Global trends emerge from citizens’ solutions at Climathon 2020

Global Climathon Trends 2020 (1)

From San Francisco to Manila, an outpouring of local climate-positive ideas were collected in the weeks following Global Climathon Day 2020. 

Over 4,500 citizens from 100 cities generated more than 500 solutions for tackling systemic climate issues that ranged from the circular economy to sustainable food sourcing. 

While the challenges varied from city to city, an overwhelming majority of solutions were data-driven, taking the form of apps, or mobile and web-based platforms. Here are the most common citizen-driven local solutions:

1. Using gamification or rewards schemes to positively affect individuals’ behaviours in exchange for discounts, credits, or money put toward sustainable community projects. 

2. A push for the sharing economy, or peer-to-peer exchanges, where both parties benefit from sharing knowledge or resources.

3. Ideas generated for a post-pandemic green recovery to create quick impact for tomorrow’s challenges. 

A deep dive into the data revealed similar climate challenges tied to specific geographical regions. Our analysis suggests continental trends stretching all four corners of the globe. 

Europe: Repurposing existing infrastructures


With limited space for building new infrastructure, it should come to no surprise that some of Europe’s most historic cities are undergoing sustainable facelifts. 

In fact, improving the energy efficiency of public infrastructures is a top priority for the European Union’s goal of creating 100 carbon neutral cities by 2030.

Commercial and residential buildings account for over 30% of all our carbon emissions through heat loss, electricity demand, and embedded carbon. Retrofitting these properties can deliver immediate economic benefits through the creation of jobs and investment in local communities.

Londoners were asked to develop zero-carbon communities through buildings, infrastructure, and green spaces by incorporating elements such as solar power, smart meters, and rooftop gardens.

The municipality of Murcia, Spain challenged participants to replace its grey infrastructure with green infrastructure through nature-based solutions. For example, the team PAVISOS proposed building bike lanes with geopolymers created from natural waste (rice husk ash, pruning remains, and bricks) with photoluminescent capacity and the technology to capture and eliminate carbon and nitrogen.

Team Eco-Nest from Trondheim, Norway pitched repurposing World War II bunkers as innovative business spaces for economic growth. 

The solution from Stuttgart, Germany that landed the top prize for the “Most Innovative Idea of 2020” involved a community-driven investment platform to facilitate the growth of green building projects. Users can easily search for sustainable investment opportunities in their local area such as installing a solar roof on a tennis court or upgrading building refurbishments. 

The World Energy Council argues that in order to ensure a successful energy transition, existing energy infrastructure and its repurposing potential must be part of today’s long-term planning and strategic dialogue. 

Europe-based Climathons are taking such discussions one step further by offering an environment for innovation and national collaboration. 

Africa: Tackling waste management 

A key challenge for Africa is low sanitation levels due to poor waste management practices including the widespread polluting of water bodies and uncontrolled dumpsites. 

According to the Africa Waste Management Outlook published by UNEP, there exists an urgent need for the continent to address this problem as they prepare for significant growth in waste generation as its population explodes.

In turn, many African communities are searching for ways to turn waste into resources. In Ghana’s capital of Accra, Climathon participants developed solutions to effectively sort, reduce, and divert waste away from landfills while creating economic benefits in the process.

The UN’s National Report for Ghana states that 12,000 metric tones of finished plastic products are imported annually into the country, compounding the plastic waste problem in the country. 

To combat this crisis, one group of students pitched "Develop Me”, a community-based project for improving plastic waste management in peri-urban areas within the Greater Accra Region. The initiative aims to target teenagers using a three-step method: sensitisation, education, and adaptation. 

The local organiser behind Climathon Accra, Emmanuel Danso, encouraged teams to implement digitalisation into the waste management supply chain. Danso leverages technology in his own waste management service, using a mobile platform that connects users to local waste collectors with the goal of facilitating environmentally sound disposal and recycling.

The team Nwura digitalised the collection of segregated domestic waste through a mobile-based application that organises pickups requests between Households and Recyclers. The participating parties are rewarded with credits that support local education and health initiatives.

Asia: Creating food security


In January, UN agencies warned that worsening inequalities triggered by the economic impact of COVID-19 would fuel malnutrition for billions in Asia and the Pacific. The 2020 report found that 1.9 billion people were unable to afford a healthy diet in this region. 

As progress on food security and nutrition slows, the gap for achieving 'Zero Hunger' widens.

In countries like the Philippines, the government put strict lockdown measures in place, allowing only one person per household to leave home for essential items. This led to episodes of panic-buying at supermarkets and created a sense of food insecurity for all citizens, regardless of income and social class.  

The common question across Southeast Asia was: Will there be enough food? The concern was even greater for the vulnerable communities where the pandemic had cost residents their jobs and livelihoods.

Climathon enabled these citizens to find solutions for the food crisis that they experienced firsthand. The winning team from Pasig City, Philippines proposed a two-part solution: a mobile app that connects people to nearby compost sites and community gardens, plus the implementation of floating farms along the city’s rivers to grow edible crops.

A group of engineering students from the University of Moratuwa in Jaffna, Sri Lanka also found a way to utilise space more efficiently with their idea of a soil-based, fully automated vertical farming technique to produce turmeric

Together, these contributions are inching one step closer to improving food security in Asia.

North America: Decarbonising with green energy

The United States, Canada, and Mexico still lag behind Europe in transitioning to renewables. But, the pressure to play catch-up is pumping billions of dollars into green energy projects. 

On top of that, several regions of North America have proposed decarbonisation targets to accelerate the transition to carbon neutrality. Stretching coast to coast, initiatives like Climathon and the climate challenges it addresses prove that an energy transition is in progress. 

San Francisco challenged participants to develop comprehensive carbon-neutral housing for residents of Central California. Such regenerative housing should be energy positive, modular and replicable, with the capacity to conserve and recycle water, provide healthy food, integrate with existing infrastructure and transport, and be affordable through innovative ownership structures.

Citizens in Mexico City pitched green ideas for lowering the average temperature of the city and reducing the urban heat island phenomena. For example, the team Carbon Power Mexico developed a technology that converts carbon dioxide into highly useful compounds such as ethanol, formic acid, ad ethylene. In this way, the solution helps capture and reduce carbon dioxide emissions while sustainably generating chemical reagents for industries.

Meanwhile, Climathon Houston (USA) set out to become the leader in energy innovation. One of the winning ideas, Houston InnoGrid, proposes a first-of-its-kind resilient renewable energy microgrid within Houston's Innovation Corridor.

South America: Making crowded cities cleaner


From air to land to sea, pollution plagues many of South America’s most densely populated cities. Climate change is only exacerbating the problem with wildfires fueling extremely high air pollution levels.

A 2018 UN Environment report revealed that one-third of all waste generated by Latin American and Caribbean cities ends up in open dumps or in the environment, threatening the health of the population.

In this region known for its colour and culture, the South American Climathon challenges were equally diverse and grounded in their local context. 

Three Argentinian cities - Mendoza, Buenos Aires, and Cordoba - banded together to tackle green mobility with big ambitions to be car-free. Citizens were challenged to come up with ways to reduce car traffic and free up space for greener and more vibrant cities.

In the city of Barranquilla, Columbia, Climathon challenges focused on environmental issues regarding local water resources, such as improving the health of marine, coastal and estuarine ecosystems. For another challenge, participants drew up designs, renderings and business plans for transforming the city and department into sustainable and competitive tourist destinations.

In one of Chile’s most polluted cities, the citizens of Temuco proposed solutions for better air quality through data-driven urban management. The winning solution by Kognicity utilises an urban environmental data visualization platform designed to inform citizens and support the decision-making and prioritisation of strategies against climate change.

A collective effort of local action

The impacts of climate change have no geographical boundaries, and therefore, cities across the world must be the leaders in reducing emissions and increasing biodiversity. 

Climathon is a city-based programme that offers a clear pathway to action and interaction. It’s an opportunity for cities and citizens to co-create local ideas to shared climate challenges.

The programme's success relies on the thousands of engaged citizens and hundreds of local organisers - our Climathon Heroes - who unite for a bigger purpose: helping cities decarbonise their societies and economies. 

Climathon Week 2021 will take place October 25-31. For more information on organising an ideathon in your city or participating in a local climate challenge, sign up to our newsletter.

Thanks to our global partners