Serving global change politics
The German federal government set up WBGU as an independent, scientific advisory body in 1992 in the run-up to the Rio Earth Summit. The Council's principal tasks are to:
- analyse global environment and development problems and report on these,
- review and evaluate national and international research in the field of global change,
- provide early warning of new issue areas,
- identify gaps in research and to initiate new research,
- monitor and assess national and international policies for the achievement of sustainable development,
- elaborate recommendations for action and research and
- raise public awareness and heighten the media profile of global change issues.
WBGU publishes flagship reports every two years, making its own choice of focal theme. In addition, the German government can commission the Council to prepare special reports and policy papers.
Global change challenges
Human interference in the natural environment has reached global proportions. The critical environmental changes which are advancing worldwide include climate change, biodiversity loss, soil degradation and freshwater pollution and scarcity. The continuing spread of non-sustainable lifestyles, the persistence of absolute poverty and a growing global population are accelerating these interventions in the natural environment. One consequence of global environmental change is the mounting vulnerability, especially of developing countries, to natural disasters, food crises and disease. Thus, environmental degradation has also become a security issue. The new quality of these global human interventions in the Earth System is presenting scientists and politicians with new challenges. Global environment and development policy, guided by the principle of sustainable development, seeks to meet these challenges.
Scientific policy advice
Many political decisions have to be taken before the complex cause-effect relationships among global environment and development issues have been fully elucidated. Climate change is an example. It is scientifically beyond doubt that emitted greenhouse gases are causing the global mean temperature to rise; the regional impacts, however, are diverse and not entirely predictable. The German Advisory Council on Global Change (WBGU) takes a transdisciplinary approach, enabling it to provide guidance for political decision makers. Despite the existing uncertainties, WBGU assesses hazards and identifies 'guard rails' that should not be crossed. Such policy advice on global change makes it easier for decision makers to act under uncertainty. The particular aim is to identify precautionary options by which grave and irreversible damage to human societies and natural systems can be avoided. Some risks have been underestimated in the past, while others have scarcely been noticed. WBGU puts the spotlight on these, drawing them to the attention of politicians and the wider public in time for action to be taken.
International cooperation is key to coping with global environment and development problems. The Rio Earth Summit in 1992 was a milestone in this respect. Agenda 21, together with the global environmental agreements on climate change, biological diversity and desertification, has put crucial processes on track. The 2000 Millennium Summit and the 2002 Johannesburg World Summit on Sustainable Development established concrete targets and timertables for international environment and development objectives. In 2012 the Rio+20 summit will be held. WBGU monitors and assesses all of these policy processes. Through its reports and policy papers, it has made policy recommendations to the German government on numerous occasions.