Prof. Dr. Claudia Kemfert
DAAD Doctoral Scholarship 1998
“The fossil resource oil will only cover the world’s total energy demand for another 15 years.” Claudia Kemfert has earned a reputation for gloomy predictions like this in Germany. She has strongly defended her theses in public since 2004, when she was appointed head of the Department of Energy, Transport and the Environment at the German Institute for Economic Research (DIW) and assumed the Chair of Environmental Economics at Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, where she worked until 2009. Since then she has also been professor for energy economics and sustainability at the Hertie School of Governance and become one of the most sought-after contacts for the media when it comes to questions of energy research and climate protection.
Researchers need to speak up. That happens too seldom in Germany.
Kemfert studied economics at the universities of Bielefeld and Oldenburg, and completed her PhD at Stanford University in 1998 with a DAAD Scholarship. The time she spent there set the course of her subsequent career. At Stanford, Professor Alan Manne developed computer-based quantitative models to evaluate the economic effects of oil scarcity and climate change. “That was so exciting that I was totally gripped by it,” Kemfert says.
When she took on the professorship in Berlin in 2004, Kemfert was the first female junior professor in Germany to be appointed to a highly paid C4 chair. In 2006, when Germany hosted the FIFA World Cup, the popular German science magazine Bild der Wissenschaft joined forces with the German Research Foundation, the Leibniz Association and other institutions to select Germany’s “Science Team” – eleven top German researchers under the age of 40. Kemfert made the team. In 2011, she was honoured with the B.A.U.M. environmental prize in category Science.
The energy economist is relaxed about her popularity, and sees public relations as part of her work. She doesn’t want just to sit in an ivory tower and think up models: she also wants to discuss her findings publicly. “Unfortunately, there are few media formats that permit deep, serious dissemination of information. And that discourages researchers,” Kemfert says. Nonetheless, they must not leave the shaping of public opinion to journalists, politicians or – in the worst case – self-appointed experts. “We need to speak up. That happens too seldom in Germany.”
That is another thing she learned in the United States: “It’s normal there for renowned experts to be called in as government advisors, and then to speak out publicly.” Kemfert was therefore happy to accept when the then president of the European Commission, José Manuel Barroso, appointed her as an advisor. Claudia Kemfert is active in advisory councils of the European Commission as well as various research institutions and federal and state ministries.