Transport and buildings to energy access

11 climate innovations to put quest for SDGs back on track


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Low-carbon innovation is an important tool in our bid to reach the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals by 2030 – not only because one of those goals focuses on access to energy, but because climate projects deliver a huge range of benefits across society – from better health and work to greater gender equality.

Backing this innovation is crucial, particularly at a time when coronavirus puts the pursuit of the SDGs in desperate danger. Research by the United Nations University suggests the fallout from the pandemic could increase global poverty by as much as half a billion people, or 8% of the world population, according to research released last week by the United Nations University.

The 11 winners of the 2020 Ashden Awards – given for outstanding climate solutions in the UK and developing countries, particularly those targeting marginalised people – show how green innovation brings a dazzling range of benefits. By scaling up these solutions and others like them through investment and policy reform, we can get our quest to reach the SDGs back on track.

Ashden CEO Harriet Lamb explains: “There’s growing momentum for a green recovery from coronavirus, one that escapes the failures of the past and propels us toward a low-carbon future. This new future is within our reach, as long as we back radical climate solutions.”

11 inspiring innovations – and the benefits they bring

  1. The plan saving lives at risk from heatwaves

The Natural Resources Defense Council’s Ahmedabad Heat Action Plan tackles deadly heatwaves in the Indian city – making sure citizens know when extreme temperatures are on their way, and what they should do in response. There’s support for health workers and public officials too. The partnership, which helps the city’s most vulnerable in particular, has been replicated across India and beyond.

  1. The tech helping villagers trade solar energy

Solar home systems are common in off-grid communities around the world – but they often produce unused electricity. In Bangladesh, technology company Solshare allows system owners to trade excess energy with their neighbours. Incomes are created, less energy is wasted, and more people are connected.

  1. The company helping architects and builders go green

Passivhaus Homes supports the Passivhaus building method, a global standard that guarantees ultra-efficient homes needing minimal energy for heating and cooling. Passivhaus Homes cuts risk for builders through a standardised design and building process, and a store selling approved materials. The company also offers guidance and training.

  1. The network helping indigenous people earn a living and defend their land

In the Amazon, seed collection is key to reforesting degraded land – and creates a vital income for threatened agricultural and indigenous communities, those with the skills and knowledge to protect the rainforest. Seed collection business Rede de Sementes do Xingu co-ordinates seed collectors, administrators and buyers in the state of Mato Grosso.

  1. The national strategy bringing power to every home

In Togo, only 35% of homes have access to electricity. The Togolese Rural Electrification and Renewable Energy Agency is working with the private sector to deliver on- and off-grid energy. Subsidies, training and new technology help the initiative target women and the poorest households.

  1. The city that puts walking and cycling first

The Institute for Transportation and Development Policy (ITDP) and the Greater Chennai Corporation are taking bold steps to promote active travel in the Indian city – tackling deadly air pollution and creating more accessible public spaces. The results include 120km of improved pavements, a public bike-share scheme, car-free Sundays, and education and resources for policymakers.

  1. The tech driving down heating bills

Guru Systems develops intelligent technology to make energy systems more transparent, lower cost and lower carbon. Delivering low-carbon heat is one of the biggest challenges in the transition to a net-zero emissions future. Guru’s hardware and data analytics help to accelerate this transition by using AI-driven analytics to improve efficiency and change the future of heat for the better.

  1. The food processing company backing rural entrepreneurs

India’s S4S Technologies has developed a patented solar dryer for food products. It provides the machines, alongside tailored packages of finance, training and support, to a wide range of customers – including female smallholder farmers. This holistic approach helps even the poorest boost their income.

  1. The microgrids supporting conflict-hit communities

Community-owned solar microgrids, created by the United Nations Development Programme, have brought higher earning and reliable energy to conflict-hit Yemen. The grids were created by groups of local entrepreneurs, thanks to grants and support from UNDP. Now grid owners – including women – earn a better living, while their neighbours benefit from radically cheaper electricity.

  1. The enterprise helping women become low-carbon builders

Build Up Nepal, a social enterprise, helps women become construction entrepreneurs, by giving them machinery, training and support to build homes from compressed-earth blocks. The blocks are more sustainable than traditional fired bricks, and the scheme has already saved 17,600 tonnes of CO2.

  1. The electric bike company delivering fair work and green groceries

The rise of online shopping threatens to clog our streets with more polluting cars and vans. have partnered with supermarkets and small businesses to deliver goods via electric bike across London – with fair contracts for their team of dedicated riders.

This piece first appeared at

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