19 June 2020

Interview: Taking action for a sustainable future

Options Summer 2020: Thomas Schinko joined the institute as a Young Scientists Summer Program (YSSP) participant in 2014. He is currently the IIASA Risk and Resilience Deputy Program Director.

© Thomas Schinko

© Thomas Schinko

Q What are your key research interests?
My work focuses on the socioeconomic assessment
of climate-related risks, for example floods and droughts, and developing and analyzing risk management strategies to tackle those challenges. I’m particularly interested in climate-related risks that cannot and will not be addressed by climate change mitigation and adaptation, eventually breaching the coping capacities of communities. These are known to be part of the so-called “Loss and Damage” policy discourse.

Methodologically, I use economic and risk-based modeling tools, but more recently, I have also started to apply social science methods, for example, roleplay simulations, to engage more closely with societal stakeholders.

Q What does your involvement with “Scientists for Future” entail?
Senior climate researchers from Austria, Germany, and Switzerland started this initiative. Together, they produced a statement supporting the legitimate concerns of the “Fridays for
Future” movement with scientific facts.

This statement was signed by more than 26,000 researchers – including myself – from various disciplines. In March 2019, around 30,000 climate activists gathered at Heldenplatz in Vienna, where I handed over the statement to the demonstrating crowd.

This movement has had a huge societal impact and really changed the discourse of climate change communication, not only in Austria, but worldwide. There has been enormous interest from the media, political stakeholders, and the general public.

Q IIASA is an independent research institute, how do you balance this with engaging with stakeholders that are active in campaigning?
It is very important to point out that “Scientists for Future” does not belong to any political party or ideological camp. We support the “Fridays for Future” movement with independent and evidence-based research. It is our societal duty to provide scientific information so that actions for a more sustainable future can be taken. Policymakers and politicians throughout the political spectrum have realized that we need to do something about the climate crisis.

As we need to work with all kinds of stakeholders, I also balance my Austrian work with engagement in international climate policy debate, such as under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

Q What do you think are the biggest challenges we face and how can IIASA help?
A Societal grand challenges, for example, climate change, biodiversity loss, instability of financial systems, and water scarcity, are all linked. The research at IIASA – applied systems analysis – takes into account the interconnectedness of multiple goals, making IIASA a unique place. Systems thinking offers our best chance of overcoming the substantial barriers to sustainability, now and for future generations.

Q Are you able to keep your optimism in the face of the challenges affecting our planet?
It’s indeed challenging to stay optimistic when you see the climate crisis unfolding on a global scale. Current efforts are not enough to keep Earth’s temperature from rising. The young people out on the streets demanding climate justice keep me motivated. They are willing to undergo major transformational changes. For the sake of our children, we have to stay optimistic.

By Bettina Greenwell

Print this page

Last edited: 03 June 2020


Thomas Schinko

Deputy Program Director

Risk and Resilience

T +43(0) 2236 807 467

Research program involved

Options Summer 2020

Read the latest issue

International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA)
Schlossplatz 1, A-2361 Laxenburg, Austria
Phone: (+43 2236) 807 0 Fax:(+43 2236) 71 313