Summer in Spain is in full swing and the days seem to keep getting hotter and hotter, with extreme weather events like heat waves becoming the norm. On a hot Spanish day in Valencia, I was fortunate enough to meet with Jose-Luis Muñoz, the Director of EIT Climate KIC in Spain. Instead of being in a nice air conditioned room, I walked into a warm room and Jose gave me a hand-held folding fan. ‘These are the most climate effective form of keeping cool.’ Jose said with a smile.
In that moment, I knew that there was something awesome happening at the EIT Climate KIC (Knowledge & Innovation Community for Climate Action) in Valencia! We had an inspiring chat about the EIT Climate KIC both in Spain as well as their global community.
The EIT Climate KIC
The EIT Climate KIC (Knowledge & Innovation Community for Climate Action) is a knowledge and innovation community working to accelerate the transition to a low carbon economy, led by the European Union.
They are Europe’s largest private-public partnership climate network with over 350 formal organisation partners from 25 countries. The main focus is on European Union countries, however they have partners in other countries including Australia!
Their vision is to create a prosperous, inclusive, climate resilient society with a circular and net zero emissions economy by 2050.
The EIT Climate KIC’s approach to innovation is unique, focusing on systems innovation to create transformational growth. Jose has been working as the Director of Spain’s EIT Climate KIC for over 3 years and has seen the momentum building for solutions to climate change.
‘Overall, I am optimistic about our future. We have so many great people working on solving the issue of climate change. We just need to accelerate our knowledge into action.’ Jose shared.
Recently the EIT Climate KIC refreshed their strategy moving from incremental innovation to a focus on systems innovation. This is in response to the acknowledgment that in order to limit global warming there needs to be a transformational shift. This approach is critical because evidence shows that incremental change is not enough to solve our climate crisis. In Australia for example, emissions have been increasing every year for the past 4 years.
The approach to systems innovation
According to their strategy ‘Continuing to work through gradual, incremental changes will not be enough. What is needed now is a fundamental transformation of economic, social and financial systems that will trigger exponential change in decarbonisation rates and strengthen climate resilience.’
To ensure sustainable, long term change, they focus on systems innovation, which they define as ‘integrated and coordinated interventions in economic, political and social systems and along the whole value chain through a portfolio of deliberate and connected innovation experiments.’
To break this down, we will focus on 2 key areas- tools and tactics.
1. Tools – ‘Integrated and coordinated interventions’
These interventions or levers include policy, financing, business practices and consumer behaviour. For initiatives to be successful, these interventions must be coordinated with a new style of leadership required. This form of leadership includes facilitating a range of stakeholders from Government, business, NGOs and civil society to work together. Understanding the role of each stakeholder requires a deep understanding of the ecosystem they operate in as well as the problem they are trying to solve. Ecosystem mapping is a great tool to understand the system as well as the role of each stakeholder.
2. Tactics – ‘A portfolio of deliberate and connected innovation experiments’
These interventions come together in what Jose calls a ‘portfolio approach.’ This means the community supports a bunch of different but connected initiatives that touch different parts of the problem and use a range of solutions. The way they do this is with a range of partners who use tools including education, entrepreneurship and innovation.
For example, they have an accelerator that brings together corporates, startups, local governments and universities to create new solutions and business models to address climate change. Their focus is not on ‘cool’ initiatives that have limited scale, but to find solutions that have the potential to have high impact across a number of regions.
‘We focus on transforming innovative ideas into robust proposals that could become businesses that will tackle climate change and boost the economy.’ Underpinning this is a strong flow of information and knowledge between partners so they can then use it to continue to drive more solutions.
One of their many programs is the Climathon, a world wide platform, with a powerful annual hackathon. The hackathon translates climate change problems into tangible projects, supporting climate positive businesses & start-ups and addressing local policy changes. It is the largest climate hackathon around the world. In 2018 there were over 5000 people in 46 countries across 113 cities. In Australia, there were 8 locations engaged in the Climathon last year which can be found here.
Finding quality solutions and creating feedback loops
Since the EIT Climate KIC started, there have been over 1200 startups and initiatives created in the network.
‘It is interesting that there seems to be a low mortality rate of startups through our accelerators.’ According to Jose, the reason for the success of startups is due to the collaboration, focusing on specific goals and the nascent market. As the market is still growing and the technology is cutting edge, their approach of bringing together commercial, academic and social/policy partners creates dynamic teams to meet market demands.
Community engagement is critical for creating transformational change as it establishes feedback loops. This allows research, insights and experiences to be leveraged across the network for continued growth of new ideas, startups and initiatives. Jose explained that the portfolio owners drive tailored education, ecosystem activities and networking opportunities which help with engagement.
Collaboration is key
The Spanish team are highly collaborative and are focused on aligning the various stakeholders from around Spain. ‘Spain is the only country that has created a Cross KIC team to share information and lobby at national, regional and local level.’ Jose explained. The mindset of action led collaboration is important for Jose and the team because this will ultimately be the difference between incremental and transformational change.
An example of how the Spanish team are was their recent conversation with the Police force in local regions. ‘There is a big issue of mobility for the police force. Their transport methods contribute to climate change and we wanted to hear from the local police teams about their ideas that are better for the environment. In some cases it’s not about the money or funding, it’s about approaching the problem in different ways and hearing from people who deeply understand the problem.’ Jose shared with great passion about empowering local people to solve climate related issues.
Beyond Spain, the European Union also creates opportunities for Spain to learn from other countries as well as share their insights and startups. However, the sky’s the limit for the Spanish EIT Climate KIC team. ‘I find the Australian market really interesting, because Australia and Spain have some similar climate related issues. Droughts, coastal erosion, urbanisation and biodiversity are issues we both face.’ Jose wants to increase the dialogue between Spain and Australia to create transformational solutions to climate change through systems innovation.
The chat with Jose was incredibly inspiring as he shared their best practice approach to solving climate related problems. His passion for changing the system through collaborative partnerships is critical for the next wave of innovation. To really shift the dial on climate change, leaders from all levels of business and government need to see how they can build relationships that cut across industries and sectors. Creating diverse teams with a range of skills and backgrounds is critical to address the underlying systemic challenges of climate change, including the culture, mindset, practices and regulation.
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