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Climate and the reach of the University of Copenhagen

The Danish government relies on new technology to accelerate developments in the manner of a 'hockey stick' graph. UCPH researchers will no doubt contribute to a sharp rise in the graph, write the rector and prorectors.

»Behind me here are crops whose extra-long roots capture nitrogen. Really exciting, and quite the right place to be today,« the Danish Minister for Food and Agriculture, Rasmus Prehn, said a few weeks ago, when he launched the government’s plan for the green transition of agriculture from an experimental field at Taastrup Campus along with three other ministers.

It is beginning to be a matter of urgency. In particular, since the Climate Council in February did not find it sufficiently clear how the government intends to reach its goal of a 70 percent reduction of greenhouse gases before 2030.

The government relies on new technology to accelerate developments in the manner of a ‘hockey stick’ graph. UCPH researchers will no doubt contribute to a sharp rise in the graph – especially within agriculture, which roughly accounts for a third of Denmark’s CO2 emissions.

But it’s just as important that researchers and students push decision-makers by using their critical knowledge of where it makes sense to take action – without having to wait for technology. For example, will climate policy have a ‘longer driving range’ if agriculture is ‘nudged ‘ into going from animal to plant-based foods?

Food and agriculture are important elements of the University’s climate research. However, the University’s strengths are the wide reach, academic breadth, and depth of its basic research. All branches of research have something important to offer – especially in the interplay between them.

Along with research, students are the University's strongest agents of change.
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Take hydrogen cars. Our colleagues from Chemistry may be able to come up with a low-priced catalyst. But they will need the economists to design a model for car taxation. And the vehicle is unlikely to become popular without humanistic insights into behaviour, habits and conceptions. Several disciplines are necessary to engineer solutions.

That is precisely the setup in the Green Solutions Centre, where close to 300 UCPH researchers work together to define projects and write applications to Innovation Fund Denmark and Horizon Europe, among others – about everything from CO2 capture and storage to reusing textiles.

Luckily, the government is keen to invest in green research. We also hope that the politicians will respect that research is unpredictable. Technologies proclaimed winners in advance can turn out to be quite the opposite, and our imagination is limited. As Henry Ford said: »If I had asked my customers what they wanted, they would have said ‘faster horses’.« That is why we should accommodate basic research, which can create the kind of breakthrough that makes a graph look like a hockey stick.

Along with research, students are the University’s strongest agents of change. Thanks to our students, we have a good deal of green content in our programmes. The students want sustainability and to be co-creators of their own education. We champion this attitude. We support Actory in Studenterhuset, where students come together to develop projects across disciplines and organise climate action. In addition, the Sustainability Science Centre at UCPH has provided an overview of the wide range of programmes and courses focused on sustainable development. Right now, UCPH also is handing out funds for developing climate and sustainability teaching.

Students’ commitment took knowledge about climate change from the scientific reports and brought it out onto the streets and into people’s kitchens. Armed with their research-based knowledge, students will be green entrepreneurs who make changes happen in society.

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