By Harriet Lamb, Ashden CEO
Last month I was at the United Nations Habitat’s World Urban
Forum in Abu Dhabi, sharing ideas with city leaders about how to tackle the
climate crisis. I was there to shout about 44 proven solutions — a collection
of ground-breaking projects and enterprises from Yemen to Guatemala.
These innovations, from the longlist of finalists for the
2020 Ashden Awards, show the awesome power of clean energy and climate
Final winners in our 11 award categories will be announced
in June at a ceremony during London Climate Action Week — but every
organization, and many more that didn’t quite make the cut, can teach the world
Showcasing proven, ready-to-scale solutions is fundamental
to tackling the climate emergency and giving everyone access to clean,
affordable energy. Too often we hear the same grumble from climate ditherers
and delayers — that climate solutions are impractical, unaffordable or
unpopular. It’s crucial that we counter these dreary myths everywhere we find
them. To do so, we all need stories about inspiring solutions at our
These are solutions that could drive systemic change, the
sorts of radical shifts necessary given the climate crisis.
Deniers, delayers and distractions
Climate deniers, while infuriating, are not the only barrier
to progress. The huge array of panels and workshops at the World Urban Forum,
as at so many such events, was a powerful reminder of the competing pressures
on even the most forward-thinking leaders, from providing better health to more
jobs, an end to poverty and inequality to tackling biodiversity. This is why we
are always looking at the additional benefits to people from climate action
that also safeguards the planet. Corny but true: we can tease out those
Take two very different examples from our longlist. Kenyan
agriculture enterprise Mucho Mangoes helps farmers use solar-powered drying
equipment, giving them the chance to add value to their harvest, so raising
their incomes. Thousands of miles away in the United Kingdom, smart technology
from Guru Systems improves the efficiency of heat networks through tech,
lowering energy waste in social housing, cutting emissions and creating
financial savings for tenants. What’s not to like?
New systems can drive radical change
To get to this longlist, we at Ashden scoured the world to
hunt out solutions that could drive systemic change — the sorts of radical
shifts necessary given the climate crisis. For example, the built environment
contributes to 40 percent of the U.K.’s carbon emissions. So, what if we
re-imagined everything about how we build, and how we improve existing
We found that across the U.K., organizations are driving
better use of passive design and sustainable materials such as timber, and
techniques that allow whole house frames to be created quickly and cheaply.
Others, such as the Ecology Building Society, are leading the development of
discounted mortgages for more energy-efficient homes.
Such developments can create a new, localized model for
cost-effective green housebuilding —supporting local economies, slashing the
industry’s carbon footprint and creating greater resilience.
The U.K. government has committed to reach net zero by 2050,
so it must capitalize on the demand for change, backing entrepreneurs and
supporting the shift above with every tax, investment and policy lever
available. In the run-up to the COP26 climate talks in Glasgow, and with the
U.S. position unsure, Britain must commit to world-leading action — in order to
have the credibility to secure the badly needed increases in voluntary
Holistic thinking, community action
As applications poured in for the Ashden Awards, we were
impressed by big-picture thinking from around the world. Togo is taking this
approach to electrify every corner of the nation, drawing on the talents of the
public and private sectors, extending the grid and also investing in off-grid
We also saw organizations offering finance solutions that
open the energy access sector up to a greater diversity of enterprises and
approaches: outfits such as Energise Africa, offering a clear and simple way to
invest in the continent’s energy startups. This is crucial, as we’ll only crack
the energy access problem by building a flourishing ecosystem of innovation,
not by pinning our hopes on a handful of bright stars.
We saw many more organizations installing, managing or
supporting microgrids around the world — confirming the growing importance of
this model of energy delivery. The rise of local energy grids highlights
another key theme of the longlist: partnerships; co-operatives; and
Again and again, we saw the power of communities to deliver
climate action (something world leaders and huge corporations often find
challenging, to say the least). To take just one example, BuildUp Nepal has
trained thousands of rural people, with a particular focus on women, to build
their own homes from sustainable compressed earth bricks.
This year, we have sought to shine the spotlight on some
neglected climate challenges. One is the need for efficient cooling solutions.
As the temperatures tick higher, people turn up the air conditioning, using
more energy, releasing more harmful gases and feeding a vicious circle. Hence
the search for cool solutions.
The longlist for our cooling award features four
very different organizations in Vietnam, India and Egypt. The Ahmedabad Heat
Action Plan includes a comprehensive range of measures to keep city residents
safe during heatwaves, whilst a German Red Cross project in Vietnam is using
climate data to trigger early funding for heatwave responses. ECOnsult is the
designer of a naturally cool desert village for agricultural workers, and
Fairconditioning is training the next generation of architects in sustainable
Another hidden crisis is that many of the world’s 70 million
refugees and internally displaced people live without reliable energy for
cooking, heating or communication. Our new humanitarian energy award uncovered
innovation in the most hostile of environments.
Women in Yemen are running microgrids, while in Jordan, a
Norwegian Refugee Council program provides solar water heaters to landlords in
exchange for lower rent and tenure security for refugees.
But we also saw that the humanitarian system needs to be
radically overhauled, with governments offering serious investment and
long-term commitments. Clean energy innovators are held back from reaching more
people by the humanitarian sector’s short-term funding models.
2020 also brings our first award for natural climate
solutions. A growing body of evidence shows that indigenous people are better
placed than governments, charities or business to maximize the climate benefits
of forests. In violating the rights of indigenous people by claiming their land
and planning new pipelines, we are committing an act of global self-harm. We
need to reverse this fast and put indigenous people at the forefront of the
So, what unites this diverse list of 44
innovators? They will all need investment and political backing in order to
scale-up at lightning speed and share their hard-earned knowledge. The
innovation is there in spades — now we need money on the table and leaders
putting their weight behind our longlist and others’ longlist. That was the
message I took to Abu Dhabi.
03 Mar | News
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