La Reunion

An ideal territory for Research and Innovation, regarding the energy-transition in carbon-intensive islands

With its preserved natural assets, La Reunion provides an exceptional living condition and an outstanding fertile environment for research and economic development.

  • One of world’s 34 biodiversity hotspots, listed as UNESCO World Heritage for its “Pitons, cirques and remparts” 

  • A national park that covers 40% of the territory, a marine nature reserve as well as gateways to France’s Southern and Antarctic lands 

  • One of the most active and safely observable volcano “Piton de La Fournaise” which erupts several times a year and attracts the most dynamic volcanologists in the world 

  • A unique combination of terrestrial and hydro-meteorological phenomena giving birth to more than 200 microclimates in a very small region, providing an ideal opportunity for research and innovation in energy production & crop production 

  • A geographical position giving it major advantages for studying climate change in the Indian ocean 

Picture: MIWOK
Picture: MIWOK

Isolated from the main maritime roads, but regularly visited by Arab sailors, La Reunion remained unpopulated until the early 17th century, when settlers recruited by the French East India Company founded the first permanent settlement with Malagasy and Indian people.

This diverse, creole population was amplified by the plantation system which dominated the island and led to the introduction of thousands of slaves and indentured workers.

Since the end of the 19th century, later migrations waves from China, India, Vietnam, France and the Comores have created a unique multicultural society. 

La Reunion is today one of the youngest and fast-growing European Regions. 

With more than 860 000 people today, the island’s population should reach 1 million by 2037.

The economy of La Reunion has been shaped by its integration in the French republic as an overseas department in 1946. This new status was accompanied by a thorough modernization policy designed to accelerate the convergence toward European standards.

Supported by public funds, such strategy relied on the construction of world-class infrastructures, the reinforcement of human capacities, the consolidation of the sugar-cane industry and the development of local services and import-substitution activities. The emergence of a strong local market, pulled by a marked demographic expansion (from 227 to 852 000 inhabitants) and public expenditures, has supported a remarkable economic growth : between 1970 and 2010, the GDP was multiplied by almost 50 in value, growing from €306 million to €14,900 million. With 21 500€, the island now presents the highest GDP per capita of the Indian Ocean zone. 

Despite this strong convergence, the island faces critical challenges. Its economy relies on national and European public transfers which account for 42% of its GDP.

The accelerated growth of its metabolism and the introduction of mass consumption standards now exceed the carrying capacity of a small and fragile leading to high material and energy dependence toward imports as well as to the anthropisation and degradation of its unique ecosystems and habitats. Social challenges are also remarkable: La Reunion struggles with a high-level of unemployment (24%) and mass poverty, half of the population living beyond the national poverty line. 

Such economic, social, ecological and energy dependencies constitute major sources of vulnerabilities, which questions the very sustainability of its model. But they also offer opportunities to design innovative solutions for a resilient and inclusive future. 

Picture: CPMR

In a world of global competition and ecological collapse, La Reunion has launched an ambitious transformation programme to build a carbon-neutral, ecologically and socially resilient island. This strategy is based on a paradigm-shift which turns tropical islands characteristics, usually considered as handicaps, into fields of opportunities. As a densely populated and remote island with vulnerable ecosystems and few resources, La Réunion is indeed facing today a challenge that will concern all regions tomorrow: the need to design an ecological economy, inscribed in the capacities and rythms of natural ecosystems. The same logic applies to the conversion toward small-scale and self-consumption energy systems. 

Through its smart specialization strategy, La Réunion is thus becoming a living lab for ecological and energy transition and seeks to develop singular solutions, which both reduce its own vulnerabilities and satisfy the needs of other islands and remote regions. 

The island focuses its R&I efforts in world-recognized domains : 
  • Energy transition in tropical islands contexts
  • Biodiversity conservation and restoration in highly endemic systems
  • Earth and climate systems observation in the Indian Ocean
  • Agro-ecological tropical food production and natural extracts
  • Tropical infectuous and metabolic diseases prevention and therapies

The strategy is developed via a highly dense and dynamic research and innovation ecosystem:

  • 34 academic labs and research centers with more than 440 public researchers
  • cutting edge research facilities such as :
    • The Observatory of atmospheric physics of La Reunion which is a keystone for global climate change studies as it is the only observatory situated in the southern hemisphere
    • The applied medical and life sciences platform CYROI which offers level 4 labs and cyclotron-based facilities
    • The agronomic research and development platform specialised in tropical plant health 3P
  •  a network of associations and clusters promoting and supporting businesses innovation
  • fully-committed public institutions managing financial tools to support Research and Innovation

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