‘Sustainability and Global Justice’

Bachelors & Masters

2019-20 Water Security and Climate Change

The research outcomes of the 2019/20 cohort were as diverse as the subject of water itself. Along with two different case studies at the Müggelsee Lake in Berlin, topics ranged from German potato cultivation, philosophical questions, and modelling scenarios on the dynamics of transformations in interrelated systems.

All results showed one thing in common: anyone who scientifically wants to deal with water is confronted with extremely complex interrelationships and global interdependencies. How, for example, do planetary climate changes affect farms and their irrigation systems? What feedback effects can unintentionally arise from certain strategies for action? What conflicts arise in the negotiation of appropriate climate adaptation strategies between drinking water supply and ensuring ecosystem services? How are these dynamics related to how we understand water and how we can make it tangible?

In a podcast mini-series, the scholarship group created innovative and accessible results for a broader audience (in german). Download the final discussion paper from the Deutschlandstipendium here: Water Security Finales Ergebnis

Water Security

Sophia Schroth and Paul Trabhardt

Water shortages in individual water supply has not been a critical issue in Germany. However, the drought in the summer of 2018 made it a major topic of discussion (mainly in relation to water as an agricultural resource). This presented an opportunity for a social-philosophical discussion and a new discourse on which political measures are needed for securing our water supply.

In a philosophical dialogue, this podcast episode will contrast two positions: the advocacy of the status quo and the understanding of water as a commodity vs. the advocacy of the communization of water and understanding of water as a common good. In Germany, it is often a question of how water can be handled in a liberal democratic system. How do different perceptions of water affect political decisions about the use of water? What notion of ownership underlies such water management? Who owns water and who decides which social groups have access to it and how?

Using a wide variety of examples from different regions and countries, the dialogue addressed the complex interrelationships of the questions of commodification and commercialization of water. Other questions addressed by the discussion included the following: What role does the state play in organizing the market for water? Which governance systems can contribute to the negotiation of (partial) privatization or (re-)municipalization? Are market mechanisms sufficient to fulfil a fundamental human right to water? What does “access to water” mean in practical, normative implementation? Should water be free or just affordable? Is private property contrary to the universalistic promise of this human right of water? Does water as a resource for individual consumption elude certain logics of sustainability, social justice, and knowledge regimes?


Podcast | Water as Human Right: Commons or Commodity? Part 1/2


Podcast | Water as Human Right: Commons or Commodity? Part 2/2

Richard Berner, Johannes Nöfer and Jonas Wittern

Water is essential for both agricultural production and food security. However, the consequences of climate change, such as heat waves and other extreme weather events, pose serious challenges for potato cultivation in Germany.

This podcast episode is dedicated to explore this problem and features interviews with experts from agricultural sciences, the Chamber of Agriculture of Lower Saxony and a farmer in Lower Saxony. What ideas, reactions and problems do these actors have on the impact of climate change and potato cultivation? Cultivation trends, irrigation technology and animal pests are just some of the topics brought up.

Potatoes are the fourth most important food globally. However, the plant is very sensitive to drought. Even relatively short periods of droughts and heat waves can cause a significant reduction in marketable potatoes. This was a noticeable impact of the drought 2018 in Germany. The interviews with the experts showed that in terms of cultivation trends, climate changes impact from recent years are present in the potato sector (although they have not yet had any effect on the scale of cultivation).

Nevertheless, the future of German potato cultivation will be determined by investments in technical equipment to avoid possible shortages and heat- as well as storage-damage. The situation is similar for water irrigation technology and control. According to the experts at the Lower Saxony Chamber of Agriculture, the choice of irrigation technology in Germany for effective, efficient irrigation depends on the economic factors of the business: water distribution, energy, and labour input. However, the continuous changes in weather and temperature do not only affect the potato-plant itself: increasing extreme weather events such as heat, drought, continuous rain, or late frost also have an effect on animal pests in potato cultivation, which increase in numbers. The research comes to the following conclusion: despite the difficulty to calculate risks posed by increasing climate change, it is unlikely that potato cultivation will be reduced in the future since the potato-plant plays such an essential economic role for many farms and generally for agriculture in Germany. However, high investments in technical aid such as innovative processing, irrigation and storage methods for the potato must be expected.


Podcast 2 | Adapting to Climate Change in German Potato Farming

Nelly Unger, Marie Pratzer and Michaela Daberger

Germany is affected by the direct effects of climate change and is therefore also confronted with periods of drought. Using system dynamic modelling (SDM), this group of the Themenkasse 2019/20 presents the effects of the drought 2018/2019 on agriculture. The method is to visually represent the interrelationships in an interactive model. Global socio-economic interdependencies (macro level) as well as the interdependencies between water use and agricultural operations (micro level) are represented in an interactive model.

The global socio-economic context includes international trade flows, which can help to compensate crop failures in agriculture. However, these economic interdependencies can also lead to a shift in the dependency structure and influence at least individual trade chains. One of the consequences of the drought 2018 was that Germany became a net importer of grains for the first time in over ten years. The strategy for adapting to long-term water scarcity also depends on social resilience, i.e. the ability of a society to adapt to change. Various aspects of a farm in relation to water scarcity are also affected, as the environmental awareness of farms affects relevant decisions, e.g. in relation to crop diversification, the willingness to invest in resource-efficient technologies and the feeding of rainwater into the irrigation system. Measures that can alleviate water scarcity caused by drought. The investigation of water scarcity in agriculture and its consequences also includes the identification of ambivalences in the dynamics of actors. Such ambivalence is evident, for example, between the components of environmental awareness: even if necessary behavioural changes occur, the results may fall short of expectations. Another ambivalence at the micro level describes the simplified aggregation of farmers as a homogeneous group with uniform values. This assumption is often based on recommendations and strategies for action during periods of drought but does not reflect the heterogeneous reality of farmers in their willingness to act for climate change adaptation and mitigation. It depends on individual problem awareness and risk perception.

Lake Müggelsee in the southeast of Berlin plays a key role in the Berlin area for the supply of drinking water and as a valuable habitat for lots of organisms in the ecosystem. This group of the Scholarship investigated the relationship in the field of actors around Lake Müggelsee including decision-makers, as well as the interrelations between the lake in its function as an ecosystem and as a drinking water reservoir.

Based on expert interviews with representatives of the UBB environmental project, Berliner Wasserbetriebe, the Leibniz Institute of Freshwater Ecology and Inland Fisheries, the Berlin Senate Department for the Environment, Transport and Climate Protection and the Federation for the Environment and Nature Conservation Germany, this work pointed to areas of tension and actor dynamics in the preparation of the water-supply-concept for Berlin until 2040 (WVK 2040). The focus was on the overall management of Lake Müggelsee and investigated the consequences of the drought years 2018 and 2019, the positioning of individual actors playing into the WVK 2040 and the possible improvements for the future security of the drinking water supply and the ecosystem.

The exeptional hot and dry years 2018 and 2019 exposed the Müggelsee to significant climate stress. The groundwater level sank, the thermal stratification changed, and fish mortality could become a reality in the Müggelsee in the future. In addition, further dry summers will pose new challenges for the ecosystem and the water cycle. At the same time, a conflict was developing around the involvement and participation of nature conservation associations and other public interest groups, which do not saw the health of the ecosystem as being sufficiently addressed in decision-making processes on water supply. Thus, the existing WVK 2040 is exposed to criticism from various environmental associations regarding the starting points set for the planned water withdrawal. On the other hand, Berlin’s drinking water supply must be secured.

The analysis of the group showed different ideas of the actors. The ideas about an ideal situation (or rather different problem awareness) made the cooperation between different actors within the management of the Müggelsee difficult. Accordingly, a stronger exchange and more intensive cooperation between the actors would be desirable. Furthermore, the public debate about the problematics of the Müggelsee should be increased and broadened to create an awareness of the interrelationships and conflicts.


Podcast 3 | The Müggelsee: An Analysis of Actors, Drinking Water Supply and the Ecosystem