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Kirsten Dunlop

Innovation is not enough, we need a deep transformation


EIT Climate-KIC's (Knowledge and Innovation Community) CEO, Kirsten Dunlop, left no one indifferent after her conference. During the last decade innovation was the weapon her organization used against the climate emergency and. We arew in a race against time, but Dunlop is optimistic because of what she sees as a capacity for human beings to innovate and come up with creative solutions to problems when under pressure.

The “Climate innovation: reimagining everything” conference, was held on the 20th of May as part of the Re-City platform's“Facing Climate Change” conference cycle, organized by the Catalunya Europa Foundation in collaboration with BBVA and supported by the Barcelona City Hall, the Metropolitan Area of Barcelona (AMB) and the Department of "Territori i sostenibilitat" from Generalitat de Catalunya. The conference, held at the BBVA headquarters in Barcelona, was chaired by Lorenzo Chelleri, Re-City’s scientific adviser and Professor at the Universitat Internacional de Catalunya-UIC Barcelona, and Antoni Ballabriga, BBVAs Global Director of Responsible Business. 

At the moment, EIT Climate-KIC is the main innovation platform in Europe for Climate Change, Environment and Sustainability. It has a netwrok of offices in 28 different countries, including Spain, and more than 400 partnerships with companies, governments, universities and research centres. Their focus is helping entrepreneurs with the transition towards climate change mitigation and adaptation.

The results speak for themselves. In ten years, EIT Climate-KIC has supported more than 1000 start-ups and prepared educational activities for over 35 000 students. This European accelerator is inspired by the Silicon Valley model and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in the US. Similarly, Climate-KIC wants to turn academic research into competitive and commercial innovation projects for the labour market, creating new job opportunities at the same time. To do so, they are funded by the European Institute of Innovation & Technology to develop different projects depending on the needs of each community, through public and private partnerships and agreements with local governments.

A lot left to do and not enough time.

Nonetheless, there is still much to be done. Kirsten Dunlop explained that EIT Climate-KIC wants to contribute to progress towards a prosperous, inclusive, circular and cimate change resilient society with zero carbon emissions, but she warned that time was limited - it has to happen before 2050 or 2040, even if this currently seems impossible. We cannot wait for our children or grandchildren to do it, we have to act now, which is why a twelve year deadline has been fixed to increase the rate of decarbonisation by six, in order to meet the targets set out in the Paris agreements.

The cost of this structural change would be equal to 2.5% of global GDP, and a 26 trillion dollar investment opportunity. Even in the face of such enormous figured, Dunlop combines hope and ambition, arguing that a paradigmatic change is needed where we stop seeing the need to achieve this in terms of cost, but rather as an opportunity for participation and democratisation in favour of social change with the benefits of cleaner air, greener streets and water you can swim in. We are facing a social and economic, not technological challenge. It's not about finding energy alternatives, but changing the way we work, live and interact. It’s an interdependent problem that needs a systemic change and a deep social transformation. To achieve this, Climate-KIC also works on planning as a way to connect all the projects and build a wider, more structural, social and economic design resulting from a dialogue between the global and the local.

A mile a minute trains: less polluting innovation

Climate-KIC are working on a range of different projects  to solve the problem of cities that have not been designed to sustain dense populations, cities near the sea at high risk of flooding, and  cities that are unable to withstand 40 degree temperatures with a very high risk of drought or water shortages.

In Spain, a number of projects are underway. In Valencia, host to EIT Climate-KIC Spain's headquarters; in Andalucía, working on solutions for potential water shortages, and in the city of Mondragón in the Basque Country, working on a proposal to covert the steel industry to renewable energies under the city's cooperative movement and new forms of governance based on the principle of community. Other examples on the EIT Climate-KIC website include projects focusing on wide-scale refrigeration, the fabrication of foldable maritime containers or the new means of transport to replace planes and helicopters. In Málaga,  the first high speed trains, the “hyperloop”, are being constructed to reach more than a thousand kilometres per hour  as an alternative to air traffic to cover big distances in Europe.

Barcelona has been elected by the European Union to host the Urban Mobility Knowledge and Innovation Community (KIC),  the community in charge of developing the European Union's urban mobility innovations until at least 2026. The platform will  receive 16 billion euros of investment, and will be located in an old factory in the district of Poblenou.

If we don’t act in time, will we find another planet?

According to Dunlop, these social and technological changes will need new regulatory frameworks and widespread participation. While many initiatives are underway, it is very important to connect them to  a global narrative about where we want to go. We cannot keep being critical without offering solutions.

At the end of the conference, one of the attendees asked Dunlop if she agreed with finding another planet. Dunlop cnlusively answered that she did not think it would be necessary because we will find the solution - the main question was how many of us would  have to die in order to prevent this from happening. Dunlop labels herself as an optimist because of her trust ability of the human species, our ingenuity and our imagination. She believes that fear and hope will help us get out this problem.

And precisely, to search for solutions, EIT Climate-KIC is preparing to celebrate the next 25th October, the fifth edition of the Climathon, the most important environmental hackathon from the world with the participation of more than 200 cities.

Finally, Antoni Ballabriga, highlighted the work that it is being developed in the financial area to direct the necessary resources to achieve the objectives of sustainability. BBVA will be focused in the next 8 years to mobilize 100.000 millions of dollars to promote sustainable finance.


Climate change  Cities  Re-Think