Climate-neutral and healthy cities

CoSynHealth: Dr Peter Hoffmann and his team are researching how cities can be transformed in a climate-neutral and sustainable way and how people's health is supported in the process.

From meteorology to health-promoting urban planning

Peter Hoffmann has always been fascinated by the weather and especially by weather extremes such as thunderstorms and tropical cyclones. "I still remember many storms from my childhood, such as a hail-storm when I was at primary school that knocked down huge trees and left considerable property damage." As he grew older, he wanted to study something relevant to many people. So he decided to study meteorology. Already during his studies, Hoffmann chased storms in the USA and was able to observe a tornado.
Today, the meteorologist does research at the Climate Service Center Germany (GERICS) of the Helmholtz Centre Hereon in Hamburg and heads the junior research group "CoSynHealth" (Conflicts and Synergies between carbon-neutral and healthy City Scenarios) - translated: "Conflicts and Synergies between Scenarios for CO2-neutral and healthy Cities". His idea for CoSynHealth was to contribute with research to solving current and future problems of the population. "For this, I tried to integrate my research on climate science, urban climate and urban health. I have often noticed during my career that many topics are considered individually. This was also the case with the topic of climate protection and climate adaptation in cities. Some of the planned climate change mitigation and adaptation measures, such as changing the urban structure or changing mobility behaviour, can have an impact on the health of the urban population, but how large these are and, whether there are also conflicts or synergies between the measures, is often not known."

CoSynHealth junior research group

Hoffmann's goal is to develop climate services that enable health authorities and city planners to transform cities in a climate-neutral and sustainable way. These climate services will be based on computer-based models that calculate the future health hazards of extreme heat in cities and at the same time take into account the impact of climate protection and climate adaptation measures.
Even during his studies, his research topics revolved primarily around the modelling of urban climate and its connection to climate change. Peter Hoffmann knows that so-called heat islands in cities are mainly caused by sealed surfaces: "Concrete and asphalt store heat and the air hardly circulates between high buildings. Added to this is the waste heat from cars or factories. Heat stress can lead to increased respira-tory illnesses, cardiovascular diseases and heat stroke, especially in vulnerable groups such as the elderly, pregnant women, children or people with pre-existing conditions. In extreme cases, this can also end in kidney failure." He and his junior researchers at the Climate Service Center Germany are working with the University Medical Center Hamburg-Eppendorf (UKE) as well as British and Japanese institutes to develop climate services that serve the health of the population.
In a joint development process, new climate services are identified together with stakeholders to meet the need for climate and health-related information in the city, in order to develop scenarios for a CO2-neutral and healthy city. In scenario workshops with actors from the fields of urban planning and public health, the practical applicability will be tested. The scenarios and modelling thus offer transformation-related decision-making aids for political decision-makers in cities.

Participatory workshop techniques

For the workshops planned at CoSynHealth, the junior research group is using a method that has already been applied very successfully in Japan and is based on the so-called "future design approach". "This means that we try to give the future urban population a voice by turning a group of workshop participants into an 'imaginary future generation'. This group then negotiates the scenarios with the rest of the participants." Studies from Japan have shown that scenarios developed in this way are more sustainable. When planning the workshops, the junior research group therefore works closely with its partners from Osaka University.

CoSynHealth builds on KLIMZUG research results

Dr Peter Hoffmann had already conducted research in the BMBF funding measure "KLIMZUG - Shaping Climate Change in Regions for the Future" in the project KLIMZUG-NORD. The results achieved there also provide a good basis for the CoSynHealth project, among others. In addition, Hoffmann can now build on his existing network and use the many contacts he made during the KLIMZUG research period. "The exchange with the experts from the other disciplines helped me to work in an interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary way. To do this, we first had to learn the language of the other discipline. A task not to be underestimated."

Adapting to climate reality

As a citizen, too, it is important to Hoffmann to provide the city of Hamburg, but also other cities, with scientifically sound decision-making aids that enable them to offer and secure quality of life despite the dangers of climate change. Especially with regard to his two sons, this is also of personal importance to him. "As a father, I naturally want them to grow up healthy."

CoSynHealth and career

Leading the junior research group is very important for Hoffmann's career. "It allows me to show that I can take responsibility for a large research project and also supervise PhD students, for example. At the same time, I can prove myself as an expert in a field of research that will continue to grow in importance." During his time in the CoSynHealth project, he plans to do his habilitation to take the next step in his academic career. "I would also like to continue working at the interface of climate and health research. Then perhaps even with an even larger team or consortium. The many contacts I make during the project will help with that."
The BMBF's Young Investigators Programme enables him to conduct research in an exciting interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary research field over five years and to exchange ideas with the other groups in the programme. "Over such a period, a topic can be examined from different perspectives, which is very important at the interface of climate, environment and health."

Family and career

Peter Hoffmann has two sons aged four and seven. It is important to him that he can participate in as many of his children's activities as possible and that in a partnership both partners can pursue their career goals. "The flexibilisation of working hours created at the Helmholtz Centre Hereon and the associated possibility to do work from home has helped me to better combine family and career." In the course of his career, his parents and his wife have always supported him and shown understanding when he has had to be in the office a little longer or when he has had a longer stay abroad.

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