Climate emergency calls for innovative ideas and "Climathon" fits the bill

Climate change affects every city on every continent, increasingly disrupting economies and adversely affecting human health.

 Public awareness of the threats posed by global warming has never been greater, yet there is also a sense of being rudderless in the face of a problem that's growing faster than its solutions. So, what leadership role could, and should, Europe and the international community reclaim, and how might it overcome people's ennui over being lectured and held personally responsible for polluting?

There are various challenges to be overcome, including engaging public support and not just in emotional terms.

Arguably the toughest challenge facing cities, the climate emergency calls for innovative ideas. One such exciting initiative is called Climathon, described as the largest climate action collective of its kind.

The Climathon programme unites people in their tens of thousands and has powered a “global  wave”, designed to help achieve global zero emissions within the next 30 years.

Its centrepiece is the “Global Climathon Day” and hackathon, during which entrepreneurs, students and developers get together to suggest solutions to climate challenges facing their own cities.

But Climathon is also a year-round programme, seeking to translate climate action solutions into tangible projects.

Already, some 100 cities participate and, by 2022, the aim is to unite over 1,000 cities, reaching over 100 million people.

The Climathon concept is the brainchild of EIT Climate-KIC, Europe’s largest public private partnership, which addresses climate change through innovation to build a net zero carbon economy.

There are numerous examples of the tangible results participating cities have already had, including in Khartoum, Sudan where the challenge was to deal with rapidly increasing food demand with sharply declining production.

World food production needs to double by 2050 to cater for population growth while also dealing with the impacts of climate change. The need to develop integrated and sustainable urban food systems, including value chains and consumer behaviour, is an urgent call to action for cities.

In Sudan, agriculture’s contribution to the GDP has decreased by 4 per cent in the last seven years and it is expected to decrease even more in the future due to climate change. 

Climathon participants locally, with the support of EIT Climate-KIC, responded with an early warning system that can prevent up to 25 per cent of economic damage caused by global warming.

Under the Climathon programme, cities are asked to find a solution to climate-related challenges and Sudan’s winning solution was an idea to develop software that works with AI technology which gives an accurate and reliable predicted scenario. The software shows the effectiveness of different crops under different climate scenarios, helping farmers make informed decisions.

Another “success story” is in Pasig, in the Philippines, where the challenge was to help local citizens and businesses responsibly and sustainably reduce waste while driving creative recycling.

Cities face pressure to improve resource management efficiency, confront rising energy prices and are running out of landfill space, so reducing or avoiding waste generation is increasingly important. Waste management could improve the emissions of all sectors of the economy.

One winning solution in Pasig is “Sari-cycling” where proper garbage segregation bins are placed adjacent to sari-sari stores (convenience stores). Households deposit segregated rubbish into these bins instead of on vacant lots or street corners. Shop owners receive financial incentives to increase recycling rates as well as earning an income from selling on readily recyclable items like glass and PET bottles.

Another solution put forward is the development of simple, inexpensive recycling machines set up at material recycling facilities around the city, which turn discarded plastic into sellable items like tools and fashion accessories. The enterprise hires women and people with disabilities who often find it difficult to find jobs in Pasig.

Citizen behaviour is largely responsible for current global climate change trends, so changing unsustainable consumption and production patterns unlocks a crucial climate impact potential.

The Swiss city of Basel was set the challenge of motivating its citizens to successfully implement renewable heating networks.

The response from the ReADI team was a digital platform for decentralised, renewable energy networks.

Another challenge was to encourage people to use a bicycle instead of a car for short distances in city traffic.

The winning solution is a financial incentive system for cyclists, the “Green New Bike Deal”, which involves a financial reward system for citizens using their bikes. 

These are just a handful of many similar case studies from the Climathon initiative.

Partnering with Crowther Lab, a world-leading climate research lab, EIT Climate-KIC is also launching the first Climathon Global City Awards – with the aim of tackling major issues including air pollution, fair, prosperous and sustainable local economies, clean and efficient mobility and energy systems.

Cities have until 17 November to enter their new systems level solutions to tackle the worsening climate crisis.

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Martin Banks

Martin Banks

Martin Banks is a highly qualified journalist with many years experience of working within the EU institutions. He is an occasional, and highly valued, contributor to EU today, writing on a wide variety of issues.

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