mass Tourism Syndrome

7. Destruction of the natural environment due to war and other military impacts - Scorched Earth Syndrome

Development syndromes - Problems of people-environment-interactions resulting from development processes

8. Degrading transformation of landscape due to large-scale projects - Aral Sea Syndrome

9. Environmental degradation due to the introduction of inappropriate agricultural pro#031#duction technologies - Green Revolution Syndrome

10. Neglecting environmental standards in the wake of highly dynamic economic growth - Asian Tigers Syndrome

11. Environmental degradation due to uncontrolled urban population growth - Favela Syndrome

12. Destruction of landscape due to planned expansion of urban infrastructure - Urban Sprawl Syndrome

13. Singular man-made environmental disasters with long lasting impacts - Disaster Syndrome

Sink syndromes - Environmental degradation due to the mismanagement of waste-related processes

14. Environmental degradation due to large-scale diffusion of long lasting substances - Smokestack-Syndrome

15. Environmental degradation due to uncontrolled disposal of municipal waste - Dumping Syndrome

16. Local contamination of soils and bodies of water mostly due to industrial production - Contamination Syndrome

Syndrome approach as alternative concept for Global Change research The Council recommends that future German Global Change research should be, by and large, syndrome-oriented, and it calls upon science to critically review and further develop this concept. According to the Report, three syndromes - Smokestack, Sahel and Urban Sprawl syndromes - are of prime importance and should be researched upon with high priority. Smokestack refers to the phenomenon of large-scale diffusion of long lasting substances, for example of CO2 or CFCs. The Sahel syndrome stands for the agricultural overexploitation of marginal regions. It occurs not only in the Sahel zone itself, but in numerous other areas of the world, for example in northern Thailand or northwestern Brazil. The Urban Sprawl syndrome can be found wherever wealthy cities expand, L.A. being the prime example for this disease.

Global Change - a vital threat for mankind

The Council defines Global Change as a development that modifies the very character of the system Earth, thereby affecting the basis of living for a large part of humankind. Prime pheno#031#menons of Global Change are climatic changes, the loss of fertile soils, the loss of of biodiversity, increasing scarcity of freshwater resources, oceanic pollution, an increase in (man-made) natural disasters, population growth, increasing environmental migration, rapid urbanization, declining food security, the threat to human health as well as the increasing inequalities between industrial and developing countries.

Increasingly concerned about the preservation of the natural basis for life and development of humankind, on April 8, 1992 the German Federal Government established its Advisory Council on Global Change. The task of this Council is to annually present a report on the state of the global environment and the social consequences involved, with particular attention onto the evolution of the agreements of UNCED in 1992 and the implementation of AGENDA 21 respectively. In addition, the report shall present specific recommendations for political action and further priorities for research.

German Advisory Council on Global Change - 'WBGU'

Secretariat at the Alfred-Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research P.O. Box 12 01 61 o 27515 Bremerhaven, FRG

Fax.: ++49 471 - 4831-218 o Ph: ++49 - 471 - 4831-349

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