The future use of land space worldwide and of natural resources in the light of climate change is the topic of a high level German-American scientific conference organised by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG, German Research Foundation), the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) and the National Science Foundation (NSF), taking place in Berlin this week. The conference this Thursday and Friday (2 and 3 October 2008), entitled "Tough Choices – Land Use under a Changing Climate" will be attended by more than 80 American and German researchers from a variety of disciplines. Lectures, case studies and workshops, held by representatives from the geosciences, agricultural sciences, climate studies and hydrology as well as from the social sciences and economics, will discuss initial research findings and explore the opportunities for joint research projects on this topic, which is as far-reaching as it is uninvestigated to date.
There is a two-fold connection between land use and climate change, which provides the focal point of the conference in Berlin. On the one hand, the increasing use of land worldwide is contributing to climate change to a considerable extent due to the exploitation of natural resources and the release of greenhouse gases. On the other hand, global warming and other phenomena related to climate change are having an increasingly detrimental effect on land and the resources it provides. These mutually exacerbating developments have led to a significant drop in the amount of land surface available worldwide in recent years.
The issue of the use of land and natural resources in the light of these conditions brings with it a number of conflicts of interest and of objectives, indicated in the title of the conference by the reference to "Tough Choices". Should land use primarily be dedicated to food production, or to the production of fuel and other sources of energy? Or does the preservation of biodiversity and ecological balance take top priority, above either of those options?
"Answering these questions is of paramount scientific, ecological, economic and social interest", emphasised Professor Matthias Kleiner, the President of the DFG, who will open the conference in Berlin on Thursday, together with Thomas Rachel, the parliamentary secretary of state at the BMBF, and Dr. David Lightfoot, assistant director of the National Science Foundation Directorate for Social, Behavioral and Economic Sciences. How serious the conflicts of objectives are was revealed for the first time in recent months, with the debate on "biofuels" and their impact on the global food supply and the development of greenhouse gas emissions.
In contrast to the calculation and modelling of developments and progress of climate change, for example, research on land use and climate change is still in its infancy. "We are only just beginning to understand how intimately linked these two factors are, and how much they impact our own lives", said Kleiner. This also makes this an ideal subject for the DFG, as Germany's largest research funding organisation, to expand scientific cooperation between German and American scientists and researchers. The DFG, the BMBF and the NSF place their hope, in particular, in young scientists, of whom about 30 from both countries will be participating in the conference in Berlin.
In addition to generating sound scientific insight, the discussion of the initial research findings and research projects agreed there, it is hoped that the conference in Berlin will also result in options for action in politics and by other decision makers. "This allows the scientific community to meet its responsibility for solving the global issues of the future", emphasised the President of the DFG, Matthias Kleiner.
The idea for the German-American conference was born during talks by the German Federal Minister for Education and Research, Dr. Annette Schavan and Professor Kleiner in Washington last year. The two day meeting was prepared by a high-ranking Steering Committee chaired by Professor Wolfram Mauser from the Ludwig-Maximilians University in Munich, representing Germany, and Professor Dan Brown from the University of Michigan representing America. The DFG and the BMBF intend to further expand their funding activities in this field in Germany.