By Harriet Lamb, Ashden CEO

Around the world, everyday items are unlocking sustainable energy and helping us tackle the growing climate emergency. What turns these humble objects – from spades and fridges to paint pots – into powerful tools for solving our energy challenges? Collaboration, community action and an understanding of local needs.

This week, outstanding climate action by seven people and organisations will be showcased at Seven for 7, an event organised by Sustainable Energy for All in partnership with Ashden. The night will celebrate leadership on Sustainable Development Goal 7, the global drive to bring everyone access to sustainable energy by 2030. We are not yet on track to reach this crucial target. This year Seven for 7 focuses on the links between health and sustainable energy – including work to cool our cities, provide decent healthcare and find alternatives to deadly polluting cookstoves.

Here are seven simple objects these leaders are using to create a better world.

A pot of paint

The New York City CoolRoofs Initiative

A warming world creates huge health risks– particularly in cities, where buildings and roads trap heat to push temperatures ever higher. In New York city authorities, charities, building owners and volunteers are coming together behind a straightforward solution – painting roofs white so they reflect as much heat as possible. Lower temperatures will cut the demand for air conditioning – a big contributor to the climate crisis.

A spade

Medellin Green Corridors Project

Medellin in Colombia has taken a different approach to urban cooling, planting 8,300 trees and 350,000 shrubs along roads and waterways. The vegetation gives shade and absorbs heat. The city has trained marginalised people, including rural migrants and those displaced by conflict, to take on jobs tending the greenery.

A phone

Ahmedabad Heat Action Plan

In 2010 a vicious heatwave caused hundreds of deaths a day in Ahmedabad, India. The city responded with a bold heat action plan, now copied by dozens of other cities. The plan features steps to supply water, prepare hospitals and keep residents informed and updated. One key method is sending ‘red alerts’ to people’s phones when heat is about to become dangerously high.

A fridge

Chhattisgarh State Renewable Energy Development Agency

Lack of reliable energy can stop hospitals running even basic equipment, such as vaccine fridges. This puts people at risk from??entirely preventable diseases. Solar power is a great solution, but systems must be well managed and maintained. In India, a partnership between Chhattisgarh StateRenewable Energy Development Agency and the state health ministry has brought reliable energy to more than 900 clinics – benefiting 80,000 patients a day.

A computer

Philips Community Life Centers

Philips Community Life Centers are taking healthcare to people once a long way from, or unable to afford, treatment. The centres in Kenya and the Democratic Republic of Congo, packed with modern equipment, are partnerships between communities, governments and Philips. Their features include ultrasound scanners, baby resuscitators and electronic record systems – all made possible by reliable solar power.

Plastic tubing

Sisteam.bio

Household air pollution causes up to 4 million deaths a year. Sistema.bio’s low-cost biogas cooking system, powered by animal waste, helps farmers ditch polluting cookstoves that are a major part of this threat – replacing them with a simple system of tough plastic sacks and connecting tubes. It produces a clean gas for cooking and other uses – protecting people’s health and reducing carbon emissions and deforestation, by replacing more polluting alternatives.

A microphone

Samira Bawumia

Honouree Samira Bawumi, the Second Lady of Ghana, is speaking up for those most affected by the danger of polluting cookstoves: women and girls. Last year, she told a global World Health Organization conference that as well as taking on the bulk of the cooking in many families – and so putting themselves at greater risk – they spend long hours gathering firewood for inefficient stoves. She called for political leadership to address this deadly gender inequality.   

What unites our seven – and what’s missing?

Our list shows how people around the world, including the most vulnerable, are taking meaningful climate action, and benefitting from sustainable energy. We won’t solve our energy challenges by wishing for new technology or imposing top-down solutions – we’ll do it by empowering people, giving them the support to lead change in their own communities. This approach will drive a fair shift to a zero-carbon world, where old inequalities are replaced by new, democratic energy systems.

The seven also show the power of partnerships – the Ahmedabad Heat Action Plan sees school teachers, hospital staff, transport workers and many others co-ordinating their efforts to fight a deadly threat – while CREDA’s innovation springs from a ground-breaking budget arrangement with the state health department.

The seven also deliver benefits beyond tackling global warming. Philips Community Life Centers are hubs where people can meet and trade as well as getting healthcare, while Sistema.bio’s cooking solution allows farmers to safely dispose of manure that might otherwise damage the environment.

Crucially, the seven trust local people to deliver change in their own neighbourhoods – whether they are volunteers on the roofs of New York or newly trained gardeners turning Medellin green. Often we need different solutions appropriate to each locality and only local people can find those solutions.