Photo: Bax Lindhardt

Research communicator of the year

Thursday 25 Apr 19
by Marianne Vang Ryde, Lotte Krull


Kirsten Halsnæs
DTU Management
+45 46 77 51 12
Professor Kirsten Halsnæs will be awarded the Research Communication Award 2019 for her willingness and ability to communicate her knowledge about the climate and the economy for all groups in society.

At an event on 25 April in the Danish Ministry of Higher Education and Science, Professor Kirsten Halsnæs from DTU Management will be presented with the Research Communication Award 2019. 

“Climate change is one of the biggest global challenges, the climate has become a hot topic on the agenda, and all stakeholders are trying to catch attention of the public. Kirsten Halsnæs manages to create a solid basis for the climate debate through her work in the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, among other things,” says the Danish Minister for Higher Education and Science Tommy Ahlers.

"We cannot solve the climate crisis solely in our private lives. Climate change is a problem for society at large, which we must solve together, and where all sectors and technologies must work align with consumer behaviour."
Professor Kirsten Halsnæs

For three decades, Kirsten Halsnæs has conducted research in the field of economy, climate, and the green transition based in the UN’s Environment Programme’s centre, UNEP DTU Partnership, which works with energy, climate, and sustainable development in developing countries.

In addition to her research, Kirsten Halsnæs has undertaken several major societal tasks. Since 1993, she has been a member of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's inner circle as the author of the IPCC’s chapters on the financial consequences of climate change. She has also been on the Danish Council of Ethics for the past six years.

Accepting to do interviews and participating in events on topics she has worked with in her research has always been a matter of principle for Kirsten Halsnæs. Consequently, she has become a well-known voice in the media, writing columns, feature articles, blogs and books, participating in several tv debates and talks shows, and giving lectures all around Denmark.

Three questions for the professor

Kirsten Halsnæs is eager to push the environmental debate beyond the ministries and communicate it, so that the general public can understand the problems and act on an informed basis. We asked her three questions in relation to the current climate debate:

How do we solve the climate crisis?
“There’s a lot that we all can do that is both cheap and effective: Save energy, use your bicycle, drive small climate-friendly cars, avoid food waste, and be open to worldwide collaboration.
But we cannot solve the climate crisis solely in our private lives. Climate change is a problem for society at large, which we must solve together, and where all sectors and technologies must work align with consumer behaviour.

We should focus on three sectors in particular: Energy, agriculture, and transport. Since the 1990s, there has been a major technological development in renewable energy, so here we can allow ourselves to be fairly optimistic. But within agriculture and transport, we have not made that much progress with the technology that can make them sustainable.

In addition to technological development and new production methods of, for example, crops and meat, we also need politicians who can create a framework that makes it cheaper to behave correctly. This could be done by introducing various forms of regulation such as a carbon tax for businesses. It certainly does not help to lower the taxes on big cars, cut down on public transport, and build more motorways.

Internationally, I believe that we are doing the only thing possible, which is making agreements and focusing on development. The solutions need to come from the countries themselves, because there is no global climate police that can monitor compliance or enforce penalties if a country fails to meet the targets.”

Should we stop eating meat?“

No. I think that’s is a very radical attitude which in no way makes people want to solve the climate problems. And there is the risk that the climate debate is simplified to being about whether or not you eat red meat, which overlooks the fact that each consumer’s choice must be combined with an overall effort in the entire production chain for foods from livestock and plant production to processing and transport before the food reaches the shops.”

So should we stop travelling by plane?

“No. That’s a really bad idea. Most people are surprised to learn that only three per cent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions come from aviation. It’s very important that we still travel the world and meet other cultures and peoples, because it is through these meetings that we can influence each other.

Those who argue that we should stop flying and stay in Denmark have completely missed the point about where the world’s future greenhouse gas emissions will be coming from. Around year 2100, 80 per cent of the world’s population will be living in what are now the big growth economies such as China and India, and in the developing countries, so most of the greenhouse gas emissions will come from there, as a result of their development. Of course we also have do something back home, but the major changes need to happen in those countries. I don’t think that isolating ourselves in Denmark is the solution. The important exchange of ideas and solutions and collaboration on sustainable consumption and production happens through communication and international trade and agreements with other nations.”

Portrait of Kirsten Halsnæs