Prof Hans Joachim Schellnhuber

Professor Hans Joachim Schellnhuber

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XFI Henderson Lecture Theatre

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GSI Annual Lecture 2022

Professor Hans Joachim Schellnhuber - Saving the World by Construction

A Global Systems Institute seminar
Date27 June 2022
Time11:00 to 12:00
PlaceXFI Henderson Lecture Theatre

Hans Joachim Schellnhuber is Director Emeritus of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK), which he founded in 1992. He is Distinguished Visiting Professor at Tsinghua University (China), and member of numerous learned societies such as the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, the German National Academy Leopoldina, and the US National Academy of Sciences. Since 2019, Schellnhuber has been working intensively on the transformation of the built environment and the potential of wooden buildings as carbon sinks. He is co-founder of Bauhaus Earth and a member of the New European Bauhaus High-level roundtable.


Since the 1950s, a “great acceleration” of energetic and material flows caused by the exponentially growing globalized economy is transforming the character of the Earth System. In the Anthropocene (Paul Crutzen), human civilization is dramatically replacing living biomass by mineral-based materials, exhausting non-renewable resources, congesting natural sinks, and risking to transgress various planetary boundaries.  The climate emergency is a direct result of this non-sustainable mode of wealth creation.

Professor Schellnhuber's lecture will discuss that tangle of contemporary challenges and explore the best ways to meet them. As for confining anthropogenic global warming to the Paris corridor (1.5-2°C), three crucial goals need to be achieved, namely (i) the rapid sealing of carbon sources (almost-zero greenhouse gas emissions before mid-century); (ii) the protection of natural carbon sinks (e.g., tropical forests and wetlands); and (iii) the enhancement of managed carbon sinks (e.g., carbon farming). He will argue that the built environment is the “elephant in the climate room”, where those three goals need to be pursued by urgent and transformative action. The appropriate two-pronged strategy can be summarized by the motto: reforesting the planet, retimbering the city! In particular, one can show that settlements can be turned into significant carbon sinks by replacing concrete, bricks and steel by organic construction materials.

This finding and other critical aspects of the sustainable development of the built environment are reflected in various New Bauhaus initiatives. Professor Schellnhuber will sketch how these initiatives are currently unfolding and how they may bring about a new paradigm of how humankind is settling in space. He will conclude with a reference to the brand-new “Charter of Rome” (8 June 2022), which promotes the close Re-entanglement of nature and civilization in cities and landscapes.

Please register here

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