Bern Hub

Interview with Dr. Olivier Jacquat, Head of the Bern Hub

Dr. Olivier Jacquat leads the first Wyss Academy hub in the global North. He and his team manage fifteen projects in the Canton of Bern with operative project leaders across the canton.

Portrait Jacquat

Dr. Olivier Jacquat

Head of the Bern Hub, joined the Wyss Academy in August 2020

The Bern Hub already has a portfolio of fifteen projects. How are they interconnected?

The identification of the fifteen projects followed a top-down approach, coming from the Canton of Bern and experts from the University of Bern. There was not much emphasis on the interconnection between the projects at the beginning. For the further development of the portfolio we are advocating for a strong participatory approach in designing new projects and an interconnected approach with these fifteen ongoing projects.

To achieve an urban area that generates more energy than it is consuming, solutions must be found for the 3 main drivers of the environmental footprint caused by Swiss citizens: housing, mobility and food. In the area of housing, if one considers the environmental aspects (social as well as economic ones should be included too), then urban development should foster densification. This means building in height, and with environmentally friendly materials. For high-rise buildings, a core of concrete is still needed for structural reasons - but then, the concrete should be 100 % recycled (an objective of one of our projects: Replacement of Raw Materials). And the main building material must come from a renewable resource, such as wood from the region (an objective of another of our projects: Value Chain Forest and Wood).

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What does the cooperation between the Wyss Academy and the Canton of Berne look like?

A very positive and innovative side is the time frame of this public-private partnership, which is set to 10 years, rather than the 4 to 5 year legislative period known in Switzerland or elsewhere in the Global North. We very much appreciate this long-term thinking, which already represents a first real innovation. The second positive aspect is the confidence of both partners in this unique public-private partnership. On one hand is the Wyss Academy, an agile start-up with daily development and growth, and on the other hand is a sound cantonal administration with a history dating back to 1353, more than 600 years. Building trust and equilibrium takes time, and yet these fifteen projects are underway and need to keep going. Together with our partners from the Canton, the Bern Hub is managing the projects, working constructively through the regulatory and legislative processes, and in parallel, participating actively in ramping up the start-up phase of the institution. It’s a challenge, but we are fully engaged.

What are the synergies of your CO2-neutral projects for cities in Bern and for the Jungfrau Region?

On the conceptual level, those are two visionary projects with titles that clearly state what the goal is: From PlusEnergy Neighborhoods to the PlusEnergy City and CO2-neutral tourism in Oberland-Ost, Jungfrau, Interlaken. If we manage by 2029 to show that there is a path towards CO2 neutrality on the countryside level and on the urban level, by combining both approaches, we have pathways for the national level. From there we can scale it up to the Global North, and to the international policy level, the United Nations and Paris Agreement negotiations and so on. It is like a puzzle. With the seed money available we aim to show new pathways and test concrete solutions. A full transformation towards CO2 neutrality will however only be achieved through further investment and strong partnerships within the economy, civil society and governmental organizations. Like with a puzzle, we work towards bringing the different pieces together.

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Switzerland is pretty much in the center of Europe. How can insights gained in this small country become catalysts for global projects?

Switzerland is a country with no real raw material deposits. Basically, we import almost everything. What we don’t realize as much is that a huge amount of gray emissions are related to these imports. Each Swiss citizen has a climate footprint of about 14 tons of CO2 per year, from which only 40 % is generated domestically. Thus, the greenhouse gas emissions related to Swiss consumption are mainly emitted abroad. We thus bear strong responsibilities worldwide and as an industrial country to show sustainable pathways that have a global perspective. At the Wyss Academy, we therefore aim to be catalysts of holistic and jointly-developed solutions, validated in the field at a regional scale, and brought to the diplomatic international level for knowledge-sharing and scale-up. No single institution will save the planet. Multiple context-specific solutions to the global challenges that nature and humanity is facing are needed, and we see our contribution here.

The issues you address affect the Global North as much as the South. Can you elaborate?

Although we have a strong geographical focus within the Canton of Bern, we already steered several projects towards the national level, through funding and/or partnerships. We also think about our neighboring countries for multiplication and scale-up effects. We envision joint-venture projects around Europe. Even if the contextual framework may be different to the Global South, industrialized countries of the North often face the same challenges. There is a nice example related to the Convention on Biological Diversity. The Aichi Targets aim to protect 30 % of the planet. Migratory species require functioning ecosystems in both hemispheres, while sedentary species need a network of interconnected ecosystems at a national level. In Switzerland, we thus need to work closely with other countries and create synergies with their conservation measures (such as how the Wyss Academy hub in Bern collaborates with the hubs in Kenia, Laos or Peru) and provide a national network of linked protected areas. The project called ecological infrastructure is developing the methodology and cartographical tools for this purpose. Being an international topic, we aim to relate and share this work within all hubs of the Wyss Academy and naturally, with all external parties.

Challenge 1

Sustainable human activities in protected areas

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Challenge 2

Energy transitions

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Challenge 3

Sustainable food systems

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