ROCK at COP24 EU Side Events: conclusions

UN Climate Change Conference (COP24): recap from a ROCK-led EU side event on cultural heritage as a driver for climate innovation and sustainability

A coalition of ROCK partners formed by EUROCITIES, Ecopreneurs for the Climate (ECO4CLIM), and Julie’s Bicycle, together with the European Federation of Engineering Consultancy Associations (EFCA), jointly held a EU side event las Friday December 14 (15.30-17.00 CET) at the UN Climate Change Conference (COP24), in the EU Pavilion (Room Brussels), in Katowice, Poland. The event consisted in a panel discussion and an open debate around the topic of “urban frameworks reinforcing cultural heritage as a driver for climate innovation and sustainability”.

1.Contextual information

Lucy LATHAM (project manager at Julie’s Bicycle) set the context by enumerating the objectives to be addressed during the session, namely: how urban sustainability frameworks reinforce the potential and relevance of cultural heritage to drive urban development and climate change mitigation and adaptation; how cities can work together, using the commonality established by these frameworks, to boost sustainable and inclusive business innovation and entrepreneurship in cultural heritage to raise ambitions in tackling climate change; and last but not least, a EU flagship initiative in this realm, the Horizon 2020 ROCK project, and a social enterprise –BackBO- born at its heart, as demonstrators of all of the above.

Next up, Peter BOSWELL (Special Adviser to International Federation of Consulting Engineers -FIDIC-, Member of European Federation of Engineering Consultancy Associations –EFCA-) spoke about how cultural heritage can be managed in a certified urban management system, meeting ISO 37101 requirements and the World Bank's Urban Sustainable Framework principles. Peter argued that localised value chains are needed, especially in the built environment sector, to introduce innovative solutions for buildings and parts of grey, green and social infrastructure. Basically, Peter made the case for small-scale entrepreneurs to take a leadership role in undertaking activities related to materials supply, engineering, architecture, landscaping, planning and the like to deliver renovation and upgrading in both the developed and  developing world. The same approach of reinforcing delivery models based on localised value chains came up in most COP24 discussions on community adaptation to climate change. Cities therefore have to provide adequate support for the implementation of localised value chains that target entrepreneurship and innovation at the local level.


2. ROCK, an EU flagship initiative in culture heritage for climate action

At this stage, Cécile Houpert (EUROCITIES), Jesus Iglesias (ECO4CLIM), and Lucy Latham (Julie’s bicycle), on behalf of the ROCK team, presented the project as an EU flagship initiative on adaptive reuses of culture heritage to drive climate action and sustainability in historic city centers, through social innovation and entrepreneurship, among other strategies.

Zooming in, Lucy expressed her views on the contribution of cultural heritage to operational environmental practice. In this sense, cultural heritage presents not only an opportunity to connect people with the past, but also to reimagine our collective future.  Many custodians of cultural heritage are already reframing environmental action as an opportunity to demonstrate civic responsibility, increase public engagement, access new funding and investment, and improve health and wellbeing. Along these lines, Julie’s Bicycle supports cultural heritage sites to embed environmental sustainability in values and mission, governance and management, policy, strategy, internal and external communications and partnerships, maintenance and preservation; and investment decision-making and fundraising.

In terms of city-to-city cooperation, Cécile HOUPERT (project and policy support officer at EUROCITIES), showcased EUROCITIES’ activities within ROCK in relation to providing implementation support in the 10 ROCK cities (role models and replicators) and liaising with partners on peer-learning and capacity-building activities.

Both Lucy and Cécile covered a wide range of aspects related to the topic at hand. Beginning by good practice examples of heritage sites embedding good environmental practice, like the Ironbridge Gorge "greenest" world heritage site, or the Sustainable Museum Framework. Amsterdam was mentioned as a model for city policies and investments supporting more sustainable cultural heritage. Dealing with networks and communities advocating for environmentally sustainable cultural heritage, the ROCK Project was highlighted, as was the international Climate Heritage Network. The conversation then moved onto matters related to tourism and the challenge to plan and manage it appropriately so as to reconcile economic development environmental sustainability and social prosperity for everyone.

Furthermore, the circular economy notion was touched upon, via its link with sustainable adaptive reuse of cultural heritage. Concretely speaking, the discussion revolved around the type of business, financial and governance models needed to foster heritage-led urban regeneration and accelerate the transition towards circular cities; as well as mechanisms to enhance existing assessment tools in order to unleash the transformative power of these circular and regenerative processes, with emphasis on the benefits deriving from a stronger link between circular economy and adaptive reuse of cultural heritage in cities, but also on the bottlenecks to be addressed in order to break sectorial silos.

The second part of the ROCK presentation shifter the focus onto specific strategies to achieve the goals mentioned in creative cities. Here, Jesus IGLESIAS (International Coordinator of Ecopreneurs for the Climate), shared some thoughts on cultural heritage-driven social innovation and eco-entrepreneurship as vital catalysts for science-backed climate action and equity building. Indeed, social innovation & entrepreneurship, within collaborative networks of cities, can substantially contribute to addressing key socio-environmental challenges, like climate change and inequalities, by transforming the economy and driving important cultural shifts. Experience tells that to mainstream social innovation for the climate, the following levers prove very effective: enabling regulatory frameworks, innovation labs, multi-stakeholder ecosystems, peer-to-peer networks of social enterprises, and city-to-city cooperation schemes. On top of it all, the climate crisis provides immense opportunities for social entrepreneurship towards a post-carbon and inclusive economy because, as stated in the IPCC SR15 report, limiting global warming to 1.5°C requires “rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society” and entails “clear benefits to people and natural ecosystems”. Considering this multiplicity, drawing from 10 years on the ground, Ecopreneurs for Climate has dared to (re)define social innovation based on what works: a solution that is radical, transgressive, disruptive, oriented to action; that builds from what exists; adopts a systemic and global approach, with solid local roots; seizes opportunities arising from the uncertainty of a complex world; thrives under collective leadership; is structured around networks of people governed by effective mechanisms of horizontal democracy, and aided by technological tools at its service; joins with a diversity of groups in broad social movements; contributes to building equity and sovereignty on the local level, and shares best practices on the translocal one; in order to provide comprehensive answers to certain socio-environmental challenges faced by a specific community. When these challenges are either cause (mitigation) or effect (adaptation and resilience) of the climate crisis, then we are speaking about social innovation for the climate. From there, adding the crucial economic dimension, we get to social entrepreneurship: a social innovation that, thanks to inclusive, cooperative, and sustainable income-generating models, is able to scale up the magnitude and impact of the social change enacted, by regenerating the economy from within.        


3. Panel discussion

From his end, Dr. Sandeep SENGUPTA (Global Coordinator of the Climate Change Portfolio at the International Union for Conservation of Nature –IUCN-) brought the Nature-based Solutions (NbS) approach on to the table. Firstly, he put forth ways to incorporate resilience and adaptation measures, through NbS solutions, into the adaptive re-use of cultural heritage in cities; including water sensitive urban design, flood-proofing, reduction and replacement of pavement by vegetation, green roofs and walls, green corridors and rewilding in general. Dr. Sengupta offered a number of illustrative examples from around the world, such as fully-green towers in China, or entirely green-by-design cities in India.

Completing the circle towards practical solutions, Pietro Ceciarini (founder of BackBO and winner of the Bologna ROCK hackathon), pitched his groundbreaking social enterprise in the making to decision makers and experts in the room. Thanks to his cosmopolitan and “eco” mindset, nurtured through traveling and living-abroad experiences, Pietro has been able to learn best sustainability practices from all over, and eventually apply them to his own innovative and sustainable approach to tackling environmental and social issues. Particularly, he has taken on the issue of plastic pollution, climate change and urban decay in Bologna, which led him to developing BackBO, a “circollaborative” lab (a circular economy laboratory in a coworking space in Bologna’s university district), where people (students and the youth especially), transform their disposable packaging into valuable items and are rewarded for it. Ultimately, his goal as a social entrepreneur for the climate, is to help societies evolve, leaving behind the throw-away culture and carbon/plastic intensive economy, while contributing to sustainable and inclusive cities where life lies at the center, and thus benefit the people (most vulnerable first) and the environment; via local commerce, and a vibrant civil society leading a bottom-up democracy.

To conclude, let us quote Jesus on his final remarks: “there is hope in the dark, we just need to know where to look. It’s on the fringes of society that the invisible revolutionaries, the social entrepreneurs, are changing the world while nobody is looking. So, COP24, it’s now or never. Social innovation for science-based climate action is the way. Let’s do this! Together!”



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Author: Iglesias Saugar Jesus - ECO4CLIM