Challenging paradigms as the gateway to innovation: New IIPP report for EIT Climate-KIC’s Landscapes as Carbon Sinks Deep Demonstration

EIT Climate-KIC partner the UCL Institute for Innovation and Public Purpose (IIPP), which works on changing how public value is imagined, practiced and evaluated to tackle societal challenges, has published the “Landscapes as Carbon Sinks Reconnaissance Report.” The report is part of an eight-part series issued under the New Innovation Paradigms (iParadigm) project engaging at a strategic level with the eight pan-European Deep Demonstration teams. These reports aim to identify paradigms—assumptions that currently impact how we conceptualise innovation—and present approaches that challenge them, which is vitally important as Europe looks towards its green COVID19 economic renewal.

The “Landscapes as Carbon Sinks Reconnaissance Report” was designed to support EIT Climate-KIC’s Landscapes Deep Demonstration in its mission to offer systems innovation as a service to help Europe deliver a transformative green recovery. This includes assisting cities, regions and countries in implementing nature-based solutions—such as afforestation and reforestation—for carbon sequestration, as well as maximising the impact of sustainable forest management, farm-to-fork circuits and agroecology practices.

The iParadigm team hosted a working session with the Landscapes Deep Demonstration team to explore the concepts that could be developed at project level to support the challenging of the paradigms that currently stand in the way of systems change—and to launch new paradigms in their place, designed through new economic thinking approaches.

Systems innovators have identified that the strongest leverage point for intervention in a system is at the mindset or paradigm level. Often, we need to challenge the underlying assumptions of a system in order to change it.

 “Paradigms are the sources of systems. From them come goals, information flows, feedbacks, stocks, flows. The ancient Egyptians built pyramids because they believed in an afterlife. We build skyscrapers, because we believe that space in downtown cities is enormously valuable.”

 – Donella Meadows

 

Landscape paradigms

  • “The benefits of nature can be captured by monetary valuation.”
  • “The social cost of carbon is the key metric for insight into carbon sequestration.”
  • “Carbon sequestratin is best coordinated at local level.”

 

Challenging landscape paradigms

The IIPP report provides an overview of new economic thinking ‘lenses’ to apply in the process of challenging paradigms. In the working session, the team explored with the Landscapes Deep Demonstration team several experimental approaches to challenging paradigms, including more iterative systems change ‘explorations’ as well as more radical ‘stretch thinking’ activities. This session was very generative and came out with several concepts to continue developing and exploring.  

The report also shares four inspirational case studies that reveal how initiatives elsewhere have upended thinking about landscapes as change agents in the climate crisis: Peatland restoration in Auchlyne and Suie Estates in Scotland, 100 Million Tree Program in Inner Mongolia, restoration of the River Waal in the Netherlands, and conservation and rebuilding of the Gongliao-Hoho-Terraced-Paddy-Fields in Taiwan.

 

Starting points for each of the paradigms

Below is a quick taster, gathered from the report and discussion, sharing some starting points for thinking about and challenging each of the key paradigms:

“The benefits of nature can be captured by monetary valuation”

  • Land or ‘the commons’ does not benefit from a ‘natural capitalism’ approach—we need a more holistic approach that takes public value into account;
  • Land use decisions involve all citizens, but institutions dedicated to land, whether through waste management, forestry, transit or climate, are often on the periphery of citizens’ lives. There is awareness-raising activity needed to bring these activities into focus in the everyday;
  • Considering a wide variety of stakeholders liberates regeneration activities from being viewed narrowly as providing only carbon sequestration, and can also enable people to consider positive spillover effects such as water security.

 “The social cost of carbon is the key metric for insight into carbon sequestration”

  • Static metrics including the social cost of carbon should be challenged when it comes to understanding the value of land use; more dynamic, multi-factor tools for assessing value over the long term need to take into account climate feedback loops;
  • Regeneration activities (as opposed to activities that extract natural resources) carry value for people that is not easily priced e.g. the psychological and physical health benefits of being in nature;
  • Circular economy approaches can reveal system-wide opportunities for change and break down silos, revealing synergies.

 “Carbon sequestration is best coordinated at local level”

  • Mission-oriented approaches can be explored to set long-term, ambitious targets for land use and carbon, that can create goals feeding into the mission in national, regional and highly localised contexts; the UN Sustainable Development Goals could be harnessed to provide a framework for creating top-down and bottom-up mission-oriented response to land use;
  • It is important to create coordination between the R&D activities underlying new carbon sinking possibilities from a technological perspective, alongside wider land use, employment and financial policies;

Activities around commons-based resource management could be ‘nested’ at local, regional and national levels, potentially through the prism of linking industrial strategy and innovation policy aims at different levels.

The iParadigm project, report and engagement has offered a fascinating analysis of the challenges and opportunities relating to landscapes. It has equipped the Landscapes as Carbon Sinks Deep Demonstration with additional insight into how to effectively work with ‘challenge owners’—mayors, government ministries, industry, community leaders and funders—on transforming whole systems using innovation.

EIT Climate-KIC designed its Deep Demonstrations to meet the increasing demand for its role as an orchestrator of systems innovation. Our systems innovation model uses a balanced portfolio of interventions—across education, technological innovation, citizen engagement, policy, finance, etc.—to catalyse fast decarbonisation and drive climate adaptation. Landscapes as Carbon Sinks is one such ‘living lab,’ designed to help Europe deliver on its climate targets.

Learn more about EIT Climate-KIC’s Landscapes as Carbon Sinks.

 
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