System innovation is needed to help regions shift to a low-carbon economy

We must develop solutions that unlock the potential of the industrial regions in their capacity to design and implement their low-carbon transition innovatively, inclusively and sustainably, according to EIT Climate-KIC professionals Ada Marmion, Re-Industrialise Flagship Manager, Cristian Matti, Transitions Hub Lead and Julia Panny, Regional Innovation Scheme Manager.

Innovation is essential for finding solutions to societal challenges like global warming or unsustainable energy use. To enable transition processes that involve multiple sectors, actors and geographies, we need to implement a system innovation approach. Innovation platforms like the knowledge triangle integration (KTI) are mechanisms that can be used to mobilise resources and foster emerging communities of practice.

EIT Climate-KIC (Knowledge and Innovation Community) is the European Union’s largest public-private partnership that addresses climate change through innovation. This community consists of over 300 leading partners from business, academia, the public sector and NGOs and its purpose is to help create a prosperous, inclusive, climate resilient society founded on a circular, zero-carbon economy. With a focus on levers of systemic change, EIT Climate-KIC evaluates where innovation is most needed to accelerate deep decarbonisation – the elimination of fossil fuels and negative carbon – and effective adaptation. EIT Climate-KIC is predominantly grant funded by the European Institute for Innovation and Technology, an EU body, and it acts as a platform across boundaries and sectors. It also fosters innovation as a catalyst for transformation. Since its creation, EIT Climate-KIC’s structure has been characterised by a regional, place-based approach to innovation in addition to its academic and corporate components. Cities and regions occupy a central component of the organisation, emphasising the role of place in addressing the complex challenges of climate change, such as economic attractiveness and competitiveness, social justice, air quality and pollution.

EIT Climate-KIC has implemented two programmes to develop new practices while exploring fresh market opportunities. The Re-Industrialise Programme, launched in 2018, aims to accelerate the transition of greenhouse gas reliant industrial regions to low-carbon innovation hotspots, while also ensuring inclusive and prosperous environmental progress. The objective of the programme is to develop place-based solutions that unlock the potential of the industrial regions in their capacity to design and implement their low-carbon transition innovatively, inclusively and sustainably. The programme focuses on systemic and sustainable medium- to long-term impacts by tackling the complexity of the transition processes in an innovative way.

The programme’s approach is designed to break silos, convene local actors from different sectors, learn from experimentation and pitfalls, embrace tough questions and customise generic tools to de-risk bold ideas. As an innovation platform, EIT Climate-KIC engages multiple stakeholders in the process of co-designing re-industrialisation solutions, stimulating peer-to-peer learning within and between regions and experimenting with solutions that address bottlenecks in the system.

In its initial stage, Re-Industrialise addresses the transition challenges of five European regions with in-depth activities in North RhineWestphalia and Silesia – two of Europe’s most prominent coal-based economies. The programme’s portfolio, which includes early stage innovation projects, touches upon a variety of sectors, such as coal mining, steel production and technologies like hydrogen. It also field tests smart specialisation and diversification tools, pilots innovative platforms to engage local communities in the transition process and builds practical methods to de-risk low-carbon investments. The diversity of this portfolio, and its several iterations, can trigger rapid results and de-risk replication. By sharing the findings and lessons learned, EIT Climate-KIC helps regional actors to move forward from experimentation to scale-up of their low-carbon pathways.

The Urban Challenge Programme works with cities and regional actors to catalyse systemic innovation by helping cities and municipalities to define the challenges they face and by enabling entrepreneurs and innovators to respond to these challenges. Bulgaria’s capital city, Sofia, was one of the first central/eastern European cities to test and implement this programme in 2017 and 2018. Countries in this region are particularly affected by the issue given their reliance on coal and wood for domestic heating as well as the heavy use of private cars due to ineffective public transport solutions. The focus of the programme in Sofia was on motivating behavioural change, so that people use their cars less frequently, in addition to encouraging people to shift from one energy source to another. The city was also seeking ideas to explore retrofit solutions for buildings and cars that would help capture some of the pollutants before they are released into the atmosphere. Including Sofia in the Urban Challenge Programme not only provided an opportunity to work closely with the municipality throughout the process but also helped raise public awareness on the work being carried out by Bulgaria’s capital towards resolving its air pollution issues.

These aforementioned programmes seek to catalyse systemic innovation; they tackle complex societal challenges to deliver effective and efficient solutions with a long-term perspective. The findings and results of the programmes demonstrate that investments in low-carbon businesses and technologies will not even scratch the surface of the issue if they are executed in isolation, without considering the local economic, social, cultural and environmental realities. We need bold ideas, long-term commitment, risky investments and a great deal of hard work to make change happen.

This article originally appeared in “THE REGIONAL DIMENSION OF CLIMATE CHANGE: MAKING THE CASE FOR A JUST AND INNOVATIVE TRANSITION” by Friends of Europe.

 
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