Max Planck Conference for a Sustainable Anthropocene

Harnack Haus, Berlin, 11-12 July 2023

General Information

We are pleased to announce the inaugural Max Planck Climate Conference for a Sustainable Anthropocene. This interdisciplinary conference will connect researchers working on all aspects of climate change from across the Max Planck Society, to build connections between Institutes and researchers, identify common themes, and support inter-institute and interdisciplinary work.

The conference will show the diversity of themes, questions and methodologies being employed within the MPG to address key questions related to climate change, and will highlight the ways in which research in our different fields intersects. The focus of the conference will be on the interdisciplinary communication of our research, in order to make it accessible to colleagues from different disciplines across the natural sciences, social sciences, and humanities, and thus to build collaborations across the MPG.

In addition to paper and poster presentations, the conference will include keynote roundtable discussions featuring senior MPG researchers, networking opportunities, and open discussion sessions.

The conference will also provide an opportunity to discuss the Max Planck Society’s involvement in the climate change negotiations (Conference of the Parties, COP) under the auspices of the United Nations Framework Convention of Climate Change (UNFCCC), and help us to design the Max Planck’s presence at future COPs to give visibility to the Max Planck’s researchers within the COP processes. Specifically, we are considering hosting an event at a COP conference at which MPG researchers present their research on climate change. By attending the Max-Planck Climate Conference you can help to shape that event, and join the list to attend and present at a future COP.

General Registration and Accomodation

Registration has now been closed.

There is no fee for conference attendees, though attendees—or their Institutes—will need to cover their own transport and accommodation costs. Single rooms are available in Harnack-Haus at a rate of 82 € per night, or participants may source their own accommodation. Participants wishing to use Harnack-Haus’s accommodation should select the relevant option during registration. Catering during the conference will be provided.

Submission of Abstracts and Registration

Registration has been closed.


Please note that the below agenda is indicative, and subject to change.

10th JulyFrom 15.00Arrival at Harnack-Haus
11th July08.30-09.00Registration and coffe
09.30-10.301st Thematic Roundtable – Stability and Change: A Systemic View of the Climate Problem. Facilitator: Thomas Larsen
11.00-12.30Panel 1: Modelling the Climate System. Chair: Philipp Sauter
Dr Luana Basso, ‘Methane Emissions in High Northern Latitudes Estimated by Atmospheric Inverse Modelling’
Dr Ulrike Niemeier, ‘Climate Engineering: May we Cure Symptoms of a Changing Climate?’
Dr Tatiana Ilyina, ‘Measuring the Impacts of Climate Policy in Predicted Changes of Atmospheric CO2 Growth Rate’
Dr Risto Conte Keviabu, ‘Racial Disparities in Deaths Related to Extreme Temperatures in the United States’
14.00-15.30Panel 2: Fundamental Questions. Chair: Moritz Vinken
Dr Benjamin Johnson, ‘Basic Research with Immediate Application: Restructuring Science for the Energy Transition’
Prof. Martine Robbeets, ‘Language and the Anthropocene’
Dr Madelynn von Baeyer, ‘The Search for Forgotten and Hidden Sustainable Agricultural Practices in Rural Turkey’
Dr Manfred Milinski, ‘Intergenerational Discounting in the Climate Game’
16.00-17.002nd Thematic Roundtable – Science Will Save Us? Innovation and its Limits. Facilitator: Yiming Wang
17.00-18.001st Poster Session
Dinner, reception, and posters
19.00-20.00Press Conference of the Anthropocene Working Group
Open discussion session: MPG at COPs. Facilitators: Tom Sparks and TBC
12th July08.00-08.30Coffee
08.30-10.00Panel 3: Societal Challenges. Chair: Claudio Michaelis
Mr Paolo Mazzotti, ‘Stranded Fossil Fuel Assets in International Investment Law: Socialising Losses by Politicising Commercial Risk?’
Dr Chao Li, ‘Assessing the Complexities: Uncertainty and Economic Costs of Climate Change’
Dr Saskia Stucki, ‘Defund Meat: (Re)Defining Good Food Governance in the Anthropocene’
Dr Philipp Golka, ‘The Politics of Predictions in Energy Transitions Planning’
10.30-11.303rd Thematic Roundtable – Insight, Application, and Beyond: Impulses from Research for Social Change. Facilitator: Niels Petersson
11.30-12.302nd Poster Session
13.30-14.30Open discussion session: Supporting Interdisciplinary Climate Research in the MPG. Facilitators: Niels Petersson and Yiming Wang
14.30-15.00Closing Remarks
15.00Conference ends


Panel 1: Modelling the Climate System. Chair: Philipp Sauter

Dr Luana Basso, ‘Methane Emissions in High Northern Latitudes Estimated by Atmospheric Inverse Modelling’

Atmospheric methane levels (the second most important greenhouse gas) have been increasing significantly over the past decades, though with highly variable trends over time. Methane is therefore an important contributor to the climate change, but many mechanisms controlling the global methane budget still remain unclear, and particularly the causes for an accelerated increase in recent years remain unclear. With temperatures rising at rates at least twice the global average over the last decades, Arctic permafrost is increasingly thawing. As a consequence, an increase in methane emissions on this region is expected, resulting in positive feedback to climate change. However, until now neither observations nor model estimates could provide clear evidence of such a trend in emissions. As a consequence, current and possible future contributions of Arctic ecosystems to the accelerated increase in the global atmospheric methane levels remain highly uncertain.

Our goal is to estimate methane fluxes using the Jena CarboScope Global Inversion System for the high northern latitudes, assimilating atmospheric observations from all regional and local networks available over the last years. Atmospheric inverse modelling frameworks are important tools to estimate surface-atmosphere fluxes on a regional to global scales, allowing us to investigate changes and trends over time, and analyse climate feedbacks on methane emissions at this region. In close collaborations with ongoing upgrades of a biogeochemical process model that simulates CH4 processes on a global scale, this research will help to elucidate the causes of the atmospheric methane increase levels, and reducing the global budget uncertainties.

Dr Ulrike Niemeier, ‘Climate Engineering: May we Cure Symptoms of a Changing Climate?’

To limit temperature rise to 1.5 K (or at least to 2.0 K) would require a very fast transition to a fossil- free economy. However, attempts to initiate the decrease of CO2 emissions have not been very successful in the last years. In this situation climate engineering seems to offer a kind of manageable solution and may become therefore an important issue.

Climate engineering is the deliberate large-scale manipulation of the climate to counteract anthropogenic induced climate change. Different climate engineering techniques as carbon capture and reducing incoming solar radiation, the so-called solar radiation management (SRM) have been proposed (e.g. Crutzen et al, 2006). We simulated the artificial injection of sulphur into the stratosphere and discussed climate impacts, limits and uncertainties, in different papers.

A clear outcome is that a climate engineered climate differs from a natural one of the same global mean temperature. But, as we are experiencing with climate change itself, manipulating the climate can have unwanted side effects. These side effects can be on climate, like reduction of precipitation, but also on social aspects. Risks cannot be evaluated straight forward. In an interdisciplinary project with lawyers, economists and philosophers we experienced the process of finding a common language and transfer of different cultures on information exchange. Each of the involved groups of the interdisciplinary project added substantial points of view to the discussion and influences on different parts of societies.

Are we proposing a solution with our work? No, we did try to understand the impacts. The publication of Paul Crutzen raised awareness of this topic. So, we need to be, somehow, prepared when attempts to start climate engineering come up.

Dr Tatiana Ilyina, ‘Measuring the Impacts of Climate Policy in Predicted Changes of Atmospheric CO2 Growth Rate’ PRESENTATION CANCELLED DUE TO ILLNESS

Build-up of CO2 in the air as a consequence of human-made emissions has been accelerating in the past decades. To avoid dangerous climate change, climate policies must enforce rapid and strong decarbonization actions. Ultimately, deceleration and reversal of atmospheric CO2 growth will manifest their success. Yet, on decadal timescales changes in atmospheric CO2 will be unmeasurable in the presence of internal climate variability (ICV), limiting our predictive understanding of the carbon-climate system. For instance, our study showed that, with a three-out-of-ten chance, atmospheric CO2 can rise even stronger than before due to ICV during the five years after emission reduction. Luckily, the pathways of anthropogenic CO2 including its partitioning between the land and ocean carbon sinks, as well as the atmosphere can be assessed in predictions with an Earth system model (ESM) initialized by the observed climate state.

Following developments in national and international projects, I will present results from ESM-based prediction systems on carbon cycle predictability, its drivers, inhibitors, and model uncertainties. Such prediction systems provide robust predictions for the coupled carbon cycle aiding the operational monitoring systems in support of policy appraisal and verification. Furthermore, the explanatory power of comprehensive ESMs-based prediction systems and observations has implications for more accurate estimates of transient climate response to cumulative carbon emissions and remaining carbon budgets.

Dr Risto Conte Keviabu, ‘Racial Disparities in Deaths Related to Extreme Temperatures in the United States’

Extreme temperatures are associated with higher overall human mortality, but some individuals are more vulnerable than others. Here, we investigate how extreme temperatures affect mortality and how race stratifies this relationship in the United States. We use highly granular administrative and census data on monthly mortality in over 3,000 counties from 1993 to 2005, and link them to precise meteorological information. We find that extreme temperatures increase mortality risk, and that the extent of this increase varies between racial groups. Conversely, of these groups, Blacks are the least vulnerable on cold days. Moreover, we simulate the number of additional deaths that would have occurred in the study period if temperatures had increased to those projected for the middle of the 21st century. Our findings highlight disparities in mortality risks under these projected higher temperatures. In particular, we show that excess mortality due to higher temperatures is six times higher among Blacks than it is among Whites. Thus, climate change could exacerbate existing racial inequalities in deaths related to extreme temperatures.

Panel 2: Fundamental Questions. Chair: Moritz Vinken

Dr Benjamin Johnson, ‘Basic Research with Immediate Application: Restructuring Science for the Energy Transition’

The Max Planck Society is renowned as a beacon of basic research across the natural sciences, the social sciences, and the humanities. For decades, results from basic research have moved through the complex of applied science and been adopted as new technologies or social and political norms. The innovations are now standards in our communities and throughout the world. But the energy transition and climate change present unique, pressing challenges. Basic research no longer has the luxury of time. Every day, results from basic research are needed to solve our energy and climate crisis: sophisticated modelling techniques can show us how our planet is changing; social theories can detail how humanity is reacting in real-time. The immediate application of basic research from the MPG must become the norm, supported by a further strategy: direct engagement with the public (discussion, museum exhibitions, etc.) and with policy makers to plan and build the renewable energy infrastructure to reach our emissions goals. The MPG must adapt and reform the role of basic research to fit today’s challenges.

Prof. Martine Robbeets, ‘Language and the Anthropocene’

The Anthropocene is a new way of looking at world history, which highlights the relationship between humans and the earth system. The term refers to the period when human activity started to have an irreversible impact on our planet’s climate and ecosystems. Notwithstanding various calls to integrate the humanities into Anthropocene research, linguistics has been slow to engage with the topic.

In this presentation, I will point out the importance of language dynamics for the Anthropocene by outlining the main lines of interaction between climate and language over the last 10 000 years. Rather than investigating how language may underpin climate change, I will explore how climate change may have impacted language since Neolithic times. To this end, I will discuss how climate affects language diversity, how it may impact the phonology, vocabulary and grammar of language and how it drives language dynamics.

Examples will be drawn from various languages and language families worldwide but my research focus is on North and East Asia, particularly the so-called “Transeurasian” language family — i.e. Japanese, Korean, Tungusic, Mongolic and Turkic languages— and neighbouring families. This region serves as an interesting test-case, not only because it is home to a variety of language families, but also because it is known for its versatile climate and changing landscapes since Neolithic times.

Dr Madelynn von Breyer, ‘The Search for Forgotten and Hidden Sustainable Agricultural Practices in Rural Turkey’

In 2022, the Çadır Höyük Excavation team began a new, and substantially different, phase of research: a combined ethnographic and archaeological project that integrates past and present agricultural data to identify successful agricultural solutions to climate change. As archaeologists who have been working in the same rural community for the past 20 years, we had a unique perspective: between our archaeological investigations and our local collaborations, we can observe and analyze 8000 years of agricultural and climate data from the exact same location. This realization galvanized the team to pivot away from solely archaeological excavation into a true multidisciplinary project designed to identify tactics adopted in the recent and ancient past can provide viable paths to navigate the present and future challenges.

My presentation will discuss the history of local collaboration and scientific inquiry that allowed us to begin this project. It will highlight the challenges that modern farmers in this area of rural Turkey face and how our project will work with them to mitigate these challenges. Finally, I will identify a key number of areas where other MPI researchers can contribute.

Prof. Manfred Milinski, ‘Intergenerational Discounting in the Climate Game’

The difficulty of avoiding dangerous climate change arises from a tension between group and self- interest, acerbated by climate change’s intergenerational nature. The present generation bears the costs of cooperation, whereas future generations accrue the benefits if present cooperation succeeds, or suffer if present cooperation fails. I represent the effect of both intra- and intergenerational discounting through a collective risk group experiment framed around climate change. Participants could choose to cooperate or to risk losing an additional endowment with high probability. The rewards of defection were immediate, whereas the rewards of cooperation were delayed by one day, by seven weeks (intragenerational discounting) or by several decades and spread over a much a larger number of beneficiaries, as in reality (intergenerational discounting). Intergenerational discounting leads to a marked decrease in cooperation; all groups failed to reach the collective target.

Panel 3: Societal Challenges. Chair: Claudio Michaelis

Mr Paolo Mazzotti, ‘Stranded Fossil Fuel Assets in International Investment Law: Socialising Losses by Politicising Commercial Risk?’

The paper addresses the interaction between international investment law (IIL) and stranded fossil fuel assets (SFFAs).

SFFAs are an emerging key concept of energy economics, described as “those investments which have already been made but which, at some time prior to the end of their economic life (…), are no longer able to earn an economic return” (IEA, 2013).

Stranding can, in turn, occur due to two drivers. In ‘policy-driven’ stranding, a command-and-control policy prohibits the operation of the asset. ‘Market-driven’ stranding, on its part, results from a decline in the asset’s profitability, caused by the economic dynamics of the energy transition (chiefly, renewable energy’s increased competitiveness).

The value of policy-driven SFFAs can be recovered by investors through IIL, as stranding policies materialise the “political risk” which IIL aims at countering. Market-driven SFFAs, on the other hand, are in principle not protected by IIL: stranding ensues, here, from non-compensable “commercial risk”.

However, a review of past practice shows that malleable IIL standards have been strategically mobilised by investors to recoup the value of investments impaired by commercial risk. The paper highlights how such mobilisation is possible in the context of the energy transition, as well as the doctrinal tools through which the ensuing socialisation of private losses can be resisted.

Dr Chao Li, ‘Assessing the Complexities: Uncertainty and Economic Costs of Climate Change’

The economic impacts of climate change are complex and varied, affecting different industries and regions in different ways. The estimation of economic costs related to climate change has a significant impact on the discussions and choices made in climate policy. However, it is important to note that estimating the economic costs of climate change is a complex and uncertain process, and estimates differ strongly among studies depending on their assumptions and methodologies. Hence, it is crucial to identify and address the uncertainty of climate-related economic costs due to the epistemic and aleatoric uncertainties of climate change. In this talk, I will give an overview of the research progresses on climate-related economic costs, and give some insights into how important the aleatoric climate uncertainty due to internal variability could influence economic costs, and the time persistent of climate-related damage and its influence on cost-benefit mitigation scenarios. I will show that the climate internal variability will have a much larger impact on economic growth in a future warm climate than those in the present day. The regional economic damages could be largely influenced by climate internal variability and pattern scaling of climate change. For a plausible future adaptation and mitigation strategy plan, we need to improve our understanding and involve future changes in climate internal variability in the integrated assessment model for future scenario developments.

Dr Saskia Stucki, ‘Defund Meat: (Re)Defining Good Food Governance in the Anthropocene’

This paper seeks to define and flesh out the novel concept of “Good Food Governance” through the One Health prism. One Health has emerged as a holistic approach to address the increasingly delicate interdependence of human, animal, and environmental health in the Anthropocene. Meat is a (perhaps the) symbol of today’s interrelated environmental and health crises: climate change, biodiversity loss, pandemics, and food insecurity. The overarching objective is to (re)align the political and legal frameworks governing the food system (especially the meat system) to better integrate sustainability concerns, in tandem with human health and animal welfare. The paper first maps the social costs and environmental externalities of animal agriculture. It then elaborates an idealtypical definition of Good Food Governance, understood as holistic food governance in line with public health, animal welfare, and environmental sustainability. Lastly, this paper outlines the governance repertoire available to the state to implement Good Meat Governance, such as behavioural, fiscal, and regulatory measures.

Dr Philipp Golka (and Dr Leon Wansleben), ‘The Politics of Predictions in Energy Transitions Planning’

In a rapidly expanding field of research, political economists and sociologists have shown that modes of interest group mediation, electoral institutions, types of state organization, sectoral compositions of the economy, and related factors can contribute to a better understanding under which conditions decarbonization succeeds or fails. Our paper contributes to this emerging social science literature by exploring how national fields of expert advice shape climate policy planning. Past research on expertise has focused on the impact of pseudo-science and strategic ignorance on public perceptions about global warming. But in the context of ongoing yet potentially insufficient transitions after the Paris agreement, another question has come to the fore: How costly are different (non-)interventions to achieve transitions (in energy, mobility, industry sectors etc.)? This has raised the importance of climate and energy economics. As a body of real-world policy advice, such expertise entails significant uncertainties. Moreover, national institutions and networks determine which policy experts get heard, and how predictions are taken up in the political process. We therefore introduce the term of politics of predictions and study the case of assessments over levelized costs of renewable energy in Germany since the 1990s to illustrate its explanatory power.

Confirmed Speakers

Prof. Dr Guinevere Kauffmann, Director, Max Planck Institute of Astrophysics
Prof. Dr Jochem Marotzke, Director, Max Planck Institute of Meteorology
Prof. Dr Jürgen Renn, Director, Max Planck Institute of Geoanthropology
Prof. Dr Ulrich Pöschl, Director, Max Planck Institute for Chemistry
Prof. Dr Eberhard Bodenschatz, Director, Max Planck Institute for Dynamics and Self-Organization
Prof. Dr Markus Antonietti, Director, Max Planck Institute of Colloids and Interfaces
Dr Niels P. Petersson, Max Planck Law; Prof. (em.) of History
Dr Thomas Larsen, Group Leader, Max Planck Institute for Geoanthropology
Dr Tom Sparks, Senior Research Fellow, Max Planck Institute for Comparative Public Law and International Law; Designated Contact Point of the Max-Planck-Gesellschaft to the UNFCCC.

The Max-Planck Climate Conference Organising Committee

Prof. Guinevere Kaufmann, MPI Astrophysics
Prof. Victor Brovkin, MPI Meteorology
Apl. Prof. Doris Vollmer, MPI Polymer Research
Dr. Christoph Kolbe, Administrative Headquarters of the MPG
Dr. Thomas Larsen, MPI Geoanthropology Dr. Claudio Michaelis, MPI Intelligent Systems
Dr. Niels P. Petersson, Max Planck Law Dr. Yiming Wang, MPI Geoanthropology
Mr. Philipp Sauter, MPI Comparative Public Law and International Law
Mr. Benjamin Schiffer, MPI Quantum Optics
Mr. Moritz Vinken, MPI Comparative Public Law and International Law
Dr. Tom Sparks, MPI Comparative Public Law and International Law

Please direct questions to: Tom Sparks, via