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Understanding energy resource systems, environment and people in Galápagos, Ecuador: Towards a net-zero carbon footprint by 2040 

Project Summary


The Galapagos 2040 Vision is based on a collaboration between the University of Edinburgh, the Government of Galapagos, the Charles Darwin Foundation and the UK-Ecuadorian Chamber of Commerce. Meetings in 2018 and 2019 with representatives of Ecuadorian government institutions, including the Minister of the Galápagos region, led to an initial agreement for a programme of work with the University of Edinburgh on the theme of ‘Sustainable Energy, Environment and Communities’ in the Galápagos, in the context of Ecuador’s goal of achieving a net-zero carbon footprint in the Galápagos Islands by 2040. Achieving this goal will ensure sustainable development for local people and the local economy, requiring an in-depth understanding of the unique and sensitive ecosystem and local context.

Through a local policy review, a knowledge exchange event, and the creation of a local ‘Innovation Hub’, this project aims to explore the challenges, drivers and solutions for achieving equitable access to water, food and energy resources in the region. We aim to understand the political, regulatory, social, economic and environmental context of the Galápagos Islands for the supply, access and security of water, food and energy resources, drawing on current discourses of policy and practice, successes and failures, and local capacity for change. We will then share local, national and international examples of best practice at an interdisciplinary, international event held in Puerto Ayora (Santa Cruz Island) next May 2020, engaging a range of stakeholders, such as representatives from the local and national government, academic institutions, private sector organisations and NGOs. An ‘Innovation Hub’ will be created in Puerto Ayora to bring together public, private, academic and non-profit stakeholders and act as a local driver for the 2040 Vision.


This proposal aims to explore the challenges, drivers, and opportunities for achieving equitable and sustainable access to water, food and energy resources, achieving a net-zero carbon footprint and ensuring sustainable development in the Galápagos Islands by 2040. This aim will be met through achieving the following objectives:

  • Objective 1: Understanding the political, regulatory, social, economic and environmental context of the Galápagos Islands for the supply, access and security of water, food and energy resources, drawing on current discourses of policy and practice, successes and failures as well as local capacity for change. Demands patterns and user aspirations for resources and renewable energy systems will also be explored. (Edinburgh based)

  • Objective 2: Sharing local, national and international best practice on the supply, access and security of sustainable resources at an interdisciplinary, international event held in Ecuador, engaging a range of relevant stakeholders, such as representatives from the government, academic institutions, private sector companies and NGOs. (In Galapagos)

  • Objective 3: Co-creation of the principles of a plan for net-zero carbon emissions in the Galápagos by 2040, drawing on international expertise as well as local human capital with local stakeholders. This will be achieved through ensuring that the knowledge generated will provide the basis for a range of pilot and research projects that will be developed as a result of this collaboration. (Collaboration/partnership)


Recent Developments

The Minister for the Galapagos Islands, Mr Norman Wray, announced his government’s commitment to achieving the set net-zero target by 2040 at COP 25 in Madrid, and highlights the critical importance of political leadership and community engagement for achieving this target within the challenging yet unique environment of the Galapagos Islands. The collaboration between the Galapagos Government, the Charles Darwin Foundation and the University of Edinburgh unites public, academic and non-profit sectors, with broad experience in island settings, protected areas, conservation, community engagement and sustainability. 

The Galápagos 2040 Vision, the Galápagos 2030 Plan and a national ambition for the islands to become an “SDG Territory” (i.e. achieving the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals relevant to the context of Galápagos), together set out broad and substantial aims for Galápagos over the next two decades. These include, among others: the creation of a secure, equitable, sustainable and low carbon island economy that will enable the community to achieve a net-zero carbon footprint; improvement in water and sanitation management; increased food security; the reversal of endemic species’ decline and the degradation of biological communities; improved protection and management of Galápagos’ unique terrestrial and marine ecosystems; and increased resilience to climate change. The creation of a Sustainability, Innovation and Resilience Hub, built on foundations of research collaboration, education and capacity-building, will assist in the realisation of these aims and support a transition within the islands away from an over-reliance on tourism and toward a knowledge economy.

the innovation and resilience hub

The Innovation and Resilience Hub is structured according to four areas:

  1. Resources: Explored and understood from and for the local context

  2. Knowledge: Gathered globally and developed locally through ‘dialogue and exchange’

  3. Power relations and negotiation: Across local and global stakeholders for sustainable policies and programmes

  4. Action-based on physical science: Linked to local and global research and innovation.

The purpose of each area is summarised in the figure below. These areas were informed by the successes of the Edinburgh Climate Change Institute (ECCI), part of the University of Edinburgh, and adapted to needs and strengths of the Galapagos Islands:


A key mission of the Hub is the facilitation and promotion of horizontal collaboration and knowledge exchange among local and national organisations, institutions and communities in Galápagos, as well as the connection of these actors to a broad range of international partners. 


The Hub promotes access for local residents, researchers and policy-makers to tools, methods, spaces, technologies and training to support a sustainable and inclusive energy and economic transition, from an over-reliance on tourism to a knowledge-based economy based on local skills and know-how. The Hub also enables research-informed action, supporting negotiation and equitable power relationships between stakeholders, and facilitating policy development to allow the continuity and scale-up of its work. By presenting an open space for dialogue on economic productivity within the principles of sustainability, the work of the Hub will enable Galápagos to lead as a global example. 


The Hub represents: 

  • A platform for knowledge development and exchange between diverse Galápagos stakeholders – both local and national – with international partners.

  • An incubator for innovative ideas concerning the challenges of climate change impacts, biodiversity decline, economic recovery and unsustainable energy systems, along with the development of new strategies and prototypes, the success of which will be measured in relation to their interactions with the islands’ communities and ecosystems. The Hub will support the growth of innovative solutions into local businesses, thus strengthening the economy and diversifying livelihoods.

  • A laboratory for research and policy development for Galápagos and other island nations facing similar challenges. The Hub will help in identifying agendas for research and innovation, promote suitable and sustainable partnerships, attract funding and generate policy advice.



Since the proposal for the Hub emerged in 2019, the team leading this collaboration has engaged with a wider range of institutions and community representatives in the Galápagos Islands. The current legal agreement framing the Hub is hosted by the national Science and Technology Council of Ecuador (Senecyt), and has now widened to include two local universities with campuses in Galápagos, the Universidad Central and Universidad San Francisco de Quito, as well as the Sustainable Development Fund for Ecuador (FIAS), and Kings College at the University of Cambridge.


The collaboration between these organisations will ensure that cutting-edge knowledge and technologies to achieving progress in sustainable resource systems are appropriately embedded within the local, social, economic and environmental context.



The following four themes (with constant consideration of their synergies and conflicts) will guide the Hub’s agenda and activities through the first two years:


  1. Resilient Covid-19 recovery

    • Achieve a sustainable economic recovery from Covid-19 

    • Improve tourism sustainability and begin a shift towards a knowledge economy 

    • Increase resilience against future shocks such as climate change and pandemics

  2. Conservation and circular economy

    • Reverse species’ declines and ecosystem degradation

    • Improve detection and management of invasive species and maintain ecological isolation

    • Increase local education around, and participation in, conservation activities

    • Reduce waste and support a transition to a circular economy

  3. Innovation in energy transition: 

    • Pilot innovative, scalable ideas aimed at sustaining energy resources whilst reducing carbon emissions

    • Improve clean drinking water availability across the inhabited islands

  4. Water-Energy-Food nexus

    • Increase food security and local production

    • Improve management of the agricultural areas

    • Increase sustainability of food systems, including both fishing and farming




The Hub is structured around four main pillars, which will support activities developed across all themes:


  1. Research and innovation: A research and innovation programme will draw on existing practices and pilot innovative ideas, in partnership with local and international organisations and networks, representing private, public and civil society sectors.

  2. Education and capacity-building: The Hub will increase context-based education in schools, local capacity and community-based management and participation, and strengthen the relationships between the environment and the local community.

  3. Connectivity, network and dissemination: A network will be set up, including local, national and international organisations, partners, stakeholders and investors associated with the Hub, within which collaboration, knowledge exchange, information sharing and ideas dissemination will be promoted through the new REVISO Network for Sustainable Island Life (Red para la Vida Isleña Sostenible). As well as facilitating international relationships and increasing the visibility of the Hub, this network will promote connections between the islands and mainland Ecuador. 

  4. Policy advice and development: A Policy Advisory Group (GAP; Grupo Asesor de Políticas) will consolidate outputs of the Hub and REVISO, provide policy advice and identify research gaps based on policy needs, in the context of the Galápagos 2030 Plan and SDGs achievement. The Hub will help increase the capacity of Galápagos to reform and adapt policy to tackle new and emerging challenges, and preserve continuity of resources and management irrespective of political changes.

Innovation Hub Diagram.png


Galapagos, Ecuador


University of Edinburgh

Charles Darwin Foundation

Ministry of Galapagos

Research Team

Soledad Garcia-Ferrari

Kathi Kaesehage 

Andrew Bell

Julie Cupples 

David Ingram 

Ed Craig

Serguey Maximov

Amelia Bain

Stephanie Crane De Narváez

Funding Body

Global Challenges Theme Development Fund 

Supported by the Scottish Funding Council GCRF Strategy 



We have recently presented a proposal to present the Sustainability, Innovation and Resilience Hub during COP26 in November 2021 (pending confirmation). The proposed event will have an interactive panel format, featuring mini-debates around the themes of the Hub, and will be led by members of the project team in attendance at COP26 and in Galápagos via a live virtual connection, along with guests from the Scottish Islands Renewables project with which the Hub initiative shares important synergies related to the uniqueness of island settings. 

COP26 Cover[9].jpg
Galpagos Sustainability, Innovation and Resilience Hub


Initial Proposal February 2021

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