Global Climate Forum: What Future?


  1. From Academic Unison to Mutual Understanding

The Global Climate Forum is a brainchild of Klaus Hasselmann, founding director of the Max Planck Institute (MPI) for Meteorology in Hamburg, who won the Nobel prize 2021 in physics for his work as a climate scientist. According to the Nobel prize committee his research contributed to “the foundation of our knowledge of the Earth’s climate and how humanity influences it”.1

As MPI director, Hasselmann fostered climate change research beyond his institute in the times when, in his words: „the media, general public and politicians began to become increasingly aware of the climate change problem and wanted to hear more from the climate experts themselves. So I was often invited to interviews on TV or the radio, and to give talks to the general public on climate. At the end of my talks I was always asked the same question: What should we do? And I would say: Well, I do not really know. I’m a climate scientist, not an economist or politician. But they would never let go, and kept persisting until I came up some off-the-cuff answer. So I decided I had better find some better answers and began looking into the problem of the impacts of climate change, and the possible economic and policy responses“.2

The mismatch between the specialized findings of climate scientists and the practical question of what should be done to avoid dangerous climate change intrigued him. It led him to think about the capabilities and limits of the research institutions studying the climate system. As in other fields, focusing on scientific results that would find the consensus of academic communities very often led to amazing insights with far-reaching implications. But it did not, and still doesn’t, lead to the collective will needed for humankind to address the challenges of global climate change.3 Hasselmann’s conclusion was that well-established scientific institutions should be complemented by organizations that rather than aiming at unanimity among scientists would patiently foster mutual understanding among scientists and practitioners with widely differing perspectives.

He implemented this conclusion in 2001 by gathering a group of people representing research institutions, businesses, and NGOs, who together founded the European Climate Forum. In those days, the European Union had begun to position itself as a vocal leader in global climate policy.4 The 1990 IPCC report had been a wake-up call, EU leaders were the first agreeing to stabilise greenhouse emissions of the European Community at 1990 levels by 2000. With this momentum, the EU introduced new programs for energy efficiency and renewable energy. Still, the obstacles were serious. A group of EU member states, led by the UK, opposed the introduction of a CO2 and energy tax. In Germany as elsewhere, the coal industry fought for new coal power stations and against attempts to phase out coal.

In this situation, Hasselmann deliberately connected people with contradicting views of climate change and convinced them to avoid quarreling mode and to seek understanding other people one did not agree with. As the saying goes: one sometimes has to walk a mile in the other’s shoes. The key idea was to involve scientists from different disciplines (sometimes with different opinions even within a given discipline) together with policymakers and activists, as well as stakeholders from businesses relying on fossil fuels, and to foster mutual respect and understanding.

This approach led to the emergence of the European Climate Forum.5 It avoided the degeneration of climate debates into showdowns between on the one hand apocalyptic voices trying to trigger effective climate policies by rocking up emotions of fear and panic, and on the other hand skeptical voices trying to sustain business as usual as long as possible. In this spirit, the Forum expanded well beyond Europe, establishing linkages with the US, China, Australia, and other regions of the world.


  1. Global Solidarity or Eurowhiteness

After a decade of expansion of the European Climate Forum we decided to rename it to GCF: Global Climate Forum. The reason was not a lack of interest in what Europe could and should do about climate change; quite the opposite. As figure 1 shows, starting from 1990 the EU managed to substantially reduce its greenhouse gas emissions and to set ambitious targets for its future – an ambition later further intensified with the European Green Deal.

Figure 1: Greenhouse gas emission trends for the EU (million t of CO2 equivalents),

Source: European Environmental Agency.6

Since the days when climate change was widely perceived as a global challenge (pretty much due to the first IPCC assessment report of 1990), the EU and many European countries have positioned themselves as global leaders through their internal climate policies and through their efforts to establish and enlarge the mechanisms of the Kyoto protocol. There is no doubt that these steps were meant to foster global solidarity in the face of climate change. Clearly, reducing global greenhouse gas emissions is indispensable if the EU is to avoid severe risks of climate change, and reducing global emissions requires acts of far-reaching global solidarity.

Figure 2: Global greenhouse gas emissions 1970-2022 (giga t of CO2 equivalents)

SourceSee also: European Commission; EDGAR/JRC, Crippa et al. 2023.7

By reducing its own emissions faster than the rest of the world, the EU displayed an example to the world as a whole, hoping to induce other nations and world regions to reduce their emissions accordingly. To some extent, this is reminiscent of the “civilizing mission” that has characterized the view of European countries about their relation to the global South since the Middle Ages – a view that reemerged in the unfortunate analogy of Europe as a garden and the world as an invading jungle“.8

The basic problem of this situation is illustrated by figure 2: when it comes to GHG emissions reduction, the rest of the world is not following the European example.

While the unique European emissions reductions flatter the self-image of many European institutions and to some extent of many EU citizens, large parts of the world wonder what are the costs incurred by the EU itself and what additional costs would be triggered by attempts to emulate EU climate policies elsewhere. Moreover, EU emission numbers are embellished to some extent by neglecting the emissions caused elsewhere by European imports (and by exports reinforcing carbon intensive activities).9

Unfortunately, claims that everybody has to shoulder inevitable costs of emissions reductions because the costs of business as usual would be catastrophic do not necessarily convince people that they should accept those additional costs. Instead, such claims often reinforce negative attitudes and emotions that make people in many places cautious about ambitious climate policies.

To propose a way out of this impasse, in 2012 GCF presented key research findings by GCF members including Hasselmann in the book “Reframing the Problem of Climate Change. From Zero Sum Game to Win-Win Solutions”.10 The book emphasized a view of anthropogenic climate change not as a doomsday perspective requiring high-cost policies but as a global problem that can and shall be solved by mobilizing idle financial, technical, and cultural resources.11

Three years later, the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference near Paris, France, sowed new seeds of hope with the Paris agreement: Nearly all nations on the planet endorsed the vision that each one of the countries that are party to the agreement shall cut down their greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2050. In contrast to the Kyoto protocol, reduction targets were not defined top down but declared voluntarily, if often timidly, by the different nations involved.

That agreement triggered unprecedented optimism about getting rid of dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system by 2050. Figure 3 suggests that the challenge implied by this optimism is immense (the challenge is exacerbated somewhat if one includes the role of land use change and greenhouse gases beyond CO2).

CO2 emissions started to increase with the industrial revolution, which explains why the biggest contribution to historical emissions has come from the US and the EU. After World War II, the so-called “great acceleration” led to an increase of global CO2 emissions from 5 to 35 billion t over the seven decades from about 1950 to 2020. In contrast, reaching the Paris targets would require a reduction of today’s global emissions to net zero in three decades, as the International Energy Agency forcefully argued in its landmark 2021 report “Net Zero by 2050”. One way or other, some countries may be able to be climate neutral by 2050, but this will hardly expand to the world economy as a whole.

Figure 3: Annual global CO2 emissions 1750-2022 (bn t, without land use)

Source: Our world in data, Global Carbon Budget (2022).12


  1. Climate Change and Global Choices

A reduction of global greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2050 or even earlier would be one of the greatest transformations in the history of humankind. It would be a transformation similar to the one from the nomadic life-forms of hunter-gatherers to the sedentary ones of farmers and inhabitants of cities – known as the neolithic revolution. This was a transformation that begun at least 10’000 years ago in parts of what today we call the Middle East, and somewhat later – independently – in what today are China, Mexico, and more. Over a lot of generations, the neolithic revolution involved and triggered creative breakthroughs like domesticating plants and animals, inventing pottery, later on shaping and using metals; it came with new forms of arts, from weaving to sculpture, but it also led to patriarchy and to wars as regular events.

The neolithic revolution was neither planned nor did it happen in a few decades – which is how many envisage global climate policy, namely as planned reduction of greenhouse gas emissions to net zero within a few decades. This is often imagined as solving a global problem without far-reaching transformations of today’s world society – with a comfortable, if sometimes meaningless life for quite a lot of people, miserable suffering for many more worldwide, entertainment to keep going, and wars as an inevitable part of the human condition.

Against that background, to plan and then implement on historically short notice a great transformation towards the inevitably complex patterns of sustainable life for humankind as a whole would be an unbelievably ambitious global choice.13 It might be feasible if people all over the world developed and implemented a deeply shared will to learn and do what it will take to reach that target, step by step.

By the same token, global peace might be feasible by 2050 if humankind would develop and implement an unprecedented collective will to jointly learn and do – again step by step – what it takes to reach this target as well.14 But no intention to get there has been explicitly declared, despite intense suggestions focusing on nuclear disarmament.15 The challenge of climate change and the one of the planetary arms race are deeply connected because both require global coordination. Nowadays nation states see themselves as the most effective medium for developing a shared will among large numbers of people. As long as actual and possible wars matter for these states (with special mention of the U.S. and China), the trust needed for globally coordinated reduction of greenhouse gas emissions to net zero will hardly crystallize. On the other hand, as long as greenhouse gas emissions continue to grow, changes in the global water cycle may even become triggers of armed conflicts, e.g., in the Middle East.16

Climate change and the global arms race are connected by the institutional arrangement of nation states. Nation states as we know them can be characterized, in Max Weber’s words, as “a human community that successfully claims the monopoly of the legitimate use of physical force within a given territory“.17 This kind of institution emerged stepwise in the neolithic revolution and continued as a process of cultural evolution that started several millennia ago in Mesopotamia and Egypt, continued on all continents and is still going on nowadays. Since the emergence of homo sapiens sapiens, from time to time there were violent conflicts among groups of hunter gatherers – not too different from the conflicts where some chimpanzees killed and still do kill each other. Wars between armies organized by territorially organized polities, however, are a legacy of the neolithic revolution. Over millennia of cultural evolution, armies have tremendously increased their destructive forces without an end in sight. It may be naïve to expect global coordination in the face of challenges like climate change, financial crises, pandemics, and more, as long as there is no collective will to identify and implement steps of disarmament that promise global peace as the normal way of human life on planet Earth.

Using their monopoly of force, weaponized nation states are able to define and declare a collective will of their citizens even if parts of the population do not share it. This kind of collective will is often seen as the national interest of the state in question, while other states will pursue other national interests. What weaponized nation states have not found out is how they might develop a shared will at the global scale. Foreign policy therefore becomes a series of attempts to get other states to accommodate or ideally support one’s own interests. Differences in national interests may be smoothened by diplomacy, but where this fails those differences may lead, in the words of Clausewitz, to war as continuation of politics with other means: “War is thus an act of force to compel our enemy to do our will.”18 Against that background, it is not obvious how a structure of nearly 200 nation states – including a few great powers able to destroy civilization as we know it – will eventually overcome the challenge of climate change.

So far, most nations of the world have declared an intention to bring greenhouse gas emissions down to net zero by 2050 (give or take a decade, depending on the nation). This intention is shaping public opinion and to some extent business expectations in wide parts of the world. Whether intentions and expectations will be realized remains to be seen. As a matter of fact, there are more global challenges of similar scope and impact as global climate policy and the global arms race: avoiding future pandemics that may largely surpass the suffering caused by Covid-19, overcoming unbelievable inequality worldwide, developing a fair and reliable financial system are more than enough examples. But one can get the impression that a global choice has been made to select climate change as the only topic worth an intense global effort.

Whether, and if so, how humankind will solve the challenge of self-inflicted climate change will depend on how processes of cultural evolution going back to the neolithic revolution will continue in the present century and beyond. In view of climate change, global arms race, and further global challenges there is an urgent need for a research program about the cultural evolutionary processes that have shaped humankind up to now – and about the evolutionary dynamics that may open up new options.19

It is tempting, and quite often proposed, to consider climate change the single biggest challenge humankind is faced with in the 21st century. This view is then used to claim that climate risks to nation states are so huge that each one of them – perhaps helping each other – by 2050 will reduce the greenhouse gas emissions they cause to net zero. But whether this will happen is far from clear. The US government, e.g., would not engage continuously in the required effort if it would see a clear and present danger of losing global primacy as a result. A similar reaction might be expected if a substantial part of the US population would aggressively oppose the required emissions reductions. Whether Russia will reach net zero by 2050 is even more doubtful – not because of bad intentions, but because the necessary measures might trigger a sudden crash of its economy and social stability.20 If we would discuss country by country the prospects of net zero by 2050, we would likely find serious obstacles for most of them. For two reasons the most important case after the US is China. First, because right now China is the largest emitter of greenhouse gas emissions (the record for the largest historical emissions belongs to the US), and second because it confronts the US with the biggest challenge to American primacy.21 While quite a few countries have declared their intention to achieve climate neutrality by 2050, China has done so for 2060 (as did Saudi Arabia). Whether declared intentions will be realized, however, is an open question.

Perhaps enough big nation states from different parts of the world will drastically reduce greenhouse gas emissions and complement these reductions by carbon capture and storage so as to reach global net zero by 2050. Whether and how this might happen will depend on a range of critical events that are impossible to know in advance. The past two decades offer drastic examples of how important the ability to manage the unexpected22 has become at a global scale:

  • In 2007, a global financial crisis started in the US, jumped over the Atlantic to trigger a dramatic eurozone crisis, and led to a reversal from global economic growth to a global recession. It had not been anticipated by high-level decision-makers and took economists by surprise.23

  • As another surprise, in 2016 Donald Trump got elected as US president and started to dismantle the climate policy initiated by the Obama administration, among other things withdrawing the US from the Paris agreement.24

  • Three years later, the Covid-2019 pandemic dramatically started in Wuhan, China, then spread to Europe, the US, and all continents on the planet. Remarkably, the possibility of such pandemics was well known. Already in 2012, a RAND paper stated that “while a future pandemic may be virtually certain, its timing and severity are not”.25 What was not foreseen was the dismal state of institutions faced with a pandemic whose possibility was known in advance. The Lancet Commission on lessons for the future from the COVID-19 pandemic described “what has been nothing less than a massive global failure – a failure of rationality, transparency, norms of public health practice, operational coordination, and international solidarity.”26 Moreover, the global health disaster was compounded by a massive economic contraction.

  • Another three years later, the 2022 invasion of Ukraine by Russia caused immense suffering and economic costs, while seriously bringing back the specter of nuclear war.

  • Just a year later, in 2023, Israel’s ferocious bombardment27 of Gaza as strategic revenge for the October 7 attack by Hamas intensified the (doubtful) belief of many that the unspeakable cruelties of war are inevitable parts of the human condition.

This sequence of global disruptions over less than two decades has led to widespread talk about a polycrisis. French social scientists Edgar Morin and Anne Brigitte Kern first used the term in their 1999 book, Homeland Earth, to argue that the world faces “no single vital problem, but many vital problems, and it is this complex intersolidarity of problems, antagonisms, crises, uncontrolled processes, and the general crisis of the planet that constitutes the number one vital problem”.28 This “general crisis of the planet” shows that humankind lacks the capability for global coordination in the face of major challenges like increasing military tensions and acts of war, let alone in the face of the polycrisis we are experiencing. Under these conditions, focusing on climate change in isolation, expecting weaponized nation states to implement a few quick fixes, and expecting that then life will continue as before is a dangerous example of wishful thinking. A new perspective is needed, aiming for global choices that create synergies between the effort to tackle global climate change and efforts to tackle other global challenges.


  1. The Need for a Global Choices Forum

The many crises that make up the present global polycrisis are best analyzed in the perspective of the Anthropocene. That’s the name proposed by geoscientists to characterize the epoch in Earth history where humankind has become a first order influence on our home planet.29 Such influence probably became relevant already as an impact of the neolithic revolution, because deforestation and rice cultivation may then have changed the climate system.30 Even if this was the case, however, our ancestors were hardly aware of their role in changing Earth. It was only in the decades after World War II that humankind gradually started to realize that we are drastically deteriorating the world we live in. It is reasonable to call this the beginning of the reflexive Anthropocene.31

Long before the origins of humankind, a new kind of bacteria – the Cyanobacteria – fundamentally changed the atmosphere and from there the earth system. Still, it would be weird to propose an epoch “Bacteriocene”. Humankind is changing the face of the Earth since quite some time but until recently we were no more aware than the Cyanobacteria of what we are doing at a planetary scale. When we became conscious of the planetary disruption, we are causing we also begun to realize the responsibility this places on us.

From a perspective of human ecology, 32 World War II and its aftermath have enabled us to wake up to our responsibility as “the ones who say ‘we’.33 A key step in this waking up was the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. It made Albert Einstein, Robert Oppenheimer, Karl Jaspers and many more realize that we have produced the unprecedented risks of the Atomic age.34 A next step was the rising awareness of the environmental harm caused by mindless use of chemical pesticides.35 Towards the end of the 20th century, the role of our species in triggering far-reaching climate change strongly increased the awareness of global responsibility for our environment and for our relations with each other all over the world.

The Anthropocene as the reflexive epoch of our collective responsibility is making us increasingly aware of the fact that in the 21st century humankind, organized in weaponized nation states and having invented technologies of breath-taking impact, has disruptive impacts on the world at a global scale. The capability of today’s nation states to generate a global common will of humankind to jointly take care of our planetary environment is fragile to say the best. Under these conditions trying to solve the climate change challenge as an isolated package will hardly work. What will be needed are complementary efforts to address various dimensions of the polycrisis that marks the beginning of the Anthropocene with the reflection it offers to and demands from us. Improving the global capability to anticipate and jointly survive inevitable pandemics, e.g., is clearly worth the effort. What is more, it can generate the trust that will be needed to achieve net zero greenhouse gas emissions and to heal the wounds that we are inflicting on the face of the Earth. There is no need and no realistic possibility to do that via a single central organization, but it is necessary and possible to foster synergies between competent efforts to assume our responsibility for the global risks of the Anthropocene in our times.


  1. Walk the talk

Understanding anthropogenic climate change as one of the interdependent aspects of the Anthropocene requires changing orientations and strategies of the many agents for whom climate change is a priority issue. This holds for international organizations like the IPCC and more, for governments with key roles in global climate policy, for companies ranging from Aramco to JPMorgan, NGOs from Greenpeace to WWF and more, and for the billions of people concerned about climate change.

For an innovative research association like the Global Change Forum, this situation calls us to go beyond a narrow focus on global climate change, and consciously offer a home to researchers capable and willing to study different challenges of the Anthropocene without locking oneself in different silos. In 2023, we have done so with the Emmy Noether research group initiated by Steffen Murau focusing on “The Political Economy of Financing Large-Scale Transformations”. The relevance of this topic for global climate policy is obvious, as for a carbon neutral world economy large scale investments with their finance will be needed. However, climate change will not be the only transformation calling for such research, nuclear disarmament as well as a global infrastructure for planetary health raise similar challenges. Based on his stay at Harvard, Steffen had designed a research project about the mentioned topic for which he was willing and able to mobilize financial resources from suitable foundations. Remarkably, well respected institutions declined to become host of a project that would have brought exciting ideas and the adequate financial means. In contrast, GCF offered to operate as host, which was possible because of our record in managing intellectually ambitious projects with multi- million Euro budgets. The result is that Steffen now leads a highly competent and promising research group at GCF.

Figure 4: People from Bhutan don’t look at climate policy in isolation. Source: UNDP.36

Based on two decades of experience, at GCF we are able to continue and intensify our research focused on climate change and policy. Enlarging our horizon so as to include global choices concerning further risks and opportunities of the Anthropocene is a non-trivial step. But it is necessary step, and the experience of the Emmy Noether group at GCF shows that it is a feasible one.

To open up this perspective we will intensify our long-standing cooperation with Arizona State University, will foster exchanges with similarly pioneering institutions like the new Max Planck Institute for Geoanthropology, and more. As we changed our name from European Climate Forum to Global Climate Forum many years ago it is now time to reinterpret our acronym – GCF: Global Choices Forum. This shall highlight the importance of synergies between research about more than one aspect of the polycrisis that marks the beginning of the reflexive Anthropocene.

In the perspective of a Global Choices Forum, it will be natural to build on the core competences that at GCF we have developed over many years in fields closely related to climate change:

  1. Adaptation to See Level Rise: Over many years, Jochen Hinkel with his team – often involving stakeholders in Europe and beyond – has built an outstanding knowledge basis about adaptation to sea level rise, ranging from the Diva++ model library to dynamically learning scenarios, and more. This research has been able to document and analyze the interplay between direct coast protection and coastal migration in ways of massive practical relevance: In the coming decades adaptation to sea level rise via direct coastal protection can be successful in coastal zones of considerable economic strength (think The Netherlands, London, and more) as long as it is implemented as a social learning process. In other areas (think Vietnam, India, and more) land will be lost and people will migrate away from the coast. Still, in many places combining direct coastal protection with well-managed migration (quite a challenge) may be the suitable approach under given conditions.



–   Völz, V., & Hinkel, J., 2023; Sea level rise learning scenarios for adaptive decision-making based on IPCC AR6. Earth’s Future, 11, e2023EF003


–   Lincke, D., Hinkel, J. (2021) Coastal Migration due to 21st Century Sea-Level Rise. Earth’s Future, 9(5). Doi: 10.1029/2020EF001965

– (worth following on X, former twitter)


  1. Climate Policy and Car Use: Sarah Wolf with her team have invested a lot of person years to develop the cutting-edge multi-agent model MoTMo, representing a population with a large fraction organizing its spatial mobility by cars they own, with public transport, bikes etc. as further options. Sarah and team designed and now use MoTMo to investigate – in close cooperation with the Berlin Mathematics Research Center Math+ at the Free University of Berlin – how car owners react to different climate policy measures. The simulations performed were and are connected with stakeholder dialogues involving policy makers as well as ordinary people living in different German regions (see the item “Decision Theatre” below). For this work GCF was awarded the Ralf-Dahrendorf prize for the European Research Area by the German Ministry for Education and Research.




–  Niemann, J.-H., Winkelmann, S., Wolf, S., Schütte. C. (2021) Agent-based modeling: Population limits and large timescales. Chaos, 31(033140)


  1. Financing Large-Scale Transformations: There is a clear and present danger that German private and public investments will be insufficient to master the complex transition Germany is faced with in view of decarbonization, digitalization, a new arms race, and the decay of public infrastructures. The European Union is faced with similar dangers as well in view of its European Green Deal. Among many financing options that have been activated in history for large public expenditures, three approaches deserve special attention: increasing taxes, accumulating public debt by borrowing on financial markets, getting the central bank to generate more money; a further option that may be increasingly used in the coming years are special purpose vehicles of various kinds. All options have their pros and cons, especially in view of monetary stability and inflation. Their analysis leads to cutting-edge questions of economic theory. Research about how to design and implement large scale financing of public investment and other expenditures is taking place on the basis of research performed at GCF during the whole period from the build-up of the new research group to the German government’s present financial troubles.




–   Murau, S., Haas, A., Guter-Sandu, A. (2023) Monetary Architecture and the Green Transition. Environment and Planning A: Economy and Space, doi: 0.1177/0308518X231197296

–   Golka, P., Murau, S., Thie, J.-E. (2023) Towards a Public Sustainable Finance Paradigm for the Green Transition. SocArXiv Papers.

–  Jaeger, C., Haas, A., Teitge, J. (2021) Klima, Digitalisierung und Nachhaltigkeit: Zur Finanzierung öffentlicher Zukunftsinvestitionen. GCF Report 1/2021.

–  Guter-Sandu, A., Murau, S. (2020) Putting ‘off-balance-sheet fiscal agencies’ under the control of the European Parliament could help democratise Eurozone governance.

  1. Green Growth and German Industry: In cooperation with one of the most influential economic think-tanks in present day Germany – the Macroeconomic Policy Institute – Carlo Jaeger and members of the Green Growth process at GCF analyzed whether, and if so how, the ambitious climate policy goals set by Germany can be reached without stopping economic growth on short notice. We first built a macro model leading to a Pareto-improving path for the European Green Deal, in line with Hasselmann’s work on economics. Later we analyzed the future of the German car industry with an adapted von Neumann growth model and showed that the German car industry can survive while becoming climate neutral if it reinvents itself in sync with transformations of urban regions worldwide.


–   Wolf, S., Schütze, F., Jaeger, C., 2016. Balance or Synergies between Environment and Economy — A Note on Model Structures (2016) Sustainability, 8, 761. doi:10.3390/su8080761.

–   Wolf, S., Teitge, J., Mielke, J., Schütze, F., Jaeger, C. (2021) The European Green Deal – More Than Climate Neutrality. Intereconomics, 56(2):99–107, 2021.

–   Jaeger, C. (2022) Klaus Hasselmann and Economics. Journal of Physics: Complexity, Volume 3, Number 4: Celebrating Complex Systems in honour of the 2021 Nobel Prize in Physics. Doi: 10.1088/2632-072X/ac956e,

–   Jaeger, C., Teitge, J., Thie, J.E., Trauboth, A. (2023) The German Car Industry in Times of Decarbonisation. Macroeconomic Policy Institute, Düsseldorf.

  1. Assessing climate-related financial risks: The theme of risk was a recurring theme in the GCF network early on. Against that background Stefano Battiston, Antoine Mandel, and Irene Monasterolo joined forces to provide assessments of climate-related financial risks both as academics trying to advance the pursuit of knowledge and as entrepreneurial characters willing to offer this kind of assessment as a service.



–  Battiston, S., Mandel, A., Monasterolo, I., Schütze, F., Visentin, G. (2017) A climate stress-test of the financial system. Nature Climate Change, 7, 283-288.

– Battiston, S., Mandel, A., Monasterolo, I. (2019) CLIMAFIN Handbook: Pricing Forward Looking Climate Risks Under Uncertainty.

Jaeger, C. (2016) The Coming Breakthrough in Risk Research. Economics The open access open assessment E-journal.

  1. The Decision Theater Methodology: Decision Theater is a methodology to improve decisions about complex problems by combining moderated group discussions involving stakeholders with scientific inputs, usually through visualizations and simulation models. At GCF, some of us had the opportunity to visit the impressive Decision Theater facility at Arizona State University. Among other things it was used by decision-makers planning investments in the irrigation infrastructure; visualizations were used to present data the participants needed in the process. Against that background we developed the multi-agent simulation model MoTMo of a population where spatial mobility is based to a considerable extent on car ownership, with public transport, bikes etc. as alternative options. The model simulates the effects of different climate policy measures and is designed in such a way that discussants can identify with particular agents in the model. That kind of model architecture can be used by executives, politicians etc. who need to design policies. It can also be used to document and understand the reactions of citizens to new measures. This work led to creative cooperation with Arizona State University and the Max Planck Institute for Geoanthropology. Presently, we are enlarging the approach that we developed in view of spatial mobility to other climate relevant issues including forest management, freshwater supply, and choices between different socio-economic futures.


–   Wolf, S., Fürst, S., Geiges, A., Laubichler, M., Mielke, J., Steudle, G., Winter, K., Jaeger, C. (2023) The Decision Theatre Triangle for societal challenges – An example case and research needs. Journal of Cleaner Production, 394, 136299. doi: 10.1016/j.jclepro.2023.136299.

–   See also:

–   Miller, J., Salla, R., Amresh, A., Smith, H., Kandala, S., Hinrichs, M., Gorantla, R., Sokteva, E., Wei, F., Hirsch, K., & others. (2019). The Decision Theater: Collaborative Research Methodology.

–   Boukherroub, T., D’Amours, S., Rönnqvist (2018) Sustainable forest management using Decision Theaters: Rethinking participatory planning. Journal of Cleaner Production, vol. 179, 567-580.


  1. New Possibilities

At GCF we have developed these climate change related competences over many years, inspired by Hasselmann’s idea of an innovative research forum bringing together researchers and practitioners. Deepening these competences, and building on them, it is now time to offer a home to researchers capable and willing to study other pressing challenges of the Anthropocene in a cooperative, transdisciplinary mode. The new Emmy Noether research group provides the proof of concept for the feasibility of the Global Choices Forum. The following remarks offer an outlook on the resulting fascinating research.

Climate change is a major issue in the polycrisis we are experiencing in the beginning of the reflexive Anthropocene, but certainly not the only one. Jörgensen et al. (2023) dissect the present polycrisis with a list of 14 “traps for humanity”.37 Impressive as this list is with its sophisticated explanations, it would be absurd for us at GCF to define our research in terms of this kind of list, because future issues of the Anthropocene polycrisis are shrouded in deep uncertainty.

From the days of ancient Greece through the times of the scientific revolution until today, in the scientific enterprise there were and still are people with the skills and will to investigate specific problems with far-reaching ramifications.38 In the coming years, the Global Choices Forum can and shall offer a home for passionate researchers interested to investigate specific global choices in the perspective of the reflexive Anthropocene while finding ways to mobilize the resources they consider necessary. It may then happen that we will get in touch with researchers and practitioners with the skills to do cutting edge research, e.g., about how to protect the most vulnerable and marginalized people from new planetary health risks, including those linked to climate change.

Other examples could be a new initiative to study the long-term future of capitalism in the Anthropocene,39 or an initiative to revitalize peace and disarmament research in times of new geopolitical tensions and proxy wars.40 Both will be related to climate change, without making it the single focus. The Global Choices Forum shall not try to launch such initiatives; it shall rather become a catalyst and home for synergies between innovative research activities, bringing researchers and practitioners together with a fascinating goal: advance the evolution of knowledge about how humankind can develop an effective collective will to turn the reflexive Anthropocene into an epoch beyond our tendencies to destroy each other and our shared environment.




2 Oral history interview of the American Institute of Physics:, the interview is amusing and definitely worth reading.

3 We owe the attention to the crucial role of collective will in order to tackle global challenges to discussions with Peter Schlosser, Vice President and Vice Provost of Global Futures at Arizona State University.

5 For the name change to Global Climate Forum see below.

7 See also: Crippa, M ; Guizzardi, D ; Schaaf, E ; Monforti-Ferrario, F ; Quadrelli, R ; Risquez Martin, A ; Rossi, S ; Vignati, E ; Muntean, M ; Brandao De Melo, J ; Oom, D ; Pagani, F ; Banja, M ; Taghavi-Moharamli, P ; Köykkä, J ; Grassi, G ; Branco, A ; San-Miguel, J (2023) GHG emissions of all world countries. Joint Research Center, doi/10.2760/953322.

8 An expression implemented in October 2022 by the high representative of the European Union for foreign affairs:
For broader ramifications of Europe’s “civilizing mission” see Kundnani’s (2023)

Culture, Empire and Race in the European Project.Hurst, London.

9 The carbon border adjustment mechanism decided in 2022 by the European parliament aims to mitigate this effect:

10 Jaeger, C., Hasselmann, K., Leipold, G., Mangalagiu, D., Tabara, J.D. (2012) Reframing the Problem of Climate Change. From Zero Sum Game to Win-Win Solutions. Routledge.

11 A simulation-based study documenting the relevant results for Europe was commissioned by the German Federal Ministry for the Environment and published as “A New Growth Path for Europe: Generating Prosperity and Jobs in the Low-Carbon Economy (2011)“.

12, figure “Annual CO2 emissions”

13 Some hints about time scales worth thinking about: Smil, V. (2022) How the World Really Works: A Scientist’s Guide to Our Past, Present and Future.

14 The target of global peace has been formulated and discussed by Kant (1795; 2016) Zum ewigen Frieden. Ein philosophischer Entwurf. Hofenberg Verlag. English translation accessible at

15 William J. Perry, Henry A. Kissinger and Sam Nunn (2021) Building On George Shultz’s Vision Of A World Without Nukes. The Wall Street Journal, March 24, 2021.

16Pearce, F. (2014) Mideast Water Wars: In Iraq, A Battle for Control of Water.
See as well: Mach, K.J., Kraan, C.M., Adger, W.N., Buhaug, H., Burke, M., Fearon, J.D., Field, C.B., Hendrix, C.S., Maystadt, J.-F., Loughlin, J.O., Roessler, P., Scheffran, J., Schultz, K.A., von Uexkull, N. (2019) Climate as a risk factor for armed conflict. Nature, 571, 193-197. doi: 10.1038/s41586-019-1300-6.

17 P.4 in „Politik als Beruf“, in: Weber, Max: Geistige Arbeit als Beruf, Munich 1919.

18 P.75 in: Carl von Clausewitz (1976 [1832]) On War. Princeton University Press.

19 Such a research program will need to build on concepts of biological evolution and place them in a broader horizon; see e.g., Laubichler MD, Renn J. 2015. Extended evolution: A conceptual framework for integrating regulatory networks and niche construction. J. Exp. Zool. (Mol. Dev.Evol.) 324B:565–577.

20 Katie Ross (2020) Russia’s Proposed Climate Plan Means Higher Emissions Through 2050. World Resources Institute,

21 Kinshore Mahbubani (2020) Has China Won? The Chinese Challenge to American Primacy. Hachettebookgroup.

22 Weick, K.E., Sutcliffe, K.M. (2015) Managing the Unexpected: Sustained Performance in a Complex World. Wiley (thoroughly revised third edition).

23 Greenspan, A. (2013) Never Saw It Coming. Why the Financial Crisis Took Economists By Surprise. Foreign Affairs,

25 Treverton, G.F., Nemeth, E., Srinivasan, S. (2012) Threats Without Threateners? Exploring Intersections of Threats to the Global Commons and National Security. RAND Corporation, doi: 10.7249/OP360.

26 The Lancet. (2022) COVID-19: the case for prosociality. The Lancet, Vol. 400, No. 10359.

27 To use the words of the Financial Times at

28 p.74 in: Morin, E., Kern, A.B. (1999) Homeland Earth: A Manifesto for the New Millennium. Hampton Press.

29 Crutzen, P. J. (2002) Geology of mankind. Nature. 415 (6867): 23.

30 Ruddiman, W.F. (2003) The anthropogenic greenhouse era began thousands of years ago. Climatic Change, 61 (3): 261–293. doi:10.1023/B:CLIM.0000004577.17928.fa.

31 This understanding builds on the earlier attempt by Beck et al. to clarify the transformation of modern societies in the second half of the 20th century. Beck, U., Giddens, A., Lash, S. (1994). Reflexive Modernization: Politics, Tradition and Aesthetics in the Modern Social Order. Stanford University Press.

32 Dyball, R. and Newell, B. (2015) Understanding Human Ecology: A Systems Approach to Sustainability London, England: Routledge.

33 Brandom, R.B. (1994) Making It Explicit. Reasoning, Representing, and Discursive Commitment. Harvard University Press.

34 Jaspers, K. (1963) The Atom Bomb and the Future of Man. University of Chicago Press.

35 Carson, R. (1962) Silent Spring. Houghton Mifflin.

37 Jørgensen, P.S., Jansen, R.E.V., Avila-Ortega, D.I., Wang-Erlandsson, L., Donges, J.F., Österblom, H.,, Olsson, P., Nyström, M., Lade, S.J., Hahn, T., Folke, C., Peterson, G.D., Crépin, A.-S. (2023) Evolution of the polycrisis: Anthropocene traps that challenge global sustainability. Phil. Trans. R. Soc. B 379: 20220261.2022026.

38 Some examples worth looking up: Archimedes from Greater Greece (including Sicily), Copernicus from Poland (in his days), Galois from France, John Snow from England.

39 See Branko Milanovic’s (2019) Capitalism, Alone. The Future of the System that Rules the World. Harvard University Press.

40 See John Mueller (2021) The Stupidity of War: American Foreign Policy and the Case for Complacency. Cambridge University Press.

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Thank you, Carlo and Antje, for this comprehensive and nuanced discussion on global climate change and the interconnected challenges facing humanity. I enjoyed reading the essay as it provides a thorough analysis of the challenges and opportunities in addressing climate change and an interesting perspective on how to navigate the polycrisis of the Anthropocene era.

The essay’s vision of expanding to a Global Choices Forum suggests an ambitious and holistic approach. From my point of view, however, it also raises some challenges and questions. I’d like to highlight some concerns regarding coordination/content and the name change and that came to my mind.

I would argue that as a small organization, expanding our focus to cover a multitude of global issues risks rendering our work too superficial, diluting the depth and impact of our research and actions. At the same time, integrating diverse research areas requires substantial coordination. Maintaining a core competency, particularly in climate change, allows us to anchor our diverse research projects and initiatives, ensuring they are interconnected and mutually reinforcing. This focused expertise not only enhances our credibility but also maximizes our contributions to addressing the pressing and specific challenges posed by climate change (and associated crises).

The proposed name change to “Choices” warrants critical reflection, as it may be interpreted as suggesting or implying a unified, global decision-making process, whereas in reality, global outcomes are often shaped by a collection of numerous individual choices. Suggesting a collective global agency might be misleading and oversimplifies the complex interplay of individual actions and systemic factors. While the name aligns with the themes of the essay, it is not self-explanatory and may risk confusing our audience, potentially undermining our reputation and the clarity of our mission. 

I support the comments of my previous commentators, emphasizing that before changing the name, it may be more practical to first adjust the mission and internal organization of GCF and establish structures that facilitate better exchange between projects and working groups (I, too, see quite some potential there). I could, for example, imagine initiatives such as posters in the hallways and (in)formal meetings to foster collaboration within GCF.


Dear fellow wanderers in cyberspace,
Thanks a lot for the conversations inspired by the essay “Climate Change and Global Choices”. Working on this essay in a team with Manfred, Saini and Antje was a pleasure and a challenge, involving exchanges linking the US, China, and Europe, implementing gender balance, and creating new spaces for young scholars like Antje and Sharui (without whom these conversations would never have reached cyberspace once Daniel and his wife were criss-crossing the US for excellent reasons). The future of GCF will depend on and be shaped by young scholars, some of whom we do not even know yet. Therefore, I will start this comment of comments with some remarks about the paths I was faced with as a young scholar.
Once I had finished my PhD in economics at Goethe-University in Frankfurt with the best possible marks, a professor from another university told me that I should apply for a professorship in that universitay and that I would then get the job for sure. After some reflection I discarded this option because I saw a path from kindergarten all the way to a lifetime in academia as closing one’s mind. Instead, I hitchhiked across Europe, took care of cattle in the Alps, and continued to study. I found help in exchanges with equally curious friends and by joining debates in places like the University of Cambridge and ETH-Zurich. In both places I was encouraged and educated by informal but serious mentors in doing research about well-defined questions that are connected with far-reaching unresolved problems. At ETH-Z, I was offered a job as a low-paid assistant, seized it and in that role got about half a million Swiss francs from the Swiss National Science Foundation for a research project about how cities might change through the impact of information technologies.
When I was done with that project, I applied for various professorships and got one for general sociology at TU Darmstadt. It was a position that I could combine with a new role in Zurich as department head for human ecology in the world class aquatic research institute of the ETH system. There, together with outstanding  climate scientist Huw Davies (ETH professor and a good Rugby player from Wales) I got and coordinated a multi-million francs research project about climate change in the Alpine human ecological system – a project that generated a lot of peer reviewed papers and a heavy volume at MIT press.
Once that project was done, too, I was told by a friend that I should apply for a role as department head at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, PIK, combined with an interesting  S-professorship at Potsdam university. I did so and at the start of the third millennium got that twofold job. It brought me in contact with climate scientist Klaus Hasselmann, who together with Syukuro Manabe and Giorgio Parisi in 2021 would get the Nobel prize for groundbreaking contributions to our understanding of complex physical systems” – with the climate system as a paradigmatic example. Already when we got knowing each other, Hasselmann had realised that traditional academic institutions – like universities, like the Max Planck institute he was directing, and like the IPCC as well – helped recognise the challenge of climate change, but that they would not be able to find and develop actions to effectively tackle this challenge. He reached the conclusion that what was needed was a research institution bringing together climate scientists, economists, specialists of other disciplines, practitioners from business, NGOs, policy-makers, and other stakeholders. He managed to crystallise an organisation of that kind, involving the Max Planck Institute for Meteorology, PIK, Greenpeace, Munich Re, and many more. In 2001 he founded the institution under the name “European Climate Forum – ECF”. Before that, he had first asked and then convinced me to be chairman of the forum, to help planting the seed and helping the new forum to attract outstanding researchers and practitioners.
In the following years I was offered professorships in the US and in China. But I did not want to drop the task of developing Hasselmann’s plan for a new kind of scientific institution, and so managed to transform those offers into new forms of cooperation that enlarged ECF into the Global Climate Forum. No reputation was lost by this widening, quite the opposite.
Looking back at these developments, Armin’s brillant remark about challenges of the Anthropocene’s polycrisis is really important. In the past two decades we had the environmental crisis of global climate change, but also the financial crisis that started in the US, continued in Europe and affected the whole world, then the medical crisis of the Covid-19 pandemic that started in China, continued in Europe and then spread across the globe, and last not least the military crisis where in the Ukraine war the US and Russia got close to world war III.
Against that background, a strategy to tackle the challenge of climate change in isolation may look feasible in relatively small, affluent countries like the Netherlands and Switzerland, may already be hard to realize in Germany, and is close to hopeless at a global scale. Without joining the doomsday prophecies frequent in climate change debates, it is quite likely that the coming decades will combine the climate crisis with other crises of global impact. Faced with the global crises of the Anthropocene, at GCF we can and perhaps patiently work on understanding how humankind can develop better forms of global coordination than the ones elaborated over centuries by heavily weaponised nation states.
Another remarkable comment of you, Armin, is your hint at research about connections between global financial markets and variants of carbon-based energy markets – relating the change from the UK sterling to the US dollar to the shift from coal to oil and gas. That comment points at new ways to analyse monetary, environmental, and standard economic dynamics together. It certainly made me curious about connections between the long-term future of the global financial system and the present efforts to replace fossil fuels with wind and solar (along with the inevitable changes in the related global transport and storage infrastructures).
To me, Armin’s comments and those by Fulvio, Ian, and by others that may join, open avenues for future research at GCF – research that, to quote Oppenheimer, will be technically sweet, but will not recall the line from The Bhagavad Gita: “I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds” – neither through the atomic bomb nor through climate change. Along these lines, we can nurture creative research through conversations between people working on different, but related topics.
It is worth remembering that what today is called science started as conversations in settings like Plato’s Academy. Its members and friends would discuss, observe, experiment and think together on the basis of shared experiences and traditions. The kind of quality that matters in such conversations was captured by Wolfgang Pauli, who, moving between Göttingen, Copenhagen, Zurich, Princeton etc., had an extensive exchange of letters with Bohr, Einstein, Heisenberg, and others. He highlighted the importance of an understanding inspired by empirical material, a mutual understanding of each other by bringing inner images into line with external objects and their behavior – it goes without saying that these external objects include human beings, too.
In that spirit, thanks to all of you for exchanging thoughts, insights, and thrilling questions!

Dear colleagues, 

I have thoroughly enjoyed reading the essay. The reflections on macrotrends and developments in our past and present world were very insightful.

Nevertheless, the conclusions of these reflections are not very clear to me. More specifically, how would the integration of the different domains of global changes, and the overcoming of silos, be achieved? Hosting researchers working on, e.g., nuclear disarmament or pandemic prevention next to those focused on climate change adaptation would not inherently foster integration. I think that the ambition presented in the manifesto would require a clear strategy to ensure that the different areas of research are not just co-located but meaningfully interconnected. 

I would furthermore call for a reflection on the timeliness of a change of name for GCF. From my surely limited perspective, I would argue that the previous rebranding towards a “global forum” has not been reflected in a true transformation in this sense. After several years, GCF still retains a strong eurocentric focus and has minimal representation from the Global South. Changing the name of an organisation surely entails some costs, and I wonder if it wouldn’t be wiser to proceed with this only after the envisioned structural changes are planned and, at least partially, implemented.

I believe it is crucial for climate change research to achieve a stronger connection with other major issues that require international coordination. GCF can, and should, play a role in this. I find this very fascinating and I am curious to discuss this further with all of you.

Best regards, 


The motivation for the name change is inspiring. That said, GCF may risk losing name recognition and suffer reputationally from abruptly changing its name.

An alternative option could be to first reformulate the GCF Mission, Vision & Objectives to reflect the breadth of topics GCF intends to research going forward. In the near term, that could guide the Forum’s choices on which research project to pursue and scientists to hire, etc. in order to first become an institute with a broader expertise beyond climate, and then change the name to reflect the changed character of the institute, rather than the other way around.

Dear Colleagues,
Thank you very much, Carlo, for sharing your strategy paper about the past, present, and future of GCF. I find your suggestion to re-interpret our acronym GCF as Global Choices Forum fascinating considering the challenges of Anthropocene’s polycrisis. I understand that you suggest that we should not reinvent GCF, but continue our operations, use the assets that we currently have, and build on them. And we already have plenty of assets, as far as my judgment is concerned.
Under these assumptions, I want to share some thoughts with you. At one of the big conferences that GCF organized in Brussels, I listened to a fascinating presentation of David Servan-Schreiber who back then was the director of the Center for Integrative Medicine at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. He told us that most of his colleagues at the Medical Center thought of human beings as a collection of organs, whereas he perceived them as complex systems (my words). His view resonated well with me. One of the most-lasting readings ever in my life was a book of Frederic Vester, a German pioneer of network thinking. I think it is not by chance that both Servan-Schreiber and Vester were well-versed in biochemistry. My own command of biochemistry is rudimentary, but I understand that human bodies can be reasonably described as a complex set of complex networks. In particular, I think of the nervous system, the two branches of the blood circulation, the lymphatic system, and the endocrine system, that are interconnected and that interact with each other. You, Manfred, will be able to express this much better than I am. You deal with networks in bodies and between bodies, i.e. how bodies work, and how they interact in ecologies.
Networks are already a considerable strength of GCF. I think of your work, Guido, concerning network theory; how you, Stefano, identified the topology of the international financial system; and how you, together with Antoine, Franziska and further colleagues used network approaches for looking into the intersection of climate risks and financial risks.
GCF mobility research also concerns networks, i.e. the network of settlements and the roads and rails that connect and structure them, internally. This is where the expertise of the MoTMo group comes in with its pioneering work.
Supply chains are a big issue, nowadays, and both the sustainability transition and the politically enforced decoupling due to geopolitical considerations imply fundamental shifts of these chains. Whether these shifts will be dominated by the sustainability transition or by decoupling, is an open question, as is whether and how these two drivers interact with each other, and cause supply chain evolution. I am curious about the potential of von Neumann growth models for modelling and dealing with the evolution of the industrial ecologies of cars, and settlements.
In conversations with you, Jochen, I have learned that there is a joint interest, and a considerable overlap, between your group and the OBFA group at GCF. For both groups, networks of institutions, and their respective governance, are of high importance.
I remember you, Carlo, steadily reminding us that a sustainability transition will not just transform technical infrastructure, but come along with a transformation of social and cultural “infrastructure”. I approach these transformations with an extended evolution mindset.
I want to close with a fascinating example of how supply chains and financial networks are interrelated. Steffen Murau and Herman Mark Schwartz are currently preparing a special issue about the Dollar system. One of the papers in this special issue concerns a particular link between the energy system and the financial system. Its key findings are that the Sterling system was associated with coal-based value chains, whereas the US-Dollar system is associated with oil-based value chains. Coal is much more evenly distributed on the planet than oil. When coal was the fuel base, most industrializing countries could rely on domestic coal, and not much international trade was needed among the industrializing countries for sustaining their energy flows. The Sterling system was thus basically balanced when contrasting it to the US-Dollar system. As oil can be only found at some places in the world, and not necessarily those that are the most industrialized ones, global oil trade in USD leads to a system that is fundamentally imbalanced, with some surplus countries sitting on petrol dollars, and plenty of deficit countries. We are currently thinking about juxtaposing a ‘balanced’ sterling system and an ‘imbalanced dollar system’ using balance sheet figures.