Fundació Catalunya Europa RE-CITY

Kirsten Dunlop

"Innovation is not enough, we need a deep transformation"


In the CEO’s conference from EIT Climate-KIC, Kirsten Dunlop, didn’t leave anyone indifferent. From the last decade, innovation is the weapon used by her organization against the climate emergency and, precisely because we are in a race against the clock, she was optimistic: “the human being is capable of innovating and developing the most creative solution when under pressure”.

Under the title “Climate innovation: reimagining everything”, the CEO from EIT Climate-KIC (Knowledge and Innovation Community) participated the 20th may in the conference series “Facing Climate Change” from the Re-City platform organized by the Catalunya Europa Foundation with the collaboration of BBVA and the support of the Barcelona City Hall, the Metropolitan Area of Barcelona (AMB) and the Department of "Territori i Sostenibilitat" of the Generalitat de Catalunya. The conference, held in the auditorium of the BBVA headquarters in Barcelona, was chaired by Lorenzo Chelleri, Re-City’s scientific adviser and professor researcher from Universitat Internacional de Catalunya-UIC Barcelona, and as a good host, Antoni Ballabriga, global director of Responsible business from the bank, who was in charge of presenting the guest speaker.

At the moment, EIT Climate-KIC is the main innovation platform in the European scope in terms of climate change, environment and sustainability. It counts with an office network in 28 different countries, like Spain, and more than 400 partners between companies, governments, universities and research centres to help entrepreneurs in regards to the transition towards adaptation and mitigation of the effects from the climatic crisis. The results talk by themselves. In ten years, EIT Climate-KIC has motivated more than 1000 start-ups and has prepared educational activities for over 35 000 students. Actually, this European accelerator is inspired by the Silicon Valley model and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in the US. Like this, Climate-KIC wants to turn the research from the academic world into innovation projects for the labour market in a competitive and commercial way, with the creation of new job opportunities. To do so, they count with the help from the European Institute of Innovation & Technology and they develop different projects depending on the needs of each community, through public and private partnerships and accords with the local governments.

A lot left to do and not enough time.

Nonetheless, there are still a lot of things to do. Kirsten Dunlop explained that EIT Climate-KIC wants to contribute to “move forward as a prosperous, inclusive, circular and resilient to climate change society and with zero carbon emissions”, but she also threatened that “we don’t have a lot of time; we have to do it before 2050 or 2040, even if it seems impossible”. We cannot wait for our children or grandchildren to do it, we have to act. That’s why we fixed a twelve years deadline, meaning to multiple by 6 the reduction rhythm of the fossil combustible that the Paris Agreement for 2050 had anticipated. The cost of this structural change would be equal to 2.5% of the world GDP and 26 trillions of dollars inversion until 2030. But even if the magnitude of the figures, Dunlop combines hope and ambition: “we need a change of paradigm and to not see it as a cost, but as a participating and democratising opportunity to favour a social change where the benefits will be a cleaner air, greener streets or water where you can swim. We are facing a social and economic challenge, not technological. It is not about finding energy alternatives, but changing the way we work, we live or we interact with. It’s an interdependent problem that needs a systemic change and a deep social transformation”. To do so, another one of the mainstays where EIT Climate-KIC works on is in planning as a way to connect all the projects and build a much more “structural social and economic design more wide”, as a result of dialogue between global and local world.

Trains a mile a minute: less polluting innovation

In that sense, Climate-KIC CEO’s explained that they are working in very different projects to solve the problems from the cities that have not been designed to live with a big gathering of population, that are near the sea with flooding risk or that they are not prepared to stand 40 degrees temperatures and have a very high risk of drought or water shortage.

In Spain, EIT Climate-KIC has been developing projects in different places. In Valence port, city where the EIT Climate-KIC Spain headquarters are; in Andalucía, motivating the desalination to fight against water shortage; or in the city of Mondragón in the Basque Country, betting to reconvert the steel industry on removable energies under the baton of cooperative movement and new governance based on the principle of community. Other examples that we can also find on the EIT Climate-KIC website are projects like the refrigeration of big aerial companies, the fabrication of foldable maritime containers or the new means of communication to replace planes and helicopters. In Málaga, precisely, the first high speed trains, the “hyperloop”, are being constructed to more than a thousand kilometres per hour and are being developed as an aerial traffic alternative to cover big distances in Europe.

In Barcelona, the Catalan capital has been elected by the European Union to embrace the Knowledge and Innovation Community (KIC) where Urban Mobility, the headquarters of the community in charge of developing the innovations in urban mobility from the European Union at least until 2026. This platform will also count with a 1 600 millions euro investment and will be located in the old factory in the 22 @ district from Poblenou.

If we don’t make it on time, will we find another planet?

“All these social and technological changes will also imply new regulatory frames and the participation from everybody. We have a lot of initiatives in motion but it is very important to connect them to build a global narrative about where we want to go. We cannot stay just with the criticism and not offer solutions or possible alternatives”.

At the end of the conference, one of the attendees asked Dunlop if we will find another planet, is this one is finally over. The answer was conclusive: “I think it will not be necessary because we will find the solution, the main thing is how many of us will have to die in order to prevent this from happening. I am optimist because I trust in the ability of the human species, our ingenuity and imagination does not have limits, and thanks to fear and hope we will get out of this one”.

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.