A new phase of innovation cooperation

Qingdao – where Sino-Swedish eco-innovation starts

Qingdao (or Tsingtao on the label of the most popular Chinese beer for foreign tourists) is a beautiful city in Shandong Province on China’s Yellow Sea coast. Qingdao is also a special city for Sino-Swedish innovation cooperation, where the launch and the match-making event for the first Sino-Swedish Joint Call on Eco-innovation took place in 2014. With the inspiring memories from the event and of the city, I was back to Qingdao on May 7, to participate in “2019 Match-making Dialogue for Green Technology and Industrial Innovation Cooperation (China-Sweden)”. And I am happy to see that we have a new phase of the Sino-Swedish Innovation Cooperation.

A Swedish delegation, including both SMEs and researchers joined the event and was warmly received by the vice Mayor of Qingdao, XUE Qingguo and the leadership of the West Coast New Area.

The Swedish delegation, together with the Vice Mayor and West Coast New Area Leadership. Image source: Un.org; Qingdao West Coast New Area official wechat account.

From eco-innovation to system transformation

I remember well that Sweden was the forerunner, putting “eco-innovation” as a priority in the innovation cooperation with China in 2014. The Swedish project teams were not only technical solution suppliers and research partners in the bilateral cooperation. More importantly, they were also mind-set changers and game-changers, i.e. not only showing what the solutions are, but also showing why and how these solutions can bring about fundamental and transformative changes when Sweden and China join forces to pursue sustainable development – more innovatively and efficiently.

When I listen to the presentations at this event, i.e. 5 years after the first eco-innovation cooperation was launched, I do see that both the policy contexts for and the contents of innovation cooperation on sustainable development have changed – and advanced:

  • Instead of an environment-oriented green economy development concept, the 2030 Agenda has brought innovation cooperation into an integrated policy framework, where environment, health, social development and not least governance are all becoming drivers for innovation development.
  • Instead of cutting-edge single solutions in specific areas, system solutions along the value-chain for best sustainability benefits as well as highest possible economic returns have become the key motivation behind and a strong point of innovation cooperation. 

In this context, Qingdao, especially the West Coast New Area, could be a good showcase for cooperation on integrating a green economy transformation with a blue economy transformation – which is one of the key strengths of the Swedish research and innovation system as well as Sweden’s work on environment and climate.

Just like Qingdao, Sweden also has a long coastline. A healthy sea is important for our people, our eco-system and our economy. Sweden has already put forward an Integrated Maritime Strategy – for People, Jobs and the Environment. Sweden is also taking a lead in combatting marine litter and the development of a sustainable blue economy. Since the 2030 Agenda was adopted, Sweden has been one of the most active countries in pushing for the efforts on Sustainable Development Goal 14: Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development.   

One of the interesting projects presented at the Event is the Seafarm Project, which develops a sustainable system for cultivation and use of seaweeds as renewable energy and materials as well as sustainable food and feed.  It is both interesting and inspiring to see that the contribution of the “sea-farm and sea-forest systems” to the sustainable development goals (SDGs) can be clearly identified and illustrated.

The Seafarm Project – Prof. Fredrik Gröndahl, Royal Institute of Technology (KTH). Image source: Un.org; Qingdao West Coast New Area official wechat account.

Sustainability-driven innovation as an important part of Sino-Swedish innovation diplomacy

Last and not least, it was a pleasure for me to meet Mr. CHEN Mingming, the former Ambassador to Sweden and Mr. ZHANG Ning, the former Science and Technology Counsellor to Sweden at the event. They were great supporters and played a key role when the Sino-Swedish eco-innovation collocation was initiated and established. With their deep knowledge of Sweden and rich experience in Sino-Swedish cooperation, they continue to contribute to the bilateral cooperation even after they came back to China. As Ambassador Chen put it, it is the best timing for advancing Sino-Swedish cooperation on innovation and sustainable development. A more innovative and a more sustainable China – as the result of our cooperation -is a growth opportunity for us all!

Ambassador Chen Mingming (left) and Counsellor Zhang Ning (right). Image source: Un.org; Qingdao West Coast New Area official wechat account.