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Europe’s biggest climate innovation network gives young people the chance to develop business ideas that tackle climate change. Might a business approach offer solutions for dealing with climate change to the next generation?

Climate Entrepreneurship is a rapidly growing branch of contemporary business. With both predictions of the global population reaching 11 billion by 2100, and an average global temperature increase that is already more than 1°C above pre-industrial levels, environmental and climate change issues are increasingly becoming part of our everyday lives. From Cameroon to Thailand and from the U.S. to Australia, people are dealing with extreme weather events, food and water shortages, waste management, urbanization and overpopulation. “The science of climate change is indisputable, but the problem often seems so removed from everyday reality that organisations have for many years struggled to engage citizens,” said Ebrahim Mohamed, Director of Education at Climate-Knowledge and Innovation Community.

Participants of Climate KIC summer school. Photo: Climate KIC

Living in environmentally challenging times is a motivational stimulus for climate friendly change and innovation. For younger people in our societies, a clean environment is not taken for granted, and neither is a static climate. Change is predicted, expected, and it is with the increasing awareness of modern youth that climate friendly alternatives are being nurtured. In search for sustainable solutions to everyday problems, Climate-KIC, Europe’s largest public-private innovation network is empowering its youth to come up with new and ideas to challenge and change the way all we consume, use transport, and live.

This summer, seven groups of 40 young people from all over Europe, with very different backgrounds and interests, have been brought together to participate in the largest climate action innovation event on the continent: the Climate-KIC summer school. During a 5-week Journey, these young groups receive intensive coaching from innovation and business experts and travel to different innovation capitals in Europe to discover emerging sustainable practices.

One group, for example, is traveling from the fruit-orchards in Bologna, Italy, to the business innovation hub Munich, in Germany, to end their journey in Helsinki, Finland, where they pitch the project they developed on the course of their journey to a jury of entrepreneurs and businessmen. The 6 other groups that are being guided through Europe undergo a similar process, travelling from city to city and cultivating an out-of-the-box idea into a concrete business-plan.

This is the 7th year Climate-KIC has organised Innovation Journeys. They aim to create an ever-growing Knowledge and Innovation Community. After the completion of the project the groups that came up with the best innovations are guided through a ‘start-up accelerator’, cultivating their initial breakthrough idea into a commercially viable start-up that tackles a climate change issue. By now, Climate-KIC has grown more than 300 of these initial projects into full-grown start-ups. Among the successful Climate-KIC offspring are Aponix, a company providing urban micro farming units, Aeropowder, an initiative that transforms poultry feather waste into sustainable additives, and Ecoligo, a financing platform for solar projects in developing countries.

“The Climate-KIC concept is founded on the idea that everybody can contribute to creating the necessary transformation towards a decarbonised and more sustainable version,” says Julia Rawlins, the Education Lead at Climate-KIC. “There are already many positive stories out there of initiatives making important changes, and they deserve to be shown. There is such a high need for positive stories nowadays. Even more than producing pragmatic solutions to current issues, we’re trying to capture the imagination: how do we want our future to look like and what are the necessary steps to be taken to get there.”

Traditionally there is an issue attention cycle for problems as they enter the public consciousness. A rather famous formulation of this cycle by Anthony Downs in 1972 made it a five-step process that can last from days to months to years. It involves public stimulation of government action, the eventual change to the understanding of an issue, and the founding of permanent structures that continue to promote solutions long after the problem itself has left the earlier, more dramatic stages of the issue attention cycle. Since the 1970s the issue of climate change has become one of the more pressing problems on the global agenda.

It is encouraging that climate awareness is tangling its roots into the fabric of business innovation and development, establishing itself as a permanent fixture in private, political, and business dealings. For the youth of today the idea of climate change is not a fleeting issue in the public consciousness but more and more a challenging reality to be solved, and if the work at Climate-KIC is any indication, they are more than up to the task.

Arthur Wyns

About Arthur Wyns

Arthur Wyns is a tropical biologist and science journalist who writes about climate change, environment and migration. He manages Programs and Partnerships for Climate Tracker since 2017.