Activism

Frustrated with Cop27? Here are 5 ingenious climate action groups changing the world

From Indonesia to Togo, people around the world are leading the way in the climate transition

cop27, ashden awards

Farmers in rice fields in Sukanda, West Kalimantan. Image: Ashden

As Cop27 goes ahead in Egypt, optimism about the climate is hard. The past month has brought dire warnings that there is “no credible pathway” to limit warming to 1.5C.

A “rapid transformation of societies” is needed, says the UN’s environment agency. While governments and states may paint the big picture, hope and solutions exist on a smaller scale.

At a ceremony held in London for the 2022 Ashden awards, these grassroots solutions were recognised

Here are five climate organisations creating change around the world.

Reducing illegal logging in an Indonesian national park by 90 per cent

When you think of deforestation, you probably think of the Amazon. But it’s a huge problem in Indonesia, too. Illegal logging and land conversion robs the country of three to five  hectares of forest a minute, which has a huge impact on greenhouse gas emissions.

However progress has been made, with deforestation falling in 2021 to its lowest level since 1990.

That’s thanks in part to organisations like Asri, which works in villages around the Bukit Baka Bukit Raya National Park and the Gunung Palung National Park.

Pak Karim gave up his chainsaw and changed his livelihood. Image: Ashden

“We approach the experts – the rainforest communities who have lived in this rainforest for many generations. They know how best to protect the forest,” says executive director Nur Febriani.

One way it does this is by letting loggers trade their chainsaws for no-interest investment.

Asri’s chainsaw buyback program gives loggers the money to pursue another living, while it also provides goats for widows – some of the most vulnerable people in society.

To make sure the gains aren’t lost, Asri also works with locals on healthcare and education.

It’s produced results. In a decade, illegal logging in the Gunung Palung National Park has fallen by 90 per cent. Infant mortality has fallen by two thirds.

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Stopping food from going to waste in Kenya

Food waste is costly – and has been dubbed an “ethical outrage” by UN Secretary General António Guterres.

“Food loss and waste also squanders natural resources – water, soil and energy, not to mention human labour and time,” Guterres said in 2020. “It worsens climate change, given the significant role of agriculture in generating greenhouse gas emissions.”

The problem is particularly acute in Kenya, where as much as half of food grown never makes it to market.

Harvesters cleaning and sorting bananas before they’re packed. Image: Kelvin Juma/Ashden

Led by Denis Karema, who saw the effect of post-harvest loss growing up in a Kenyan village, SokoFresh operates solar-powered cold storage facilities which can store up to five tons of produce

It also recruits farmers who can synchronise their harvests, and has created almost 1,700 jobs in two years.

The result is that farmers can get better prices by selling in bulk, and earn more money overall. Farmers working with SokoFresh have seen their incomes increase by up to 40 per cent.

Karema thinks the model can be applied across Africa. “My drive is the pursuit of wide-spread impact, using business as a force for good,” he says.

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Selling tens of thousands of solar energy kits in Zimbabwe

In rural parts of Zimbabwe only one in five people have access to electricity. Fuelled by his own experience, William Ponela, the founder of Zonful Energy, is working to fix that.

“I grew up in a rural area. I experienced urban life for the first time when studying engineering at university in Unisa. My family wanted me to improve the water and energy situation in our community. My focus is to address those pain points,” says Ponela.

A Zonful trainee who installed a solar lighting system in her rural grocery shop. Image: Tafadzwa Ufumeli/Ashden

Zonful sells solar home systems – including solar panels, batteries, lights, radios and televisions – to people living in areas where they might otherwise be cut off. Around 55,000 people in Zimbabwe have bought Zonful’s products and turned the lights on.

But Ponela is also trying to address the fact that more than one in 10 young people in Zimbabwe are unemployed. Zonful has an app that, like Uber, allows trainees at the company to take on freelance jobs as technicians and sales agents. And Ponela believes the Zonful energy is one that can be expanded internationally.

Training tomorrow’s clean energy entrepreneurs

Kinshasa-born Astria Fataki noticed a twin set of problems: the inequality, human indignity, and abuse of the environment she saw around her, and the fact that, in Togo, the population is growing faster than job opportunities.

But these problems created an opportunity: a growing energy sector could provide new jobs, as well as solutions.

“Sectors like energy are actually creating new types of jobs that require new types of skills. I have been working as an energy professional for the past 10 years,” says Fataki.

“I realised that if we really want to accelerate the energy transition on the continent, we need to build local capacities and local entrepreneurs.”

Her company Energy Generation, based in Togo, trains people to address this.

cop27
A graduate of Energy Generation’s entrepreneurship programme. Image: Francis Kokoroko/Ashden

Trainees go through a two-year camp in Lome, the Togolese capital, which offers a diploma from the Collége de Paris at the end. After this, the company will support them through an incubation programme to develop their ideas. Almost half the trainees of the course have been women.

“Our real goal is to inspire young people in Africa and beyond to be powerful and impactful changemakers, so they can actually shape a better future for themselves, their communities, their continent, and of course for our common world,” Fataki says.

Bringing WiFi to a Kenyan refugee camp

Innocent Tshilombo had to flee his home country of the Democratic Republic of Congo in 2009. Since then, he’s lived in Kakuma refugee camp in Kenya. It’s one of the world’s largest refugee camps, with 196,000 residents in July 2020.

When Tshilombo arrived, there was no access to energy or internet – a big problem considering he was studying online for a degree.

Kakuma Ventures’ internet means ice cream-seller Igantius Pele can connect with his customers and suppliers. Image: Kelvin Juma/Ashden

“When I faced all those challenges and I succeeded, then I said ‘okay, I shall build something that can also support others so that more people can also graduate from the refugee camp,” Tshilomba said.

His solution was cheap internet powered by solar, making it 70 per cent cheaper than usual. Refugees living in the camp had their first opportunity to connect to unlimited internet.

Through Kakuma Ventures, residents can sign up to sell internet subscriptions to their neighbours, and take classes in digital literacy.

It also has a portal where refugees can sell products made in the camp online.

Tshilombo has helped over 1,500 people in the camp gain internet access.

“People look at it as temporary, and yet the refugee life has never been temporary. People have been living in Kakuma refugee camp for more than two decades now,” Tshilombo says.

“Refugees are people who are smart, they work hard. It is really very important for refugees to get connected to the rest of the world so that they can be able to trade with them, to work with them. The refugees should not remain behind.”

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