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Clustering innovation to create thriving and prosperous low carbon cities

ECCI Director Professor Andy Kerr blogs about our EIT Climate-KIC-funded ConnectedClusters project, an alliance of five cities committed to sharing, replicating and scaling what works when developing climate innovation ecosystems for delivering effective climate action.

When we think of global action on climate, many of us conjure up images of famous leaders striding the world stage, shaking hands on historic international agreements like the Paris deal.

Certainly, national and international policy and markets can set the tone for local action and enable or hinder good climate decisions. But there is a growing movement of cities and regions committing themselves to local action – with groups like ICLEI, the Covenant of Mayors and C40 Cities at the vanguard.

Why cities? They cluster together the people, the ideas and the resources to drive the radical transformations in energy, transport and buildings we need for a low carbon future. And many key delivery decisions – on land use planning, for example, or building regulations and procurement – are in the hands of local decision-makers. This allows a more direct link between these decisions and the future social, economic and environmental wellbeing of a city region.

Evidence shows that city-based climate innovation clusters – where businesses, academics, communities and government work together – are our best chance of meeting the Paris climate targets while also reaping wider social and economic benefits.

This is for one simple reason – clusters multiply impact. They help to drive innovation by promoting cooperation, drawing in talent, attracting public and private funding and encouraging experimentation, collaboration and new ideas. In turn, they can create clean, thriving places, generate skills and employment opportunities, and drive economic wellbeing through high-achieving new businesses and market creation.

Here in Edinburgh, ECCI is at the heart of a thriving ecosystem which brings together the entrepreneurial spark, strong government climate targets and vibrant cross-sector collaboration needed to help drive change on a massive scale. Capital city of one of the world’s most climate-ambitious countries, and hosted by one of the world’s leading Universities, we are actively working alongside public and private sector partners to ensure the local city vision and public and private investment in data-driven innovation deliver a smart, thriving future.

The creation of these city ecosystems in a market sector that will grow exponentially in years to come is crucial to Europe’s aim to boost innovation and export solutions to the world. And they are key to delivering on national and city region aims – not just on sustainability and climate, but across a range of outcomes from reduced air pollution to better health and wellbeing, more employment and buzzing places. But to do this at the speed and scale required, clusters must link to and learn from each other.

This is where the ConnectedClusters project comes in. It brings together an alliance of five urban innovation hotspots – Edinburgh, London, Birmingham, Frankfurt and Valencia – committed to sharing, replicating and scaling what works in delivering effective innovation ecosystems and associated climate action. The aim between now and 2020 is to understand and help enable and accelerator transformation of the places we live into economically and socially vibrant, low carbon city regions.

This involves collaborating within and between our cities to identify where our own cluster strengths lie, what might be stopping them from growing to their full potential, and how we can tackle and capitalise on these challenges and opportunities. And we’ll take the insights from this process out to the wider world to help climate-focussed clusters emerge wherever possible. For example, building on and sharing the Energy Capital activities in Birmingham; the Data Capital activities in Edinburgh, the public-private innovation cluster activities of Valencia and the industrial economy work in Frankfurt.

We’re planning a comprehensive programme of foresighting, stakeholder engagement, training, match-making events to help catalyse wider change. Between now and 2020, we’ll be working hard to accelerate and enable transformation of the places we live through local innovation clusters and shared learning.

Humanity’s future is urban. At the moment, half of us live in cities and that will rise to more than two thirds by the middle of the century. We’ll be working hard to ensure that this reaps dividends for all of us.

Interested in finding out more?

We'll be bringing the ConnectedClusters project to EUROCITIES 2018 - drop by and say hello!

You can also read more on our dedicated project page.