A polyglot Estonian in Bern

Anna Kulakovskaya was the top master’s student at the University of Bern Graduate School of Climate Sciences last year. For her excellent achievements, the Estonian has been awarded a 2018 Oeschger Young Scientist’s Prize.

At the age of 25, climate scientist Anna Kulakovskaya has already completed a remarkable course of studies. After growing up and attending grammar school in Tallinn, Estonia, she moved to Moscow and studied international relations at the National Research University Higher School of Economics (HSE), one of Russia’s leading universities. From there she got her bachelor’s degree with a special emphasis on environmental economics and politics. To continue her academic education, she chose Bern, where she graduated summa cum laude with a master’s degree in climate sciences in 2018.

There are two reasons why the Moscow student chose Bern of all places to pursue her master’s degree. “As an environmental economist, I thought it would be good to know more about the natural sciences as well – for the sake of credibility. The multidisciplinary climate master’s from Bern was a real force to be reckoned with.” The young Estonian also considered Bern as a place to study because she had already spent a semester abroad here as an undergraduate. The reason? HSE, her Moscow alma mater, has an exchange agreement with the University of Bern. Anna Kulakovskaya was interested in Bern’s range of events on climate change – and the Russian-, English- and Estonian-speaker also wanted to learn German.

At the Graduate School of Climate Sciences, inquisitive Anna Kulakovskaya was not disappointed. She appreciated the wide range of lectures and was enthusiastic about the “excellent study conditions”. She was particularly impressed by the attitude of the professors towards their students. “I really felt I was taken seriously.” It was thanks to a University of Bern scholarship that she could afford to study in Switzerland.

Higher energy efficiency can harm the climate

For her master’s thesis, the climate scientist explored the relationship between greenhouse gas emissions and the effectiveness of climate-friendly technologies. She developed a simple game-theoretic model to achieve two results. First, climate-friendly technologies do not always lead to a reduction in greenhouse gases. The type of technology is decisive. Better low-carbon and emission-reducing technologies have a positive effect on the climate. Higher energy efficiency and better adaptation technologies, on the other hand, have unwanted effects leading to higher rather than lower emissions. Secondly, she showed that the so-called strategic interaction between countries reduces incentives to invest in low-carbon and emission-reducing technologies. The interaction creates incentives for investment in energy efficiency and better adaptation technologies.

In the meantime, the polyglot Estonian has moved from Bern to Zurich, and as part of her internship at Swiss Re, she’s looking into consumer needs in the field of natural hazards. “I am in a phase of my life in which I want to get to know different working environments,” she explains. She’s already learned one thing: “After just a few months I miss university and am seriously thinking about writing a dissertation.” So it’s quite possible that the promising career of this young climate researcher will include numerous other academic stations.

(February 2019)