14. April 2023 | Magazine:

For a safe and just climate future Katharina Beckmann on the new Zentrum Klimaforschung Niedersachsen

Climate-friendly urban development and spatial planning and the effects of climate change on the forest ecosystem: the topics for the first two future-labs of the new Zentrum Klimaforschung Niedersachsen (Centre for Climate Research Lower Saxony), which is located at TU Braunschweig, have already been determined. Further future-labs are in planning. Bianca Loschinsky spoke with Katharina Beckmann, managing director of the ZKfN, about the tasks of the centre, interdisciplinary work, applying for the future-labs and students as “change agents”.

Katharina Beckmann is Managing Director of the new Zentrum Klimaforschung Niedersachsen (Centre for Climate Research Lower Saxony). Photo credit: Philipp Arnoldt

Ms Beckmann, you are the managing director of the new Zentrum Klimaforschung Niedersachsen. What exactly are your tasks, what is the Centre’s mission?

The tasks of the Centre include coordinating the future future-labs with each other, networking between the future-labs, but also communication and transfer to the outside. Of course, research will be carried out in the future-labs themselves. At the ZKfN, the focus is primarily on the exchange between science, society and business. That is the task of the Centre and thus also my task as managing director. We will develop new formats and platforms, organise conferences and workshops. This is really very exciting because the future-labs have not existed so far and we now have to work out the exact roadmap first. And I’m looking forward to that!

My tasks are mainly to initiate and lead the processes and to bring the participants together. Since we will be a small team, I will also do a lot of operational work. That’s what I personally enjoy most: developing and designing formats and programmes on the one hand, but then actually implementing them together with the participants in the end.

How many people will be employed at the Zentrum Klimaforschung?

There will be a total of three people in the coordination office. In addition to me, there will be a consultant and an assistant. In the individual future-labs, there will be coordinators who will take on the transfer and communication tasks within the future-labs and with whom we will work closely.

You studied architecture and heritage conservation yourself. How does that support your new task?

One of the first future-labs will be in the field of sustainable urban development. Of course I’m close to the subject, and my architecture degree will certainly benefit me. What you learn in architecture, but also in heritage conservation, is interdisciplinary cooperation. Architects rarely work alone, instead they usually work on projects in teams with other disciplines, even during their studies. Project-based studying and working in the field of architecture has accordingly been established for a long time.

At TU Berlin, I was responsible, among other things, for the interdisciplinary and international study programme “Urban Design”, where sociologists, architects, geographers and scientists from many other fields were welcome. As programme coordinator, I also learned how long it actually takes to understand each other, to speak the different languages in the different disciplines. In the Zentrum für Klimaforschung, where participants from various disciplines are supposed to come together, it is certainly important as well to first find formats that have a supportive effect in order to find a common language.

The Zentrum Klimaforschung is a designated office of the President. Why?

The topic of sustainability is very important at TU Braunschweig and permeates all cross-sectional topics and the entire development of the university. With the establishment of the coordination office as a designated office of the president, the importance of the Zentrum Klimaforschung for the strategic orientation of our university is once again particularly emphasised.

Lower Saxony wants to become climate neutral by 2050. How can the Zentrum für Klimaforschung provide support here? Or how can it decisively advance research for a safe and just climate future?

Of course, there is already climate (impact) research at most universities. The idea of the Centre is to bring together different disciplines, but also different higher education institutions in Lower Saxony. Because: By now we are all certainly aware that climate change is so complex that it is impossible to develop sustainable approaches to solutions for a just climate future from the perspective of one discipline alone.

In addition to the actual research in the future-labs, the Knowledge Exchange plays an important role, firstly in order to include impulses from society in the research projects. At the same time, it is also about communicating research results in such a way that, in the best case, concrete measures can be generated from them – in cooperation with industry and society.

How will the generation for which climate change has a direct impact be involved here?

An important part of the ZKfN agenda is the early involvement of students to strengthen their transformation and problem-solving skills. I myself have worked in the field of studying and teaching for a long time and can therefore say: A big asset we have at the university is our students. Most of the impulses come from this generation. That’s why one goal is to involve them as “Change Agents” and to develop special formats here, which could be, for example, a cross-university module or a lecture series that is hosted by the future-labs.

How can TU Braunschweig institutes participate in the Zentrum für Klimaforschung?

Researchers at our university can apply for one or more future-labs. Although it is of course not certain that TU Braunschweig will be awarded the contract, I would very much like TU Braunschweig to participate: We are very well positioned in the subject areas that I am already familiar with: in the first future-lab on the effects of climate change on the forest ecosystem and in the second on climate-friendly urban development. That’s why I very much hope that researchers from TU Braunschweig will apply for the calls for the first two future-labs together with colleagues from other universities.

However, the coordination office ultimately works for all future-labs. Interdisciplinary consortia of researchers and partners from the practical field in Lower Saxony are eligible to apply. But partners from all over Germany and international players can also join the consortia. I would very much welcome this in order to supplement views on the various complex issues with an international perspective.

When can the consortia apply for the future-labs?

The Lower Saxony Ministry of Science and Culture will publish the calls for applications in July 2023. We are currently working on the preparation of the call for proposals and will then also support our colleagues at the MWK in the further process. Of course, it is not me who selects the funded research projects, but rather an independent scientific review. In addition, a scientific advisory board will be set up for the Centre, which will consist of representatives from science, society and business and will of course be made up of diverse members.

How will the Centre draw attention to itself?

We will participate in the opening of the ClimateCrisisClock at the Forum building on June 15th, for example, with a panel discussion on the role of universities in climate communication. In October, we will be involved with “Herausforderungen und Chancen der Kooperation in Multi-Akteurs-Netzwerken im urbanen Klimaschutz” (Challenges and opportunities of cooperation in multi-actor networks in urban climate protection) at the international conference of the core research area “Future City” on the topic of research and implementation for positive change. We are planning to introduce the Centre at further events and to draw attention to the opportunity to apply for the future-labs.

At the moment, we are working on building our website and will be using various social media channels in the future. After years of isolation due to the pandemic, we also want to promote analogue exchange and create space for direct exchange.

A central mission of the Centre is also the exchange with civil society. Therefore, it would also be conceivable for us to find a location in Braunschweig’s city centre to present ourselves there and create an interface between the public and science.

Through their research, the future-labs are to develop urgently needed approaches for changing the way we live and do business. What changes could you imagine for yourself?

Travelling more consciously, for example. I love to travel: before I came to TU Braunschweig, I worked in Vietnam for two and a half years, among other things, and I generally enjoy discovering new people and cultures. At the beginning of the year, I visited the country and my friends and former colleagues again. Of course, I know that such a trip by plane must be the exception. That’s why I try to travel by train as much as possible now. Last year, for example, I travelled 16 hours by train to the Venice Biennale. That sounds very long at first, but I find the slow approach to a destination is also always a special way to travel and there are many things to discover in the passing landscape.

Thank you for the interview!