The Net‐Zero‐2050 Web-Atlas: Using a digital tool for knowledge transfer

The Climate Service Center Germany (GERICS) was initiated by the German Federal Government in 2009 as a fundamental part of the German high‐tech strategy for climate protection

Since June 2014, GERICS has been an independent scientific organizational unit of the Helmholtz‐Zentrum Hereon.

The interdisciplinary team at GERICS develops scientifically based prototype products and services to support decision‐makers in politics, business and public administration in adapting to climate change.

Figure 1: Net‐Zero‐2050 Web‐Atlas landing page, March 2022 (illustration with screenshot) (Netto‐Null‐2050 Web‐Atlas 2022)

As evidenced by the IPCC Sixth Assessment Report (AR6), there is no doubt that human influence has warmed the climate system. Net carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions must be reduced to at least zero and other greenhouse gases drastically reduced to limit climate change. Rapid and far‐reaching emission reductions of all greenhouse gases are essential measures; in addition, CO2 must be removed from the atmosphere. Among the various available strategies for carbon dioxide removal, a distinction is made between biological, chemical, and biochemical approaches. Furthermore, the removed CO2 can be permanently stored in underground reservoirs, and natural sinks or further converted into energy sources through chemical processes.

Helmholtz Climate Initiative: Systemic Research on Climate Change

The extreme fluvial flood events in Germany in the summer of 2021 have brought it home to us with all its force: Climate change presents us with enormous societal challenges. On the one hand, we must limit climate change by rapidly reducing greenhouse gases. On the other hand, we must adapt our society to the extreme events expected in the future.

The Helmholtz Association has been making significant contributions to climate research for many years and launched the Helmholtz Climate Initiative (HI‐CAM) (Start | Helmholtz Climate Initiative 2022) to bundle the existing knowledge in the best possible way. The initiative combines climate protection and adaptation research – two sides of the same coin. Thus, HI‐CAM is structured into two scientific clusters “Net‐Zero‐ 2050” with mitigation focus and “Adaptation to Extreme Events” with adaptation focus. The clusters have intensively networked to systematically explore the topic of “climate change”, transcend the boundaries of specialist disciplines, and find answers that do justice to the complexity of this challenge. As shown in Figure 2, HI‐CAM’s three cooperating clusters actively seek dialogue with various external partners. This dialogue is supported and steered by the established communication Cluster III. HI‐CAM was financed with twelve million euros by the Helmholtz President’s Initiative and Networking Fund. It was launched on July 1, 2019, and lasted until March 31, 2022. Currently, a proposal for a second funding phase is under consideration.

Figure 2: HI‐CAM’s three collaborating clusters actively seek dialogue with external partners.

Net‐Zero‐2050: Pathways to German Carbon Neutrality by 2050

Net‐Zero‐2050, the Cluster I of the Helmholtz Climate Initiative focusing on climate protection, scientifically investigated and evaluated strategies and new ways for Germany to become carbon neutral (Net‐Zero ‐ Pathways to carbon neutrality 2050). The results were incorporated into a pilot roadmap for a carbon‐neutral Germany by 2050 and intended to drive the public and political debate on CO2 neutrality at various levels. It is, however, important to mention that Net‐Zero‐2050 exclusively focused on CO2 emissions and the associated CO2 neutrality.

The Climate Service Center Germany (GERICS), an institute of the Helmholtz‐Zentrum Hereon, coordinated Net‐Zero‐2050 and, thus, brought together the expertise of ten Helmholtz research centres across Germany.

What is the Net‐Zero‐2050 Web‐Atlas?

The project results from Net‐Zero‐2050 are, among others, presented in two digital communication platforms, which are fully available to the public. One of the digital knowledge transfer products is the Net‐Zero‐2050 Web‐Atlas. It was designed and implemented in close cooperation between the project team at GERICS and the external software development company X‐NET. The product release was part of the HI‐CAM final conference in November 2021. It is available at: https://www.atlas.netto‐

The Net‐Zero‐2050 Web‐Atlas intends to intensify the public and political debate on CO2 neutrality. The Net‐Zero‐2050 Web‐Atlas answers the central question: Which technical and biogeochemical possibilities and political decision‐making options can support Germany in becoming CO2 neutral by mid of this century?

The Net‐Zero‐2050 Web‐Atlas consolidates and presents the scientific results of the Net‐Zero‐ 2050 project, which were developed interdisciplinary together with ten research centres of the Helmholtz Association. Therefore, it serves as a digital showcase and is at the same time a compact knowledge transfer product for the research results. Moreover, the Net‐Zero‐ 2050 Web‐Atlas summarises, compares, and visualises all long‐term national decarbonisation strategies (LT‐LEDS) submitted to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) by the signatory countries of the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement.

What information does the Net‐Zero‐2050 Web‐Atlas offer users?

In order to make Germany fit for the path to CO2 neutrality, two levers are crucial: the technological lever and the decision‐support lever. In addition, it is helpful to get an overview of the national strategies of all UNFCCC member states. In the Net‐Zero‐2050 Web‐Atlas, the contributions of the project partners are assigned to these topics, respectively, in the chapters Technological Lever, Decision Support Lever, and Roadmaps according to the UNFCCC. Another chapter presents the Net‐Zero‐2050 partner centres.

Like in a book, each scientific contribution can be explicitly selected. Subchapters within the two lever chapters provide a thematic classification for better orientation. A full‐text search also helps with targeted information retrieval.

Figure 3: UNFCCC‐Roadmap summary of Germany in the Net‐Zero‐2050 Web‐Atlas, exemplarily showing the graphical summary of GHG Emissions.

The Technological Lever Chapter

Thematically, the technological lever chapter contains contributions from the Net‐Zero‐2050 Cluster, which covers topics ranging from CO2 avoidance and CO2 removal to the storage of CO2 and other gases. In the chapter “Technological Lever”, as of November 2021, about 20 contributions have been assigned to the following topic clusters:

  • CO2 removal using technical processes
  • Conversion and processing of CO2
  • Subsurfacemanagement
  • Nature‐based CO2 avoidance and removal
  • Avoiding CO2 emissions
  • Impacts of changing CO2 emissions

The Decision Support Lever Chapter

The decision support lever chapter comprises analytical tools developed to support decision‐ making. This lever, therefore, includes the contributions from the Net‐Zero‐2050 Cluster essential for achieving the CO2 neutrality target, e.g. carbon accounting, assessment approaches of carbon removal options, and case studies and cross‐sectoral pathways for possible decarbonisation strategies. In the chapter “Decision Support Lever”, about 16 contributions have been assigned to the sub‐chapters at last count:

  • Budgeting, feasibility assessment, and regulatory framework to reach a CO2 neutral Germany
  • Energy scenario for a CO2 neutral Germany
  • Case studies

The UNFCCC‐Roadmaps Chapter

The UNFCCC Roadmaps chapter is dedicated to the long‐term national strategies for avoiding and reducing greenhouse gases (GHG) submitted to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). The Paris Climate Agreement signatory countries committed in 2015 to submit GHG reduction pledges regularly. However, these Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) only briefly summarise target agreements for fixed periods or years. The Paris Climate Agreement also specifies that each signatory state should, in addition, submit a long‐term national strategy, i.e. the “Long‐Term Low Greenhouse Gas Emission Development Strategy” (LT‐LEDS), to reduce GHG. These LT‐LEDS show how and when these GHG reduction targets can be achieved at sectoral and cross‐sectoral levels.

The Net‐Zero‐2050 Web‐Atlas uses the 31 LT‐LEDS submitted to the UNFCCC mid‐October 2021. GERICS analysed these LT‐LEDS based on around 50 different quantitative and qualitative criteria and summarised the most important results. In addition to GHG emissions and targeted reductions, the analysed criteria include the following strategies and measures: carbon pricing and offsetting, negative emissions, stakeholder participation, individual behavioural changes, or climate adaptation strategies. In order to ensure the most significant possible comparability of the GHG emissions data and be consistent with the official GHG inventory data of the UNFCCC, the reference year 1990 was used where available. All GHG data exclude land use, land‐use change and forestry (LULUCF). In addition, all GHG reduction pathways indicated in the roadmaps ‐ also using the official GHG inventory data of the UNFCCC ‐ were related to this reference year.

The cartographic representation and list in the UNFCCC‐Roadmap chapter show the countries with submitted UNFCCC‐LT‐LEDS analysed for the atlas. After selecting a country, a graphical and symbolic summary appears showing the results of the analysed criteria. The analysis results are presented using scored symbols and text lists for each selected country. In the upper part, a graph contains the respective emissions for the reference year 1990 and, if available, for the inventory year and the reduction targets. Compared to the reference, the percentage emission reductions are presented, exemplarily shown for Germany in Figure 3. Below the graph, the Web‐Atlas shows which aspects are included in the respective roadmaps or to what extent they are included, exemplarily shown for Germany in Figure 4.

Figure 4: UNFCCC‐Roadmap summary of Germany in the Net‐Zero‐2050 Web‐Atlas, exemplarily showing symbolic summary and headlines of the roadmap synthesis.

The analysed criteria are as indicated in the following list:

  • Summary
  • Actor participation
  • Behavioural change
  • Main sectors
  • GHG budget and carbon pricing
  • International CO2 affairs
  • Greenhouse gases, except for CO2
  • Negative emissions and CO2 circuits l Further options
  • Statistic

Overall, the graphic‐symbolic summary gives the user a concise overview of the most critical aspects of the national roadmaps.

The “Compare with” feature makes it possible to compare the long‐term strategies of two different countries by selecting them. Since the official submission process is continuous and existing LT‐LEDS are also constantly updated, the result of this roadmap evaluation is a living document that is also subject to regular updates.

To find out more, click our accompanying eBook

More About Stakeholder

  • Climate Service Center Germany (GERICS)

    The Climate Service Center Germany (GERICS) was initiated by the German Federal Government in 2009 as a fundamental part of the German hightech-strategy for climate protection. Since June 2014, GERICS has been a scientific organizational entity of Helmholtz-Zentrum hereon GmbH. The director of GERICS is meteorologist and climate scientist Prof. Dr. Daniela Jacob.   Mission […]


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