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Zukunftslabore Klima (Climate Future Labs)

Das Land Niedersachsen unterstützt mit Mitteln aus zukunft.niedersachsen den Aufbau von Zukunftslaboren für das Ökosystem Wald und eine klimagerechte Stadtentwicklung mit bis zu 20 Millionen Euro. Anträge können bis zum 30. November 2023 gestellt werden. Nachfolgend finden Sie die Ausschreibung.

1. Science policy background and funding target

In the Paris Climate Agreement of 2015, the global community agreed to limit global warming to a maximum of 1.5°C. If we want to achieve this goal, we must significantly step up climate protection efforts and drastically reduce our greenhouse gas emissions. In its latest report dated 20 March, 2023, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) warned that the measures taken so far to combat climate change are neither ambitious nor far-reaching enough. According to the IPCC, we could exceed the 1.5°C limit as soon as 2030.

Science has a very special role to play in analysing, projecting and developing methods when it comes to reducing effects and adapting to climate change. For several decades now, scientists have been monitoring and researching human-induced climate change and its effects. To give this research a decisive boost in the coming years, the Ministry of Science and Culture (MWK) will expand existing research funding through a series of calls for proposals entitled Climate Future Labs”.

Within this context, the Lower Saxony Centre for Climate Research (Zentrum Klimaforschung Niedersachsen – ZKfN) has a decisive role to play. At the initiative of the state government, the MWK established the ZKfN’s Administrative Office at TU Braunschweig in early 2023. The Centre is currently being established and will soon pool the research efforts of the relevant institutions in Lower Saxony. Through trans- and interdisciplinary research, it aims to develop much-needed approaches to changing how we live and how we run our economies, to make them ecologically, socially, and economically viable in the long run. In the spirit of knowledge exchanges, the ZKfN is being designed to connect academic, non-academic research and industrial partners, both with each other and with society at large. In addition to satisfying the highest scientific standards, it will establish new formats and platforms for science communication and will pursue innovative, implementation-oriented cooperation with actors from society and industry.

The ZKfN is poised to become the central point of contact for anyone working on climate research in Lower Saxony, resolutely promoting our federal state’s innovation and transformation process.

The afore-mentioned Future Labs will be at the heart of the envisioned activities. These platforms will enable scientists from research institutions, universities and businesses to form strategic ties and discuss current research topics, as well as conceive and develop research projects together.

In its early days, the ZKfN will begin its work with Future Labs within the framework of the two topics Climate-adapted Urban Development and Spatial Planning” and Impacts of Climate Change on Forest Ecosystems”. Additional Future Labs will then be created in the coming years, focussing on topics recommended by the ZKfN’s Scientific Advisory Board.

The goal of this call for proposals is to fund research networks which:

  • connect relevant research actors in Lower Saxony and nationwide,
  • develop compatible applications for third-party funding,
  • conduct inter- and transdisciplinary research with industry partners and with the involvement of civil society,
  • develop solutions and strategies for a safe and just climate future,
  • create sustainable contributions to adapting to and mitigating the consequences of the climate crisis,
  • develop approaches to changing how we live and do business, in the interest of the long-term ecological, social and economic viability of our societies,
  • contribute to the transfer of knowledge,
  • thanks to their composition and objectives, are suitable to become a Future Lab.

2. Eligibility and funding format

This call for proposals is aimed at universities under state responsibility (§ 2 NHG) as well as publicly funded, non-university research institutes, all located in Lower Saxony.

Each consortium should consist of at least six established scientist applicants from at least three different research institutes in Lower Saxony. To be able to meet the overarching goals, each research network’s composition must adequately reflect the competencies available across Lower Saxony’s locations and disciplines. Universities, universities of applied sciences and non-university research institutes can participate in a network.

Funding is provided exclusively for the above-mentioned universities and non-university research institutes. Personnel and material expenses are eligible for funding. In the case of scientific staff positions, the scope of the position can be determined by the institution. However, it should be aligned with standard practice in the discipline in question.

External partners and research institutes as well as international universities outside Lower Saxony should be involved in the network. The share of total funding allotted to external partners may not exceed 15%.

Each Future Lab can receive funding of up to €5 million for a period of six years. The funding will initially be limited to three years and will be extended by up to three more years subject to a positive interim evaluation. The funding will come from the zukunft.niedersachsen programme.

A project leader must be appointed for the research network from amongst the participants. This individual must come from a university or research institute in Lower Saxony. The project leader and his/her institution will be the applicant and, if successful, the recipient of the grant, with the responsibility for forwarding the funds to the collaborating partners in accordance with the original application. For the duration of the project, the project leader must agree to act as spokesperson for the Future Lab, assume primary responsibility for organising the Future Lab, and collaborate with the ZKfN’s Administrative Office. A full E13 position must be included in the application covering the following tasks: organisation and coordination of the Future Lab’s activities, PR work, and coordination with other Future Labs, all of which will take place in collaboration with and under the management of the ZKfN’s Managing Director.

The composition of the project team should be appropriately diverse and inclusive.

Further, the application must explain whether or not, and if so to what extent, gender equality and other diversity aspects are relevant to the research project (methods, work plan, objectives, etc.). Compliance with the gender equality and diversity standards defined by the German Research Foundation (DFG) will be taken into account in the final funding decisions.

If the project employs scientists in the qualification phase, the opportunity for further scientific qualification must be taken into account in the proposal.

As a matter of course, all project participants are expected to observe the DFG’s rules of good scientific practice and any rules of good practice in terms of scientific transfer or cooperation that their respective institutions may have established, as well as the DFG’s guidelines on handling research data. It is also expected that the project’s results will be published, preferably in joint peer-reviewed articles that are internationally accessible. Where possible, publications in open access journals are favoured.

The Future Labs are expected to start work on 1 April 2024.

3. Application and selection procedure

The application must be written in English and should adopt the following structure:

(1) Climate Future Lab funding application form

(2) Project description, including the following information:

  • Summary (in German and English), including:
  • - Key research question(s) (max. one page)
  • - Names, institutional affiliations and positions of the participating scientists and industry partners
  • Project topic, objective and justification
  • Contribution to the overall objectives of this call for proposals
  • Current state of research (incl. literature)
  • Research approach, methods and hypotheses
  • Description of the project’s transdisciplinary, interdisciplinary and, if applicable, application-oriented approach
  • Description of how the involvement of early career researchers will be promoted
  • Description(s) of any sub-projects
  • Description of how this project differs from other ongoing funded research
  • Contribution to the participating institutions’ strategic objectives
  • Outlook / prospects for continuation of the project

The project description must not exceed 25 pages (11 pt font, 1.5 line spacing).

(3) Work plan and calendar (in tabular form)

(4) Tabular spending plan (for the overall project and the individual working groups) with explanations of the individual line items:

  • Scientific staff
  • Travel expenses (work meetings, conferences, workshops, etc.)
  • Equipment under €10,000 (if applicable)
  • Science communication (forms of PR work, publications, etc.)
  • Other operating costs (e.g. consumables)

(5) A short CV for each of the participating scientists, including up to 10 of their most important/relevant publications and additionally up to 10 of their most important/relevant collaborative projects with industry partners following DFG guidelines

(6) Endorsement from management at the project leader’s university / research institute

(7) Letters of intent from external partners

(8) Statement from the designated project leader, agreeing to act as spokesperson for the relevant Future Lab and cooperate with the Administrative Office, free of charge

Application deadline: 30 November 2023

The application must be submitted as a PDF document (max. 10 MB) by email sent to: zkfn@tu-braunschweig.de

In the event of a positive assessment, the following document must also be submitted before approval can be issued: a cooperation agreement between the project leader’s university / research institute and the ZKfN’s Administrative Office, detailing, amongst other points, who is responsible for the coordinating staff position in terms of HR management.

The applications will be assessed based on the following criteria:

  • Potential of the project to make a relevant contribution to climate change mitigation, adaptation to climate change or climate research
  • Alignment of the project’s content with the thematic focus of the specific Future Lab
  • Scientific quality of the research proposal
  • Extend to which the composition of the research network reflects the relevant scientific competencies in Lower Saxony
  • Innovation of the project
  • Consortium’s interdisciplinary composition and the way the collaboration is organised
  • Incorporation of external partners in terms of content and organisation
  • Incorporation of civil society actors in the research
  • Expected knowledge gains and transfer potential of the planned project
  • Involvement of scientists working on academic qualifications and their specific qualification goals
  • Involvement of students in research activities, in particular to strengthen their transformation and problem-solving skills
  • Feasibility of the research schedule and work plan
  • Consideration of gender equality and other diversity aspects
  • Data management plan for handling the collected research data

The Volkswagen Foundation will organise an independent scientific review and document it in a funding recommendation.

The funding decision will then be made by the Lower Saxony Ministry of Science and Culture (MWK) on the basis of that funding recommendation.

Contact for inquiries

Lower Saxony Centre for Climate Research (ZKfN)
Katharina Zickwolf
phone: +49 531 391 10070
email: zkfn@tu-braunschweig.de

4. Climate Future Labs

4.1 Impacts of Climate Change on Forest Ecosystems

Forests fulfil numerous functions for the environment and for society. They provide a habitat for a broad variety of animal and plant species, protect our soils from erosion, and supply us with wood, an increasingly important renewable resource. They serve as recreational and leisure areas that are becoming an ever more important retreat for the growing number of city dwellers. Forests continuously absorb carbon dioxide, playing a crucial role in mitigating global warming and overcoming the climate crisis. In Germany, forests occupy some 32% of the total land area (about 11.4 million hectares) and provide employment and income for about 735,000 people, especially in rural areas (source: Waldbericht der Bundesregierung 2021).

The impacts of climate change on a forest and its condition are complex, and the various species of wildlife and plantlife are affected quite differently. In recent years, we have seen significant damage to forests as a result of extreme weather events or prolonged droughts. In particular, “the strong storms in 2017 and 2018, the extreme droughts and heat waves in 2018 to 2020 and the massive increase in bark beetles have caused massive damage to forests and forestry in Germany.” It is therefore not surprising that approximately “25% of the forest area is particularly vulnerable to aridity and droughts due to the composition and structure of their tree species” (source: Zukunftsaufgabe Waldanpassung, Bolte et al. 2021).

Preparing forests for climate change is therefore an important task for our future in one of Europe’s most densely wooded countries. As the components of forests are highly interconnected, a systems approach to research should be considered. It is also essential to take into account the balance of interests between different actors involved in building a healthy and resilient forest ecosystem.

To initiate the Impacts of Climate Change on Forest Ecosystems Future Lab, this call for proposals offers funding for projects which deal with specific interdisciplinary research topics relating to climate change in the context of forest ecosystems. These projects are expected to focus on the condition of Central European forests.

Potential thematic focus areas include:

  • Strategies for increasing the adaptability and resilience of forest ecosystems
  • Impacts of climate change on forest functions
  • Use of forest ecosystems as water and carbon reservoirs
  • Impacts of climate change on nature conservation
  • Innovative forest monitoring and forest condition assessments
  • Changes in wood utilisation due to climate change adaptation and mitigation
  • Sustainable forest management

4.2 Climate-adapted Urban Development and Spatial Planning

With their high levels of greenhouse gas emissions, cities around the world contribute heavily to human-induced climate change – they consume up to 80% of total global energy production and are responsible for over 70% of global CO2 emissions (source: Climate Service Center Germany (GERICS), Climate-Focus-Paper. Cities and Climate Change 2015). At the same time, cities are particularly affected by the consequences of climate change due to their dense populations, their growing urbanisation and the displacement of natural defence mechanisms. In this context, both gradual climate-related changes (such as rising mean annual temperatures) and extreme events (such as heat waves, droughts and heavy rainfall) are of great importance. At the moment, more than half of the world’s population already lives in cities and, according to UN forecasts, this proportion will rise to around two thirds of the world’s population living in cities and urban areas by 2050 (source: UN Habitat World Cities Report 2022).

Cities and communities today face existential, global challenges that have a direct impact at the local level. The complexity of these challenges requires transdisciplinary solutions and cooperation in the sense of holistic, climate-adapted urban development, in conjunction with strategies that go beyond a mere reduction in energy consumption or energy-oriented renovations of older housing. Researchers from every discipline must join forces to develop new governance strategies along with instruments for climate adaptation, planning and design. Sustainable urban development must include the spatial levels of neighbourhoods, cities and greater urban areas. Also, the effects of climate change often have a disproportionate effect on minorities and the most vulnerable members of society, a circumstance that has to be taken into account when searching for solutions.

To initiate the Climate-adapted Urban Development and Spatial Planning Future Lab, this call for proposals offers funding for projects which deal with specific interdisciplinary research topics relating to complex urbanisation processes as a consequence of human-induced climate change and which develop visions for the transformation of urban spaces in conjuncture with the general public.

Potential thematic focus areas include:

  • Strategies for sustainable, affordable mobility
  • Development of energy-efficient buildings and typologies
  • Transformation of existing typologies by using building stock as a resource
  • Strategies for a climate-adapted urban development policy
  • Innovative monitoring and decision-making bases for climate-adapted urban development
  • Sustainable design and transformation of urban infrastructure
  • Organisation of planning and design processes aimed at disaster prevention and resilience


You can download the application form here.

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