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How Young People are Tackling Climate Change, One Innovation at a Time

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Climate entrepreneurship is a rapidly growing branch of contemporary business. Environmental and climate change issues are increasingly becoming part of our everyday lives. The global population is predicted to reach 11 billion by 2100. We can also expect an average global temperature increase of more than 1°C above pre-industrial levels.

People around the world are dealing with extreme weather events, food and water shortages, waste management, urbanisation and overpopulation – from Cameroon to Thailand and from the US to Australia.

“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.

The largest climate action innovation event

But living in environmentally challenging times can also be 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.

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.

Climate-KIC is Europe’s largest public-private innovation network. It is empowering its youth to come up with new and creative ideas to challenge and change the way we all consume, use transport, and live.

During a five-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.

Knowledge and innovation community

One group will be traveling from the fruit-orchards in Bologna, Italy, to a business innovation hub in Munich, Germany, and finally to Helsinki, Finland, where they will pitch the project they have developed during the course of their journey to a jury of entrepreneurs and businessmen.

The six 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 seventh year Climate-KIC has organised innovation journeys. The aim is 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.

Climate-KIC has already 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.

Public stimulation of government action

The Climate-KIC concept is founded on the idea that everybody can contribute to creating the necessary transformation towards a decarbonised and more sustainable society,” 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.”

There is a long understood problem of “issue attention cycles” when working to enhance 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.

This 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.

A permanent fixture

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 relationships.

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. If the work at Climate-KIC is any indication, they are more than up to the task.

Arthur Wyns is a tropical biologist passionate about biodiversity and climate change action. He’s been involved in research teams all over the world, and recently joined the Climate Tracker team as a campaign manager.

This article originally appeared on The Ecologist.

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