Making the UN Ocean Decade work? The potential for, and challenges of, transdisciplinary research and real-world laboratories for building towards ocean solutions

  1. Due to the strong interconnectedness between the ocean and our societies worldwide, improved ocean governance is essential for sustainable development in the context of the UN Ocean Decade. However, a multitude of different perspectives—ecological, societal, political, economic—and relations between these have to be understood and taken into consideration to foster transformative pathways towards marine sustainability.
  2. A core challenge that we are facing is that the ‘right’ response to complex societal issues cannot be known beforehand as abilities to predict complex systems are limited. Consequently, societal transformation is necessarily a journey towards the unknown and therefore requires experimental approaches that must enable the involvement of everyone with stakes in the future of our marine environment and its resources.
  3. A promising transdisciplinary research method that fulfils both criteria—being participatory and experimental—are real-world laboratories. Here, we discuss how real-world labs can serve as an operational framework in the context of the Ocean Decade by facilitating and guiding successful knowledge exchange at the interface of science and society. The core element of real-world labs is transdisciplinary experimentation to jointly develop potential strategies leading to targeted real-world interventions, essential for achieving the proposed ‘Decade Outcomes’.
  4. The authors specifically illustrate how deploying the concept of real-world labs can be advantageous when having to deal with multiple, overlapping challenges in the context of ocean governance and the blue economy.
  5. Altogether, we offer a first major contribution to synthesizing knowledge on the potentials of marine real-world labs, considering how they act as a way of exploring options for sustainable ocean futures. Indeed, in the marine context, real-world labs are still under-explored but are a tangible way for addressing the societal challenges of working towards sustainability transformations over the coming UN Ocean Decade and beyond.

Franke, A., Peters, K., Hinkel J., Hornidge, A., Schlüter, A., Zielinski, O., Wiltshire, K., Jacob, U., Krause, G., Hillebrand. H., 2022. Making the UN Ocean Decade work? The potential for, and challenges of, transdisciplinary research and real-world laboratories for building towards ocean solutions. People and Nature.

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The macroeconomic effects of adapting to high-end sea-level rise via protection and migration

Climate change-induced sea level rise (SLR) is projected to be substantial, triggering human adaptation responses, including increasing protection and out-migration from coastlines. Yet, in macroeconomic assessments of SLR the latter option has been given little attention. We fill this gap by providing a global analysis of the macroeconomic effects of adaptation to SLR, including coastal migration, focusing on the higher end of SLR projections until 2050. We find that when adapting simultaneously via protection and coastal migration, macroeconomic costs can be lower than with protection alone. For some developing regions coastal migration is even less costly (in GDP) than protection. Additionally, we find that future macroeconomic costs are dominated by accumulated macroeconomic effects over time, rather than by future direct damages, implying the need for immediate adaptation. Finally, we demonstrate the importance of including autonomous adaptation in the reference scenario of economic assessment studies to avoid overestimation of adaptation benefits.

Bachner, G., Lincke, D. & Hinkel, J., 2022. The macroeconomic effects of adapting to high-end sea-level rise via protection and migration. Nat Commun 13, 5705.

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New working paper: Klaus Hasselmann and Economics

Klaus Hasselmann has earned the 2021 Nobel prize in physics for his breakthroughs in analysing the climate system as a complex physical system. Since decades, as a leading climate scientist he is aware of the need for creative cooperation between climate scientists and researchers from other fields, especially economics. To facilitate such cooperation, he has designed a productive research program for economic analysis in view of climate change. Without blurring
the differences between economics and physics, the Hasselmann program stresses the complexities of today’s economy. This includes the importance of heterogeneous actors and different time scales, of making major uncertainties explicit and bringing researchers and practitioners in close interaction. The program has triggered decades of collaborative research, especially in the network of the Global Climate Forum, that he has founded for this purpose. Research inspired by Hasselmann’s innovative ideas has led to a farewell to outdated economic approaches: singleequilibrium models, a single constant discount rate, framing the climate challenge as a kind of prisoner’s dilemma and framing it as a problem of scarcity requiring sacrifices from the majority of today’s population. Instead of presenting the climate problem as the ultimate apocalyptic narrative, he sees it as a challenge to be mastered. To meet this challenge requires careful research in order to identify underutilisation of human, technical and social capacities that offer the keys to a climate friendly world economy. Climate neutrality may then be achieved by activating these capacities through investmentoriented climate strategies, designed and implemented by different actors both in industrialised and developing countries. The difficulties to bring global greenhouse gas emissions down to net zero are enormous; the Hasselmann program holds promise of significant advances in this endeavour.
Access the paper HERE or through the link in the title.

Vested interests, rather than adaptation considerations, explain varying post-tsunami relocation outcomes in Laamu atoll, Maldives

Relocating communities out of increasingly risk-prone areas is effective for adapting to climate change. Relocations are particularly relevant for small island regions, where sea-level-rise-induced retreat from the coast will be inevitable for some communities. However, relocations are contested because communities are generally reluctant to move, and decision-makers face high political risks. As a consequence, relocations mostly occur after extreme events. In such situations, existing rules can be undermined by politics and power, driving relocation policy and resulting in varying relocation outcomes. However, these political and policy dimensions of post-disaster relocations have received little attention. Here, we study the politics and power dynamics of two post-tsunami relocations in the Maldives. Using process tracing, we find that vested interests, rather than adaptation considerations, explain varying relocation outcomes. Our findings highlight the complex power structures inherent in post-disaster relocations, which explain why similar events and drivers did not produce similar outcomes.

Gussmann, G. and Hinkel, J., 2021. Vested interests, rather than adaptation considerations, explain varying post-tsunami relocation outcomes in Laamu atoll, Maldives. One Earth.

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GCF Report 01/2021: Landmark report on financing public investments required by climate goals

For the first time, this report shows a realistic way to finance public climate investment, considering the critical example of Germany.
Access the Full Report here.


Uncertainty and Bias in Global to Regional Scale Assessments of Current and Future Coastal Flood Risk

This study provides a literature-based comparative assessment of uncertainties and biases in global to world-regional scale assessments of current and future coastal flood risks, considering mean and extreme sea-level hazards, the propagation of these into the floodplain, people and coastal assets exposed, and their vulnerability. Globally, by far the largest bias is introduced by not considering human adaptation, which can lead to an overestimation of coastal flood risk in 2100 by up to factor 1300. But even when considering adaptation, uncertainties in how coastal societies will adapt to sea-level rise dominate with a factor of up to 27 all other uncertainties. Other large uncertainties that have been quantified globally are associated with socio-economic development (factors 2.3–5.8), digital elevation data (factors 1.2–3.8), ice sheet models (factor 1.6–3.8) and greenhouse gas emissions (factors 1.6–2.1). Local uncertainties that stand out but have not been quantified globally, relate to depth-damage functions, defense failure mechanisms, surge and wave heights in areas affected by tropical cyclones (in particular for large return periods), as well as nearshore interactions between mean sea-levels, storm surges, tides and waves. Advancing the state-of-the-art requires analyzing and reporting more comprehensively on underlying uncertainties, including those in data, methods and adaptation scenarios. Epistemic uncertainties in digital elevation, coastal protection levels and depth-damage functions would be best reduced through open community-based efforts, in which many scholars work together in collecting and validating these data.

Hinkel, J., L. Feyen, M. Hemer, G. Le Cozannet, D. Lincke, M. Marcos, L. Mentaschi et al. Uncertainty and bias in global to regional scale assessments of current and future coastal flood risk. Earth’s Future: e2020EF001882. (2021)

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Risks on global financial stability induced by climate change: the case of flood risks

There is increasing concern among financial regulators that changes in the distribution and frequency of extreme weather events induced by climate change could pose a threat to global financial stability. We assess this risk, for the case of floods, by developing a simple model of the propagation of climate-induced shocks through financial networks. We show that the magnitude of global risks is determined by the interplay between the exposure of countries to climate-related natural hazards and their financial leverage. Climate change induces a shift in the distribution of impacts towards high-income countries and thus larger amplification of impacts as the financial sectors of high-income countries are more leveraged. Conversely, high-income countries are more exposed to financial shocks. In high-end climate scenarios, this could lead to the emergence of systemic risk as total impacts become commensurate with the capital of the banking sectors of countries that are hubs of the global financial network. Adaptation policy, or the lack thereof, appears to be one of the key risk drivers as it determines the future exposure of high-income countries. This implies in particular that the avoided costs in terms of financial stability should be weighted in as benefits of adaptation policy.

Mandel, A., Tiggeloven, T., Lincke, D. et al. Risks on global financial stability induced by climate change: the case of flood risks. Climatic Change 166, 4 (2021).

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Coastal protection can significantly reduce migration from sea-level rise

Protecting densely populated coastal areas, such as river deltas or megacities, from sea-level rise with dikes and seawalls will likely limit land loss and migration of people away from the coasts. But these protections are overlooked in most migration estimates. A new study predicts coastal protection could limit migration to 17 to 72 million people during the 21st century—less than half of some previous estimates.

The study, published in Earth’s Future, AGU’s journal for interdisciplinary research on the past, present and future of our planet and its inhabitants, is the first to look at the effects of coastal protection on migration rates on a global scale. The analysis takes into account a wide range of climate change and economic scenarios.

The authors find that, from a purely economic point of view, it makes sense to protect about 3% of the global coastline—mainly around densely populated cities and floodplains. However, for people living on less populated coastlines in poorer communities with fewer assets to protect, retreating would be a more affordable option for local governments than investing in protection.

“Nobody will give up New York City or the Netherlands, at least not in the 21st century, so we wanted to take this into account to get a more realistic picture of coastal migration due to sea-level rise,” said Daniel Lincke, a coastal researcher at the Global Climate Forum, an independent research institute focused on climate change research.

People have kept out the sea with dikes and other barriers for hundreds of years. The Netherlands, for example, began building dikes at least as far back as the 1200s. As sea levels continue to rise due to climate change, many countries will likely construct seawalls and other defenses to protect densely populated areas.

From a technical standpoint, Lincke expects that all coastal megacities potentially could be protected, at least up to the 2 meters (6.56 feet) of sea-level rise predicted by 2100 under the worst climate change scenarios. But building and maintaining coastal protection infrastructure comes at a high cost that could add up to several trillions (US$) globally through the 21st century.

Most studies have not considered coastal protection in their estimates of the impacts of sea-level rise, Lincke said, potentially leading scientists to overestimate the number of potential migrants from coastal areas.

“There have been global studies of cost-benefits of flood protection, and global studies on migration, but in this paper, they nicely combined them,” said Hans de Moel, a natural hazard risk researcher at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam who was not involved in the study. “It’s important because you don’t want to look at adaptation measures in isolation.”

Lincke and his co-author Jochen Hinkel of the Global Climate Forum developed a model that splits the global coastline into about 12,000 pieces based on local elevation, population and socioeconomic data. For each piece of coastline, they used the model to estimate the local costs of constructing and maintaining protection, retreating from the land and losing its assets or repairing flood damage. They considered 250 potential future scenarios with differing amounts of sea-level rise and global wealth. Then they estimated the number of migrants, assuming that local governments would make protection decisions based purely on this cost-benefit analysis.

The researchers emphasize that their analysis focuses on economic factors, but that social and political factors also play powerful roles in how individuals and societies react to the threat of rising sea-levels.

For 3.4% of the world’s coastline, all of the scenarios agreed that coastal protection was a less costly option for the country than migration or repairing flood damage. These regions include coastal urban areas in China, Japan and Europe, and cities in the U.S., Australia, Indonesia and the Nile delta.

“You cannot protect everywhere—that will not be possible,” Lincke said. The analysis also takes into account the wealth level of each country and the local cost of constructing dikes. For regions with fewer people or less valuable property along the coasts, retreat and the likely migration of coastal residents is predicted to cost a country less than protection, which may guide decision-making. As a result, “it is very probable that the locations where people have to retreat are mainly in poor and developing countries,” Lincke said.

Densely populated countries in South Asia and Southeast Asia are predicted to have the highest numbers of migrants. Small island states, such as the Pitcairn Islands, the Marshall Islands and Kiribati, will also suffer high relative migration rates, with more than half the population of some islands likely being forced to move.

Depending on the scenario, sea-level rise is predicted to claim about 60,000 to 415,000 square kilometers (about 23,000 to 160,000 square miles) worldwide. The U.S., Russia and Canada are expected to lose the most land, as they have long and mainly sparsely populated coastlines.

de Moel suggests that the next step would be to look at models of how people decide when to migrate in the face of sea-level rise. These would include factors like a person’s risk perception, sense of place and the effects of previous extreme flooding events, like Hurricane Katrina in the U.S. and Cyclone Xynthia in France. He said that these events can trigger people to migrate well before their land becomes inundated. His group at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam is working on such a model. “This is a very nice foundational piece on which we can move forward.”

Earth’s Future is an open access journal. The paper can be accessed under

New GCF Working Paper (02/21): The Decision Theatre Triangle for societal challenges

The Decision Theatre Triangle for societal challenges

To support discussions about the challenge of a sustainable mobility transition between researchers and stakeholders, such as practice experts, decision makers, and citizens, we have developed and tested an agent-based model and a mobile Decision Theatre set-up. Due to the combination of three elements: a) mathematical modelling and simulation, b) socio-ecological, including socio-economic, data and understanding, and c) a dialogue format based on the former two elements for bringing together researchers and stakeholders — we refer to the method as the Decision Theatre Triangle. This paper presents insights gained with the sustainable mobility case and, based on these, outlines research needs for turning this method into an easy-to-set-up instrument of science communication, decision support, and co-production of research for societal challenges more generally.

Access the paper HERE or through the link in the title above.

New publication: The European Green Deal – More Than Climate Neutrality

The European Green Deal – More Than Climate Neutrality

The European Green Deal aims at climate neutrality for Europe by 2050, implying a signifi cant acceleration of emission reductions. To gain the necessary support, it needs to reduce regional and social inequalities in Europe. We present objectives in terms of jobs, growth and price stability to complement the emission reduction targets and sketch a proof-of-concept investment profi le for reaching these goals. Substantial additional annual public investments, of about 1.8% of pre-COVID-19 GDP, are proposed for the next decade. Their allocation includes retrofi tting the European building stock, consciously fostering a renewal of the European innovation system as well as complementary measures in the fields of education and health. The scenario outlined in this article is meant as an input to the urgently needed discussion on how the European Green Deal can shift the EU economy to a new development path that realises a carbon-neutral Europe by 2050 while strengthening European cohesion.

Jaeger, C., J. Mielke, F. Schuetze, J. Teitge, S. Wolf. 2021. The European Green Deal – More Than Climate Neutrality. Intereconomics. Volume 56, March/April 2021, Number 2. DOI: 10.1007/s10272-021-0963-z.