Heidelberg University

Global Change and Globalization

General issues

At present, Earth, humanity's habitat, is undergoing drastic change. Human civilization has an increasing environmental impact on the planet at the same time as altering its spatial patterns of production, consumption, and pollution across the globe. Managing these processes of global environmental change and globalization is universally acknowledged as the key challenge facing humanity today. While many environmental changes will be disadvantageous, avoiding them, nevertheless, appears to be difficult due to sociological, economical, legal and technical limitations. What is required is nothing less than to "avoid the unmanageable and manage the unavoidable", to quote the UNFCCC.

Global change and globalization are inexorably interlinked. The process of economic and social globalization through the integration of world markets, exchange of populations and ideas, and through the creation of international institutions has created historically unprecedented opportunities for economic growth and development. At the same time, the growth in output and the shift in the spatial pattern of production is the main cause of new environmental problems. Environmental problems themselves feed back into globalization processes by setting into motion social and economic changes such as pressure on health systems, migration, and geopolitical conflicts. While being a driver of global change, globalization also holds the institutional keys to their potential resolution through globally integrated markets and international institutions.

The causal links between global change and globalization are therefore manifold and multilayered. So are the new connections created by global change and globalization that tie together – across great distances – processes and actors that were disjoint in the past. For example, CO2 emissions in Australia affect the environment in Europe; plans for imposing taxes on the carbon intensity of imports into the EU affect incomes in Latin America. The number and scale of these new connections is a key challenge for researchers as they strive to consider.

State of the art

The current knowledge base regarding global change and globalization is predominantly characterized by stand-alone disciplinary research exploring specific research issues in great depth. Examples are

  • the physics of climate systems,
  • the economics of non-renewable resources and climate change,
  • the political science of resource-driven geo-political conflicts,
  • the environmental geochemistry of climate change consequences,
  • the analysis of resource and energy law and international law,
  • the geographical analysis of human-environment interactions,
  • the psychology of decision-making in complex systems,
  • the simulation of dynamic systems and their optimization and
  • the modeling of the health impacts of climate change.

In many of these areas, there now exists – at the level of the individual discipline – a fundamental understanding about the relevant processes and mechanisms. Clearly missing is the integration of these individual pieces of knowledge.

The team assembled at the University of Heidelberg encompasses researchers who have – in the past – contributed to the state of the art in all of the areas mentioned above. At present, there are a number of bilateral research ventures (e.g. between Environmental Physics and Environmental Geochemistry, Environmental Economy and Environmental Physics) that provide evidence for significant research progress existing at the interface between two or more researchers from different disciplines.

Unique selling proposition

At this moment in time, new resources available through the Initiative for Excellence offer the opportunity to harness the potential of combining the existing excellence in individual fields in order to realize the 'low-hanging fruits' at the interface between basic research carried out in the natural and social sciences. In particular, we propose not only to strengthen the set of bilateral collaborations, but to establish an enabling structure for this type of discipline-integrating research to take off at a large scale across the university.

This project aims to establish Heidelberg as the national center for discipline-integrating basic research related to the interaction between globalization and global change in the physical environment.

We realize that this team has a longer way to go before reaching its full potential than disciplinary teams e.g. in physics or medical sciences. However, we are convinced that we will be able to start a new process in Heidelberg that will provide fruitful results. In particular we are truly "bridging the Neckar river".

webmaster: Egger
last update: 21.01.2010
to top of page