€4 billion funding boost for sustainability research

The German government has announced a massive €4 billion (US$4.8 billion) budget to support research projects addressing global warming and sustainability under its FONA strategy over the coming five years.

Run by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research or BMBF, the FONA (Forschung für Nachhaltigkeit) strategy for research on sustainability was launched in 2005. Earlier this year, FONA was evaluated by the Fraunhofer Institute for Systems and Innovation Research (ISI), which found that it had “made a substantial contribution to establishing sustainability research in Germany which has an international impact”.

From 2005 to 2018, almost 10,000 projects were supported via the FONA strategy, involving a total of €5.2 billion in BMBF support. Now, Federal Education and Research Minister Anja Karliczek has announced that the strategy is to be allocated €4 billion for research in the fields of combating global warming and sustainability for the coming five years, under the motto “Knowing how future works”.

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“Germany has to become the driver and technological leader of green innovation,” Karliczek said, announcing FONA’s new funding volume, which is twice the amount provided for the previous five-year phase of the scheme.

“We will only be able to achieve the global sustainability goals of the United Nations within the next 10 years with innovations which are economically, ecologically and socially balanced. This requires new ideas and viable solutions. And with that in mind, we need new impetus and more investments in research funding for the fields of climate protection and sustainability.”

Following the advice of experts at ISI, FONA is to be guided more by concrete targets in future. To accomplish this, three strategic goals have been formulated which circumscribe where research can make a substantial contribution to the UN’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

They comprise limiting global warming and mitigating the impacts of climate change, conserving the planet’s natural resources and improving the quality of life for every individual through social and economic development.

These strategic goals are underpinned by various activity areas and a total of 25 research fields which represent the central mechanism for implementation via concrete steps and with achievement benchmarks.

The BMBF argues that this concept enables monitoring of where targets have been reached and where adjustments might have to be made. A special emphasis is put on interdisciplinary and trans-disciplinary activities and on systemic approaches. Actors from practical fields are to be involved in a large number of projects to ensure implementation-oriented research.

“Considering the tasks that lie ahead – achieving climate neutrality by 2050, emission-free mobility, a resource-efficient circular economy, and structural transformation, for example in coal-mining regions – we really do need huge investments,” Karliczek commented in Berlin.

According to the BMBF, the essence of the FONA strategy is to “consider social and technological innovation in one approach, together with academia, local communities, industry, civil society and citizens”.

“The BMBF’s new FONA strategy is a very comprehensive concept which focuses on some of the major challenges we face today,” says Daniela Jacob, who heads the Climate Service Center Germany (GERICS) in Geesthacht, near Hamburg.

“It fits in with the European Union’s Green Deal and will be able to provide crucial input on the way to a climate-neutral Europe and for the implementation of Germany’s National Sustainable Development Strategy.”

Jacob highlights the strong emphasis the strategy has on implementing solutions based on scientific insights, which, she maintains, demonstrates the powerful role that science can play in tackling complex challenges.

“The transformation towards a resource-friendly, sustainable and climate-neutral and climate-adapted society also calls for considering sustainability, climate protection and adapting to climate change as one context,” Jacob maintains.

“This is already becoming apparent today in urban development. The implementation of initial adaptation measures is in progress, although we as yet lack a better understanding of their effectiveness.”

She believes that the success of the FONA strategy will depend on how well research can bridge the gap between the major climate and sustainability goals and impacts at local level.

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