The climate solutions making life better for people and the planet

These grassroots groups are ready to go with climate solutions and can help build a better world, despite politicians making promises at COP26

“Next to our home”, says Ugandan development worker Noah Ssempijja, “we had a forest. It was a beautiful place to be as a child. The forest was then cut. It was the most tragic moment. The village tried to stop the cutting but a rich man was more powerful than them. This story has been played out many times in Uganda… and in the world.”

It’s a salutary tale, told against a background of strong words here at COP26 on the need to halt forest destruction. But it’s one story with a positive outcome. Spurred by the loss of his home forest, Ssempijja now works to help some of Uganda’s poorest, particularly young women, to farm in a way which gives them healthy food, including surplus produce to earn much-needed cash – and, crucially, conserves soils so that there’s no need to cut more forest to make a living. 

It’s an achievement that saw his organisation, YICEWin a coveted job AshdenAt a ceremony in Glasgow, the award was presented. These awards recognize pioneering organizations that reduce carbon emissions and build a better world. 

Uganda’s neighbour, the Democratic Republic of Congo, is home to the world’s largest expanse of intact rainforest outside the Amazon. But it is also under threat. Hope is possible in the remote region of Mai Dombe located 300km north the capital Kinshasa. Studies have shown that indigenous peoples having rights to their forest homelands is the best way to ensure its protection. Mai Dombe, Congolese NGO Mbou Mon TourYou can do exactly that. 

Set up by village chiefs, it has succeeded in winning ‘community forest concessions’,  which give people rights to their local forests – along with the responsibility to keep them intact. Like YICE, Mbou Mon Tour helps them improve farming practices so that they no longer need to use ‘slash-and-burn’ methods. Many of those they work with are women – like Adeline Ngamombele.

“I now have a garden,” she says. “I grow cassava, corn and sweet potatoes… I can feed myself and my children”. Other villagers have set up eco-tourism enterprises, focused around the rare bonobo ape, boosting both their prospects and the creature’s chances of survival.

Another Ashden winner is from Uganda: Female entrepreneurs are the heart of Ashden’s Uganda. New Energy Nexus. It allows women to access finance and training so that they can purchase clean cookstoves and solar lanterns. Then, they can then sell them at a reasonable price within their communities. It’s created over 650 jobs – 70 per cent of them filled by women.

Also, the focus is on supporting women Bharatiya Vikas TrustIndian organization that assists women entrepreneurs in obtaining finance to start small businesses powered by renewable energy. The trust trains bank employees to see the potential in green technologies. This gives women the confidence to borrow money, which allows them to earn a decent living.

Can the sun keep you cool? 

Another of this year’s Ashden winners asks an unusual question: can the sun keep you cool? Importantly, can the sun keep your medicines and vaccines at a suitable temperature? The answer is an emphatic ‘yes’ from African enterprise Solar Freeze, set up by a young Kenyan, Dysmus Kisilu. It harnesses solar power to provide affordable cooling in challenging locations like Kakuma, site of Kenya’s largest refugee camp, with over 200,000 residents. Not only is this helping store vital vaccines against Covid, yellow fever and measles; it’s also selling small freezers to local shops, providing the relief of cold drinks in a hot climate.

Climate solutions

Sometimes it’s the simple solutions that have the biggest impact – like painting roofs white. Image: Ashden

Overheating world: Cooling down is the main focus Mahila Housing Trust. Based in Gujarat – one of India’s climate hotspots – it’s helping women cool their homes through simple but strikingly effective methods such as heat-reflecting roof paint, and replacing swelteringly hot ‘tin’ roofs with cool (and sustainable) bamboo alternatives. It can make all of the difference for women like Savita Pantdey, a Surat woman whose summer temperatures can reach 48C. In a room with a steel roof, she runs a small business from her home.

“During summer”, she says, “we had dizziness, vomiting and fever. I would get tired and have to close my shop in afternoons. The [roof] made the shop too hot to stay in.” With her new bamboo replacement, she says, “I can comfortably sit inside my shop in the hot afternoon.”

Retrofit Challenge 

In the UK, keeping warm is a higher priority, especially for those who live in cold areas. With gas boilers due to be phased out, much of the focus has been on air-source heat pumps: but there’s another pump on the block – the ground-source variety. Cornish-based Kensa GroupIt has been developed a version that is both affordable and efficient enough to be used in a wide range of homes, even those in tower blocks. It could be the perfect heating solution for the UK, which is struggling to achieve net zero goals. 

Retrofitting millions more homes to meet that target is an integral part of achieving it. That means training a workforce equipped for the task – something which has been shamefully neglected over the years. (Around 90,000. engineers are trained to install gas boilers. But, only 1,000 are trained in heat pumps.

Climate solutions

Manchester’s Carbon Co-op equips builders with the skills to make homes greener. Image: Ashden

Manchester’s Carbon Co-opErol Tongue, one of the ‘graduates’ of the workshop, says that it is trying to change that by providing retrofit training workshops for builders. Among its 1,000 or so ‘graduates’ is Erol Tongue, who says: “Lots of contractors still see [retrofit]Retrofit is a strange science. Retrofit must be accepted as a normal practice. A lot of contractors would be interested if it was explained in a physical sense.”

Edinburgh is the home of the Ashden winner closest from the COP26 summit. Here, The WelcomingIt lives up to its name by helping refugees who have recently arrived in the country. Its ‘Welcoming a Greener Future’ programme mixes English language training with climate change awareness, plus practical tips on energy efficiency and an allotment where refugees can grow food and share cooking skills.

It was a revelation for Tarek, a Syrian refugee, who had never been to the UK to garden before. “I found out I have green fingers! It also helped me with my neighbours – one neighbour who works as a gardener came to speak to me [on the allotment]Now we are friends. Growing my own food saves me a lot of money – and my children eat fresh veg every day. I share the food that I grow with the Syrian community and my street, and also provide food for the church. We invite our neighbors to a big barbecue that my wife hosts. [One] jokes they almost don’t need to go shopping!”

Main image: The Congolese NGO Mbou Mon Tour has given people in the Democratic Republic of Congo the ability to protect the rainforests. Credit: Ashden