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16 March 2021

Irish research institutions launch network to strengthen contribution to a greener future

Irish research institutions launch network to strengthen contribution to a greener future

The Irish partners of over 12 projects in the field of urban sustainability and nature-based solutions have gathered this Tuesday to lay the foundations for an integrated network of Irish project partners working towards local implementation of the EU Green Deal and strategies to improve the living environment. The new network will strengthen the country’s contribution to a greener future and help to consolidate a new culture of innovation and collaborative thinking to tackle environmental challenges in Ireland, Europe and beyond.

The Irish project partners agreed to enhance collaboration, increase synergies, engage in reciprocal learning opportunities and jointly support the ongoing engagement with European funding opportunities, with a specific focus on Horizon Europe.

Organized by the Horizon 2020 project GoGreenRoutes, the meeting was attended by H2020 sibling projects CityxChange, Connecting Nature, DIAMOND, iSCAPE, Operandum, ReNature, SCORE and Varcities (funded by the European Commission), in addition to NovelEco (funded by the European Research Council), Coastal Communities Adapting Together (funded by the European Regional Development Fund), Relationships on the River (funded by the Irish Research Council and the Marie Skłodowska-Curie COFUND Scheme) and URBACT Ireland (funded by the European Regional Development Fund). In total, the projects involve 10 local authorities, 7 universities and 11 SMEs and are recipients of a total of €66.8 million in funding.

The initiative was supported by Member of the European Parliament for Ireland South Seán Kelly and World Economic Forum lead for cities, infrastructure & urban services Alice Charles. Kelly addressed the role of the European Commission in supporting innovation in tackling societal challenges such as climate change. He commented that "The European Parliament has had climate change at the top of its agenda since the Paris Agreement. Reducing emission is the one area we really need to tackle. This has benefits for human and environmental health which are at the centre of these Irish led projects. We can be more ambitious over the next number of years in how we address the climate agenda, and I'm confident Irish projects can be leading in this area."

Charles highlighted the necessity for a collaborative approach to address the issue that cities account for the majority of the world’s population and carbon footprint. "Achieving carbon neutrality and building towards sustainability will require a collaborative and systemic approach to climate mitigation and adaptation financing with the consideration of social justice in these actions."

Tadhg MacIntyre, Scientific Coordinator of GoGreenRoutes, Maynooth University said: "What has inspired me as a researcher in this field is that the solutions rely upon the democratisation of scientific endeavour. Only by working together as researchers and innovators and through co-creation with citizens can we progress towards solving societal issues. This has been the nature of the approach across all these Irish inspired projects and Horizon Europe provides a pathway to future-proof our impact for European citizens."

The Irish project partners will work together to develop proposals to address issues including restoring ecosystems, researching the benefits of eco-therapy (nature for well-being), and promoting carbon-neutral communities and cities under the Horizon Europe scheme. In October 2021, they aim to meet at a network meeting hosted by Maynooth University to formalise their network and commence a plan of action for new proposals. As the Irish proverb says "Ní neart go cur le chéile" (there is no strength without unity).

See below more quotes from the participating partners:

Kostas Gobakis (Scientific Coordinator Varcities, Technical University of Crete) “The Varcities project has a shared vision with GoGreenRoutes under the Horizon 2020 call ‘greening the economy’ to enhance the lives of citizens in European Cities with a significant footprint in Ireland. We have created a common action plan to combine our expertise to benefit citizens' lives using nature-based solutions”.

Pauline Power (Coastal Communities Adapting Together INTERREG, University College Dublin) The Irish Sea and its coastal communities are directly impacted by climate change and the CCAT project aims to support these communities in understanding these changes and how they can adapt. Together with GoGreenRoutes we will engage in reciprocal learning opportunities in community-based thinking, co-creation and the application of technology including mapping change, interactive games and virtual reality to facilitate communities to become more resilient to the effects of climate change.

Francesco Pilla (Scientific Coordinator iSCAPE, University College Dublin) “As coordinator of iSCAPE I have built a foundation of knowledge on measuring air pollution and engaging citizens in monitoring the environmental health of their city. Air quality is central to the work of GoGreenRoutes and I look forward to acting in an advisory role for this cutting edge project. Our combined expertise in leading H2020 projects will enable us to bring further projects to Ireland to benefit the emerging scientific community, citizen’s health and the lived environment”.

Siobhan McQuaid (Partner in Connecting Nature & GoGreenRoutes, CEO Horizon Nua) “Horizon Nua is a spin-out from the Connecting Nature H2020 project. Building on our collaboration with Trinity, UCD, Maynooth and UL in other EU projects such as GoGreenRoutes (H2020) and ARTISAN (LIFE), we develop new innovations bringing the research generated in these projects to market. We look forward to further collaboration in 2022 with the new Irish network of researchers in this field.”

Marcus Collier (Scientific Coordinator, Connecting Nature, Partner GoGreenRoutes, Principal Investigator NovelEco, Trinity College Dublin) "Irish institutions are punching above their weight in the innovation sector that is promoting nature-based solutions in cities. Almost all of the Irish projects including Connecting Nature and NovelEco, emphasize the citizen’s voice in understanding how renaturing cities can promote ecosystems for urban citizens. We will continue to work together as researchers and innovators in this field to ensure the voice of Irish citizens is amplified both to benefit life on the island, across Europe and to influence thinking on how to solve global challenges together.”

Elaine Gallagher (Post-Doctoral Researcher, CO-FUND, University of Limerick) “Climate changes coalesces many challenges including flooding, drought and sustainability issues. My research clearly demonstrates the need to amplify the citizen voice to ensure enduring changes in our mindset and actions.”

Terri Morrissey (Chair Advisory Board GoGreenRoutes, This Is consultants) “Climate change is the fundamental challenge of our times. Solving this issue requires a systemic approach to change a field which organisational psychology is beginning to address.”

Stephen Kinsella (Principal Investigator +CityxChange, University of Limerick) “Cities and Universities need each other to prosper. Ideas are the currency of the 21st Century. The best ideas are trialled, refined, and installed in cities. Only by working together can we see the best ideas thrive in the real world”.

Salem Gharbia (Principal Investigator SCORE, Sligo Institute of Technology) “GoGreenRoutes is creating a great network to enhance synergies between the EU funded environmental and sustainability projects in Ireland.  As a coordinator of the SCORE H2020 project, I am delighted to participate in this initiative.  In SCORE, we look forward to working collaboratively on this significant initiative as it is on the top of all our agendas to put every effort to mitigate the effects of Climate Change now and in the years ahead."

Mario Balzan (Scientific Coordinator ReNature project; Partner GoGreenRoutes, MCAST/EcoStack Innovations) “Ireland and Malta share many commonalities including challenges with air pollution from traffic congestion in urban areas. And notably we share a common approach to developing solutions with our partners in Ireland and as a partner in both ReNature and GoGreenRoutes we look forward to our next joint proposal in 2022.”

Lorraine D’Arcy (DIAMOND project, TU Dublin) “Mobility solutions in cities are about people and that means all people. When we consider gender and intersectionality, as well as ability, in our plans we plan for everyone. We need to do that for all aspects of societal strategies to reimagining our cities together”.

Alice Charles (Advisory Board GoGreenRoutes, World Economic Forum) “Cities account for the majority of the world’s population and carbon footprint. Achieving carbon neutrality and building towards sustainability will require a collaborative and systemic approach to climate mitigation and adaptation financing with the consideration of social justice in these actions”.

Mark Sweeney (Enterprise Ireland) “Enterprise Ireland has a mission to promote innovation capacity through supporting project applications under European funding Programmes such as Horizon 2020 and Horizon Europe. The return on investment in the nature-based solutions and climate change sector has paid off with projects of the total value of 66.8 million euros being led by Irish partners and 20.8 million euros awarded directly to Ireland. We will continue to support new proposals and welcome the shared vision of the Irish partners."