Third-party funded project

Potsdam Research Cluster for Georisk Analysis, Environmental Change and Sustainability - Teilprojekt: Gesellschaftliche Verarbeitung von Klimarisiken: Öffentliche Diskurse und Experteneinschätzungen (PROGRESS)

Research Department: Dynamics of Communication, Knowledge and Spatial Development

IRS Research Topic: Conceptual Approaches to Crisis and Resilience Crisis and Resilience in Multi-level Governance New Vulnerabilities and Resilience Strategies Shared Knowledge - Locally and Over Distance Forms and Implications of Spatial Governance

Project Leader within IRS: Prof. Dr. Gabriela Christmann

Project Team: Dr. Adelheid Fichter-Wolf Dr. Thorsten Heimann

Funding Organization: Bundesministerium für Bildung und Forschung

Duration: 12/2009 - 12/2012

The project “How societies deal with Climate Change” funded by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) used social-scientific methods to examine how changes in climate are anticipated, perceived, and transformed into action in the North Sea and Baltic Sea regions. By studying media discourses and experts’ statements it was possible to identify basic principles and measures that are crucial for successful planning concerning climate change.

The studies were conducted within the framework of the “Potsdam Research Cluster for Georisk Analysis, Environmental Change and Sustainability” (PROGRESS) in the sub-division “governance structures”. They focused societal and politico-administrative ways of dealing with natural hazards and pursued the question of how actors reckoned to be able to cope with possible threats. Likewise, assertions should be made about the processing and transformation into action of scientific knowledge about geographical and climate risks by societal actors or politico-administrative systems.

At the IRS, the societal processing of climate change knowledge was examined in different research modules using qualitative and quantitative methods of empirical social research. An international questionnaire survey considered which perceptions of problems and opportunities and which preferred measures can be observed in actors of spatial development in European coastal regions. In addition, qualitative in-depth interviews with experts and a discourse analysis regarding sociology of knowledge reconstructed mechanisms of local processing in Lübeck, Rostock, Bremen, and Bremerhaven in detail. Furthermore, by means of a standardized Delphi survey of experts promising measures for the resilience-creation in German coastal regions could be identified.

Throughout all research modules, the insight pervades that the respective socially shared stocks of knowledge in an area influence how scientific knowledge is adopted locally. In the analysis of local discourses it became clear that despite similar geographic conditions and climate projections for Rostock and Lübeck the scientific climate knowledge has been handled very differently on the local level. In Rostock, suffering from socio-economic problems, especially the positive consequences of climate change for the touristic and economic development were debated in the 2000s. In Lübeck threats posed by climate change were at the core of discussions, in particular challenges concerning the preservation of the city’s UNESCO World Heritage. At the national level it became apparent that in the Netherlands, unlike, for example, in Poland or Germany, land loss was less often seen as a big problem for the future. Here, people have experienced water-related problems for centuries so that beliefs of feasibility are significantly more common. In addition, it could be shown that differences in knowledge and willingness of the actors can be explained by dominant values, beliefs (e.g. conceptions of nature) and spatial identities. With regard to currently urgent needs for action it became apparent that in Germany altering precipitation patterns are already seen as a severe problem today and that according to experts’ opinions measures against inland floods should therefore be prioritized.


Ways of handling climate change vary worldwide. Differences can be observed in the perception of potential threats and opportunities as well as in the appraisal of adequate coping strategies. Collective efforts often fail not because of technical restrictions, but owing to social and cultural differences between agents involved. Consequently, there is a need to explore in greater depth those "zones of cultural friction” which emerge when agents deal with climate change. This book exermines, what kinds of “climate cultures” can be observed within European Coastal Areas and what the discriminants of different “climate cultures” are and/or how different climate cultures be can explained? more info


Heimann, T., & Christmann, G. Klimawandel in den deutschen Küstenstädten und -gemeinden: Befunde und Handlungsempfehlungen für Praktiker
Christmann, G., Heimann, T., Mahlkow, N., & Balgar, K. (2012). Klimawandel als soziale Konstruktion? Zeitschrift für Zukunftsforschung, (2).