Overnight, five female-led climate initiatives were recognised in the 2020 United Nations Global Climate Action Awards announced in Bonn, Germany.
Celebrating individuals and groups across the world who are combating climate change in unique and innovative ways, the projects which were awarded this year show innovative leadership on climate change from businesses and investors across multiple countries.
In total, thirteen awards were presented across three categories: Climate Neutral Now, Women for Results, and Financing for Climate Friendly Investment.
The UN Climate Change Executive Secretary, Patricia Espinosa said the awards should serve to remind the world what continues to be our greatest challenge as a global entity.
“The last eight months have been a nightmare for many throughout the world,” Espinosa said. “COVID-19 has altered lives, economies and the nature of business on every continent—from the largest cities to the smallest villages. It is the most urgent threat facing humanity today, but we cannot forget that climate change is the biggest threat facing humanity over the long term.”
“The convergence of these two crises has opened a window of opportunity to build forward—to build cities and communities that are safe, healthy, green and sustainable. Nothing exemplifies this better than the efforts of our 2020 award-winning activities to address climate change.”
The winners of the Women for Results category include a Brazilian company that has found a way to reuse residual kitchen fats to produce biodiesel, an organisation that reverses deforestation by empowering communities through women-led innovation, and the world’s first all-women solar team from Lebanon that seeks to flip the gender stereotypes in the male-dominated construction sector.
Elemental Excelerator is a Hawaii and California based organisation that applies a technology accelerator model to addressing climate change, investing in startups with the potential to decarbonise companies.
Elemental Excelerator’s CEO, Dawn Lippert believes the best solutions to climate change are also the most inclusive; hence her majority female-led team where gender, racial, and ethnic diversity abounds across their portfolio. In fact, 50 percent of the companies they invest in have female founders and 79 percent have a female on the executive team. Lippert has also established a program for startups designed to increase Equity & Access technology in frontline communities.
In Thailand, Kotchakorn Voraakhom, a landscape architect, is building innovative landscape solutions making Bangkok more resilient to climate change. Her firm has equipped the capital city with public green space and nature-based solutions to increase the city’s resilience, reduce flood risk and improve the well-being of its citizens.
Last year, Voraakhom gave a Ted Talk where she explained how she developed a large park in Bangkok which could hold a million gallons of rainwater. She used the opportunity to call for more climate change solutions that connect cities back to nature. Earlier this year, she was interviewed by Architecture Australia, where she expressed her initial concerns as a landscape architect.
“I felt the client-based approach to sustainable design wasn’t enough – we needed to advocate for and educate the city’s residents about this pressing issue. We use education and capacity-building to increase urban resilience and adaptability. As designers, we have a responsibility to lead. We work hand-in-hand with communities to build sustainable climate solutions, to serve the communities of the future.”
Health In Harmony is an NGO with headquarters in Indonesia, Madagascar, Brazil that aims to reverse deforestation by addressing the health & economic needs of local communities through women-led innovation such as building medical centres with discounts to communities that decrease illegal logging, training former loggers in sustainable agriculture and empowering female farmers to establish effective, longterm reforestation projects.
The organisation’s latest impact report indicated various strategies that worked to combat the spread and management of the COVID-19 pandemic across its three locations. They collaborated with regional government health authorities and community health workers to provide support in developing protocols, communication outreach, and assess effective COVID-19 response strategies.
Its founder, Kinari Webb, developed the vision for Health In Harmony while she was studying orangutans in Borneo over two decades ago. In April this year, she revealed to Mongabay Magazine the importance of ‘radical listening’ in her work as a medical doctor and climate advocate.
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“I have spent the last 15 years trying to help the world understand these intimate interconnections,” she said. “How if we destroy ecosystems and invade into them, and if we continue to trade wild animals around the world, then pandemics from viruses coming out of tropical ecosystems will happen over and over again.”
“Because of the work that we do, I am constantly thinking about how human health, if it’s threatened, can lead to the further destruction of ecosystems. That destruction is harmful locally as well as globally. If there is any shift in the global perspective that can come out of this pandemic, I hope it is to reach a much greater understanding of how we are intimately interconnected with the natural world. It is impossible to separate us.”
“Our whole principle is built around what I call radical listening. We listen to the local community about what the solutions are. We don’t dictate what they should do. Our experience is local communities know exactly what the solutions are. They are just missing resources or opportunities or knowledge. If they have it, they can start a positive spiral of doing better. And do that by honoring the natural world.”
In Brazil, Bioplanet Programme is a female-lead company that repurposes residual kitchen fats to produce biodiesel. Márcia Werle is the company’s founder and president. In the early 2000s, she began to see the need to change the culture of discarding used vegetable oil and expand its uses. Her clients range from industries, cooperatives and associations looking for sustainable energy alternatives. Currently, they have twenty-nine biodiesel plants that use cooking oil collected in homes and restaurants.
“Each month, they consume 440,000 litres of oil and help prevent contamination of 11 billion litres of water,” Werle told Brazilian commerce publication “Pequenas Empresas Grandes Negócios.”
“The added value extends to the surrounding communities, with income generation and environmental education projects. In 2018, Biotechnos’ revenue rose 28 percent and returned to the level before the crisis. In 2019, we want to grow 45 percent and inaugurate the Bioplanet Institute, to support associations that require training and management of self-sustainable operations.”
Finally, we know that in the field of solar energy, men dominate the design, creation and distribution arenas. But in Lebanon, things are changing. RISE2030 is a community-led initiative that launched the first all-women solar team to challenge the gender stereotypes in the male-dominated construction sector.
In the past twelve months, 13 female trainees have worked to install a solar system at a waste sorting recovery facility and have been taught how to install an on-grid solar photovoltaic systems. The project also assisted female-led small businesses to prepare and sell their rural processed food through the women’s association of the town.
UN Secretary-General António Guterres said the winners prove climate action is under way around the world.
“It is exciting to see these climate solutions, which reinforce my call for decisive leadership on climate change by governments, businesses and cities, and for a green recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic,” he said in a statement. “Let us keep pressing ahead to build a more sustainable and equitable future for all.”
Yesterday’s announcement in Germany coincides with a wider effort to garner action as governments across the world work toward implementing the Paris Climate Change Agreement and the Sustainable Development Goals. Gabrielle Ginér, Chair of the Advisory Panel, believes that celebrating the achievements from these groups is urgent to sustaining our fight against climate change.
“It is crucial we celebrate all actors who are leading the way,” she said. “The recipients of the UN Global Climate Action Awards send a strong political signal to all nations – and through their leadership and creativity, we see essential change.”