A Deep Demonstration of a Circular, Regenerative and Low-Carbon Economy in Slovenia

Photo-illustration: Pixabay

The Slovenian parliament passed a motion to adopt an EIT Climate-KIC-led proposal called “A Deep Demonstration of a Circular, Regenerative and Low-Carbon Economy in Slovenia” last November. The initiative is one of eight Deep Demonstrations launched by EIT Climate-KIC, which together offer a test bed environment for the ambitious, “1.5-consistent systems transitions” called for by Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reports, activists, national and European policy.

According to the special report on 1.5°C by the IPCC, published in October 2018, our generation faces the challenge of reducing net greenhouse gas emissions to zero within the next 20–30 years by changing almost every aspect of the ways humans currently live, work and play to avert catastrophic global temperature rise. This is an unprecedented challenge that will require deep and holistic transformations in every country.

The scientific and policy communities strongly agree that the current situation we are facing constitutes a climate emergency.  Continuing to innovate through gradual, incremental changes will not be enough. What is needed now is a fundamental transformation of economic, social and financial systems that will trigger exponential change in decarbonisation rates and strengthen climate resilience—what the IPCC Special Report calls, “rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society.

Slovenia’s ambition for a circular, regenerative and low-carbon economy

Slovenia needs a committed, ambitious and realistic climate policy and strategy in order to enable a healthy, sustainable and prosperous tomorrow for all Slovenes. Long-term strategic planning as pursued with the currently ongoing preparation of the country’s long-term climate strategy, is a key to ensure consistency and adequate ambition to meet the goals of the Paris agreement and transition to net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by mid-century. In this regard, moving away from traditional linear economic business models and transitioning to closed-loop systems has been defined by the Government of Slovenia as one of the country’s strategic development priorities and important building block of the carbon-neutral, prosperous and smart future.

The central role of circular economy in climate mitigation has been widely described (for example, in the European Commission’s Circular Economy Action Plan) and its potential for emissions abatement is both substantial and economically attractive. A recent report by the expert consulting company Material Economics calculated that circular approaches could help to reduce CO2 emissions from materials production in the EU by almost 56 per cent by 2050. It can be assumed that this figure would be similar for the Slovenian economy and that shifting to more circular business models, production patterns and operational models will help to significantly reduce the country’s emissions.

As a cross-cutting topic, circular economy is closely tied to the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and included in key national documents and strategies such as the “Vision for Slovenia in 2050”, the “Slovenian Development Strategy 2030” and Slovenia’s Smart Specialisation Strategy (S4) and will also enter into the country’s long-term climate strategy whose preparation is underway.

EIT KICs deliver a systemic approach to innovation

The European Institute of Innovation and Technology (EIT) and its Knowledge and Innovation Communities (KICs) sit at the heart of the European Union’s innovation architecture. The EIT KICs are Europe’s (the world’s) largest open innovation partnerships aimed at societal challenges. Since their creation—and within the context of Horizon2020 and the EIT mission to foster knowledge triangle integration—the KICs have learned that ‘point’ and ‘incremental’ innovation are not fast or powerful enough to affect transformative change. This is particularly so in addressing the societal challenges around climate, sustainability and resource utilization.  As such, the KICs are delivering a systemic approach to innovation aimed at Europe’s (and Member States’ and regions’) toughest challenges, harnessing partners from the private, public, knowledge and third sectors, as well as cities and regions across the whole of Europe. Engaging people, as citizens and communities are central to this.

Photo-illustration: Unsplash (Amel Majanovic)

Within the context of Horizon Europe, a key part of the KICs’ mission is to maximise the innovation potential across the EU and focus on supporting Member States in their efforts to the boost their national research and innovation potential. Moreover, new synergies between Horizon Europe and Structural and Cohesion Funds promise to allow the KICs help countries and regions embrace innovation. The established nature of the KICs as pan-European excellence partnerships encompassing innovation, capacity building and entrepreneurship, the potential of mission-driven innovation in Horizon Europe provide scope for developing transformative collaborative initiatives more intimately with Member States and Regions.

In an unprecedented systemic effort, the key Slovenian government stakeholders and Ministries are exploring which activities should be directed by the Government and carried out by the stakeholders to develop an action plan to underpin the afore mentioned ambitions and help meet the country’s climate targets in the long run. EIT Climate-KIC and EIT RawMaterials are seeking to support this endeavor by proposing a systemic programme of work, co-designed with and directed towards Slovenian stakeholders.

Slovenia already has excellent institutions and companies ready to play a key role in taking forward the country’s vision to become a circular economy leader. Slovenia’s Strategic Research and Innovations Partnerships (SRIPs) and similar networks are clearly a key asset. They provide, alongside close liaison with the Government of Slovenia, a framework for collaboration and co-creation—with common purpose. Aside from the socio-technical detail of any work programme  the EIT KICs offer experience in engaging all strands of the quadruple helix, increased emphasis on citizen and community engagement and sharing the KICs’ experience of building complex pan-European open innovation organisations and translating this into institutional delivery capacity.

Deep Demonstrations as testbeds for systemic innovation

In that context, Deep Demonstrations (testbeds) are an initiative led by EIT Climate-KIC to foster the above described changes that we will need to see. These start with a demand-led approach, working with city authorities, regional bodies, governments or industry leaders committed to zero-net emissions, resilient futures. Through a system innovation approach, EIT Climate-KIC matches this demand with supply, bringing the full force of our innovation community to tackle multiple levers of change simultaneously through rapid experiments.

The programme defines systems innovation as innovation designed to engage self-transforming properties—they change in dynamic ways in response to different interventions—by  intervening on levers of change around financing models, policy and regulatory frameworks, perception and social norms, skills and capabilities, technologies, citizen participation and behaviour, business models, and production systems.

The Slovenia-KIC collaboration aims to reinforce and systemically link ongoing efforts in Slovenia—which are manifold. In a national-wide approach, it is directed towards a multitude of Slovenian stakeholders including local communities and applies a system-based approach to enable a process for decarbonizing Slovenia’s socio-economic system through circular economy principles. Between 2019 and 2022, a partnership with Slovenian authorities and stakeholders will be established to roll out a deep demonstration of rapid change to a circular, regenerative and low-carbon economy and society, building on key processes, policies and activities already underway.

In an unprecedented cross-sectoral and cross-disciplinary approach, the working plan seeks to marry different disciplines and work across boundaries, silos and departments. Its overall goal is to position Slovenia as a European leader in harnessing circularity to transform and decarbonise its economy while fostering a green economy and designing and promoting the smart and circular transition of local communities through a coordinated and coherent national approach based on international best practice. As a result, wellbeing and prosperity for all Slovenes will be advanced and secured for decades to come and greenhouse gas emissions significantly reduced to support Slovenia in reaching its targets.

The programme of work is focused on three pillars (see below) and aims at applying a system-based approach based in a platform model to enable a process for decarbonizing Slovenia’s socio-economic system through circular economy principles.

Three pillars for National Circular Economy Transition:

  • Smart and circular communities
  • Circular green development
  • Circular policy design and science

Systemic innovation will tackle material production and waste flows across key economic systems and value chains; training, education and capacity-building will create change agents and foster life-long learning as well as widely disseminate insights and good practices, while policy initiatives and experiments will ensure enabling conditions.

Activities will be structured across a set of intrinsically linked programmes, targeting the three major stakeholder groups of local communities, business, and policy-makers. All programmes will be anchored via a dedicated vehicle called the Slovenian Center for Smart and Circular Transition which serves as the beating heart and physical centre of the entire deep demonstration, bringing together the different stakeholders and opening up activities to the wider public.

Sectoral focused transition will take place across five key value chains for Slovenia (built environment, food, forestry, manufacturing, mobility) and will create value via project implementation and opportunity generation in local communities across Slovenia whilst building on existing collaborations and previous research and existing programmes and projects.

To unlock finance from different national, European and international sources, a dedicated work stream will focus on removing investment barriers to a circular, low-carbon economy. Ongoing monitoring, learning and evaluation as well as sense-making is underpinning the entire approach and a core element of all programmes.

Before the start of activities, a comprehensive resource flow map encompassing the flows of raw and intermediate materials, finished products, waste, energy, human resources, economic value as well as imports and exports, will be conducted that will form the backbone of any further activities. The programmes described in this proposal will synergistically work together to create systemic long-term impact and feed into one another. Wherever possible, existing programmes will be linked and new programmes will be connected to already locally ongoing activities, initiatives and projects with the aim to avoid duplication, enable synergies and build on existing stakeholder networks and platforms as well as step on learnings and best practices.

Slovenia on the European level will be able to showcase an increase in visibility as a circular economy leader with progressive and innovative community events designed to bring stakeholders together, ensure the dissemination of results and put Slovenia on the international circular economy map.

The main beneficiaries of this work will be Slovenian local communities, companies and stakeholders from across different sectors and value chains. Train-the-trainer workshops will be held locally to train Slovenian experts and expertise will remain in the country after the completion of the deep demonstration. KIC community expertise and additional local and European delivery partners will be brought into the activities on a case-by-case basis to ensure access to state-of-the-art knowledge and expertise.

For successful implementation of this deep demonstration, it is critically important to grant ownership of this deep demonstration and its action plans to all Slovenian citizens, be they community members, public servants, academics, entrepreneurs, students or policy makers, as a national effort is required to achieve the desired systemic change and empowerment must be provided to all stakeholders involved.

Impacts and results will be felt across the triple bottom line of social, environmental and financial impacts and materialise across all addressed three pillars as well the value chains mentioned. In addition to tangible and quantifiable impacts and results (greenhouse gas emissions avoided, revenue, investment attracted, services and products launched on the market, etc.), the different programmes will also have a range of additional, indirect effects and benefits via shifts in behaviours, mindsets and practices, thus creating the framework and conditions needed for systemic change.

The programme will activate and work broadly across national stakeholders, networks and communities, such as:

  • Local communities
  • Administration and civil servants
  • Students and young generations
  • Teachers and other change agents
  • Research and academia
  • Non-governmental and non-profit organisations
  • Chambers of Commerce and Industry, associations and other representations of interest
  • Strategic Research and Innovation Partnerships (SRIPs)
  • Start-ups & SMEs (business owners)
  • Companies
  • Economic clusters

Transitions to a circular and low-carbon economy require critical structural and exponential changes that must occur both rapidly and on multiple fronts simultaneously to address climate change and can be achieved by focusing the efforts on systems innovation. In practice, system innovation can be defined as “an integrated and coordinated interventions in economic, political and social systems and along whole value chains through a portfolio of deliberate and connected innovation experiments (i.e. a portfolio approach)” (EIT Climate-KIC, 2019).

Source: Climate KIC