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PIK was founded in 1992 by its current director, Hans Joachim Schellnhuber. About 340 people work at the institute that is located on Potsdam's historic Telegrafenberg. Researchers from the natural and social sciences analyze the earth system and develop strategies and solution pathways for a sustainable development.
Besides from the Federal Government of Germany, the European Commission and a number of other governments, PIK provides information to international organizations like the World Bank. With the European Institute of Innovation and Technology, PIK founded Climate-KIC (Knowledge and Innovation Community).
PIK scientist contribute to the reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), also known as the world's climate council, whose working group on the mitigation of climate change is coordinated by the institute's deputy director and chief economist Ottmar Edenhofer. In 2007, PIK initiated a biennial Nobel Laureates' Symposium.
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