Illustration: Mann mit Laborbrille und Lupe blickt auf ein Modell der Erde

Earth system science as a new leading concept for the geosciences

At a Leopoldina symposium held on December 19, 2022, the Secretary General of the Volkswagen Foundation Dr. Georg Schütte presented a new funding initiative. Fifty years after publication of the "Limits to Growth" report, the foundation creates a renewed geo-scientific focus on the Earth system as a whole. 

Fifty years ago, the Volkswagen Foundation funded its most effective and most highly acclaimed project to date: the "Limits to Growth" report. The new funding program will once again provide a multi-perspective view of the development of our entire planet. In the Anthropocene, humans have set in motion global processes that threaten the stability of the Earth system – and thus the well-being of future generations. Today, the world remains urgently in need of strategies to combat climate change, to make sustainable use of food sources, raw materials, water, land and the oceans, to anticipate natural hazards and to detect and assess further critical developments in the Earth system. 

"The geosciences can make a decisive contribution to solving such global challenges," says Georg Schütte, Secretary General of the Volkswagen Foundation. "That's why we want to launch a new funding program, probably in February 2023, that will act as a catalyst and contribute towards energizing the geosciences and bringing them up to date. The goal is to realign the many subdisciplines based on a future-oriented leading concept: earth system science."

The geosciences can make a decisive contribution to solving such global challenges.

Georg Schütte

The new funding initiative is a direct response on the part of the Foundation to appeals made in the recently published Leopoldina Future Report on Earth System Science. In this report, national and international experts attest to the outstanding relevance of the research field for science, politics and society. However, in order to keep up with the pace of climate change and global transition, the geosciences need to become more integrated and capable of generating knowledge and proposed solutions much more quickly. Traditional patterns of thinking in research and teaching in the geosciences need to be critically reviewed and new, sustainable structures must be established.

Georg Schütte: "The Future Report on Earth System Science immediately convinced us at the Foundation of the relevance and urgency of this research field. People have become accustomed to basic research becoming increasingly specialized – more and more focused in scope – and forget to look at the Earth as a whole. But this is the only way to find really effective solutions to global problems."

Under the new funding offer, universities that meet the requirements will be able to apply for one to two junior professorships with tenure track. These professorships are to fit into an overall concept of interdisciplinary cooperation in the geoscientific disciplines under the guiding concept of contributing to the discipline of earth system science.

Online information events

We offer an online information event on Monday, February 27, 09:00 to 10:30 am, for more information, please visit "Erdsystemwissenschaften" (Englisch version available, shortly).