16 climate projects that are actually making a difference, according to the UN

Preserving forest in Peru is one project’s aim.
Preserving forest in Peru is one project’s aim.
Image: AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd
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There’s likely to be plenty of tension in the air when representatives of the world’s governments gather in Paris next month for a global conference on mitigating climate change. The United Nations said this morning that the plans offered so far won’t limit warming to the dangerous 2ºC threshold.

But, perhaps determined to show where progress has been made, the UN plans at the conference to honor 16 projects around the world that it says have made a genuine difference. The projects, which come from grassroots organizations to multinationals, are “some of the most innovative, scalable, and replicable examples of what people are doing to address climate change,” according to the UN:

  • Tens of thousands of pay-as-you-go solar units, developed by a UK company, are now powering homes in 11 sub-Saharan countries.
  • Pollution resulting from industrial processes is a major problem in Colombia. A program there is creating networks of women and providing training in better techniques for industries like water, sewage, and construction.
  • Many people in sub-Saharan Africa have to heat and boil water by burning wood and charcoal, which is polluting and dangerous. A Swedish inventor created a solar-powered container that can do it using the power of the sun.
  • Cities in emerging economies can be more vulnerable to climate change than those in the developed world. An initiative in Latin America and the Caribbean helps them adapt by sharing research and expertise.
  • Researchers from Stanford and an American NGO are helping farmers in rural Benin irrigate dry land with solar-powered pumps.
  • An electricity company that produces 27% of El Salvador’s power using geothermal energy is helping women living next to the geothermal fields to use wasted heat for commercial fruit-drying and agriculture.
  • A social enterprise in the Netherlands is making “fair” phones, opening up the supply chain and seeking to make a positive impact in the industries involved like mining, design, and manufacturing.
  • Women in the north of Guinea have formed collectives to protect vulnerable mangroves. They’re planting fast-growing trees and using solar power to dry fish instead of burning wood from the areas.
  • A fund-management company is providing loans to Peruvian cocoa farmers on the condition that they don’t deforest land and that they replant trees. The fund finances the loans using the credits for carbon that the projects itself saves.
  • Microsoft is honoured for introducing an internal carbon fee. Under the system, departments have to reduce carbon emissions but also offset the remainder by donating to carbon-offset community projects. (The entire UN project that made the awards, called Momentum for Change, is in part supported by the Bill & Melinda Gates foundation started by Microsoft’s founder).
  • Transportation in the US is responsible for 27% of carbon emissions. A network of electric vehicle charging stations, and fast chargers on busy routes, is helping make electric cars a viable choice.
  • A project in Uganda sends weather-related information to 100,000 farmers using mobile phones, helping them to plan in the face of changing climate conditions.
  • The world’s largest pump manufacturer created a system to collect, store, and clean water, which people then pay for onsite or using mobile phone credit at stations across Kenya and Uganda.
  • A project centred on Pacific islands like Tonga and Samoa is providing information about rising sea levels to countries most affected by them. They can then identify and plan for the communities most at risk.
  • A Berlin-based company has found a way to replace diesel generators, kerosene, and wood with solar systems in 30,000 homes in Rwanda and Tanzania.
  • In India, waste-pickers have been trained to identify and dispose of “e-waste” like mobile phones and computers. The initiative, by an Indian non-governmental organization, limits dangerous disposal and helps waste-pickers up their incomes.