Helping a city become climate-neutral through system innovation

Using the systems innovation approach outlined in the Pioneers programme, Melanie Amato’s placement at CESEFOR, a non-profit focused on promoting forest-based industries, helped develop Soria 2030, a climate action work plan presented to the city council of Spanish city Soria. Melanie’s work contributed to a landmark agreement between CESEFOR and Soria and CESEFOR is now helping develop a roadmap to help Soria achieve carbon neutrality by 2030, with input from the wider community.

The Pioneers programme was the most important step of my professional career so far and systems innovation thinking has helped me successfully tackle challenges ahead. The programme is full of opportunities – it widened my perspective, introduced me to impressive contacts and helped me grow as a professional and as a person. I recommend Pioneers to anyone willing to step out of their comfort zone – you need to be open-minded because it may blow your mind!

Melanie Amato, Pioneer 2020

Inspired by the forestry development model of the city of Joensuu in Finland, CESEFOR wanted to help the city of Soria, Spain reach climate neutrality by 2030 by developing and promoting the bioeconomy – thereby also creating new employment opportunities for young people, enabling them to stay in Soria rather than migrating to larger cities. 

With many European rural areas and small cities suffering from reduced economic activity and declining populations, the municipality of Soria and surrounding Castilla y León province in Spain was seen as an area which could benefit from developing circular economy and bioeconomy solutions to help regions achieve climate neutrality as quickly as possible. CESEFOR designed a climate governance work plan with an ambitious process, opening up a huge opportunity to collaborate with the Soria city council. 

“The scale of the challenge was inspiring,” says Melanie Amato, who participated in the Pioneers programme in 2020 and completed a voluntary placement for six weeks at CESEFOR to work on Soria 2030. “My background is in political science – I had never worked in public administration in Spain or in the forestry sector – and CESEFOR had not worked on a project like this before. We took on the challenge together and I enjoyed learning about developing the local bioeconomy”.

The systems innovation mindset was used to create the work plan’s building blocks, identify stakeholders and plan the vision, establishing objectives for a systemic transformation. Melanie used the Visual toolbox for system innovation developed by EIT Climate-KIC to familiarise herself with the background, map stakeholders and visualise the challenge from different perspectives.

Pioneers helped develop Melanie’s approach to problem-solving and made her feel more empowered: “It changed my perspective and I still use systems innovation tools in my current job. They enable me to involve all stakeholders, easily share ideas with a group and invite them to think differently. The programme taught me innovation can come through small change and this is what Soria 2030 represents: small actions leading to a big goal.”. Melanie adds, “The networking opportunities were one of the best parts of the programme, I made a lot of contacts and really appreciated the support from my coach and the team in Spain.” 

Finalised in six weeks, the Soria 2030 plan was presented to the city council – and in September 2020, Soria mayor Carlos Martínez and CESEFOR manager Pablo Sabín signed an agreement to prepare a Soria Climate Neutral Roadmap by 2030. 

CESEFOR is now working with the wider community to set up meetings, create a think tank and prepare for the initiative’s launch. The goal is for Soria to become one of the ‘100 Climate-neutral Cities by 2030 – by and for the Citizens’ – a new Mission from the European Commission, based on the European Green Deal’s strategy to make Europe climate neutral by 2050. Melanie says, “in 2021, we should already be able to reduce Soria’s emissions by at least 20%, thanks to small actions such as improving waste management, promoting alternative transport options and switching to renewable energy.

”We have considered the possibility of proposing Soria 2030 as one of EIT Climate-KIC´s Deep Demonstrations due to the project’s scale,” adds Melanie. “The heart of Soria 2030 is to engage the entire community to achieve carbon neutrality. Working with citizens and different organisations (companies, NGOs, educational centres, etc.) is a rewarding challenge and the only way to build a suitable strategy for Soria. As the Green Deal says, “we will leave no-one behind” in a sustainable transition towards a healthier, cleaner, more resilient and prosperous city.”

Melanie is still working with CESEFOR on Soria 2030. “In 2021, I would like to help CESEFOR organise a Climathon in Soria and I would love to continue developing EIT Climate-KIC projects and programmes as a host in Latin America with my NGO Warm Argentina, which is focused on promoting the circular economy.”