Transformative policies for the climate challenge

Climate change is the most pressing challenge we face. More and more cities are declaring climate emergencies, many countries have incorporated climate targets into their policies, and public pressure on governments is mounting. To meet the scale and urgency of the climate emergency, business-as-usual in government won’t suffice.

The IPCC report, which sets out what we need to do to keep global warming under 1.5°C by the end of century, has made it clear that we no longer have the luxury of time—change must happen now, across multiple sectors, and governments must adapt too. This climate challenge demands that we rethink the institutions, norms, beliefs and values that underpin our current governance structures and approach to policymaking.

Rather than continuing to place our hopes in incremental improvements to the work done by governments and public authorities, we need to foster a rich culture of innovation and experimentation within government. And we need to work with communities to bring them along on the journey.

To stand a chance of responding to climate change, policymaking must become innovative, inclusive, radical—transformative.


Deep change

How can we make this happen? Over the past year, I’ve been part of a team at EIT Climate-KIC, Europe’s largest climate innovation agency, that has been addressing this question. Funded by the EU, EIT Climate-KIC is pioneering the fast action needed to keep climate change under 1.5°C.

We believe that multiple systems need to change simultaneously if we are to achieve a just, climate resilient society founded on a net zero-carbon, circular economy, and we have set up testbeds to put this into practice.

Our Deep Demonstrations are just that: Eight large-scale pan-European initiatives made up of a co-ordinated portfolio of projects designed to trigger systems change. These initiatives—from Just Transformations to Resilient Regions and Long-termism—follow our systems innovation methodology, in which we collaborate with design partners on ambitious systems-level challenges that are identified by “challenge owners” such as city mayors, regional leaders, government ministers, citizen leaders and CEOs of major companies.

While most of the Deep Demonstrations are in the early stages, the work we have done with Slovenia shows what we can accomplish. The Slovenian government has embraced the radical, holistic approach that underpins our Deep Demonstrations, and their parliament has passed a motion adopting our proposal to become a fully circular economy. This collaboration is a part of our overall vision for the Deep Demonstration model—to trigger rapid decarbonisation and enhanced resilience across Europe.

Policy and governance innovations are a crucial component of the Deep Demonstrations. Collaborating alongside cities, regions and national governments that are interested in experimenting with a variety of innovative policy and governance approaches, we are moving from ideation to implementation.

In preparation for designing these experiments, we have actively sought those at the coalface of policy and governance innovation for the climate challenge. Over the last year, we spent time in conversation with a diverse group of practitioners, including a forward-looking UK city councillor, a young political activist working within a progressive US think tank, a leader from the Global Covenant of Mayors for Climate Change, several European academics, a pioneer of regulatory sandboxes in a national regulator and a policy expert involved in citizens’ assemblies.

We wanted to find out how they define policy and governance innovation—what is it, and what is it not? Are there barriers to success and, conversely, are there key characteristics of a transformative climate pol