@Tim_Reutemann and I have a clear vision that binds everything we build. From which carbon projects we take on to the database architecture of the software we use to monitor and verify the work done. It is this: to transform the resource flows under the Paris Agreement into a right accessible to all, not just a privilege for a select few. This vision is deeply rooted in our respective journeys through the diverse realms of climate action.
On one side, there are the expansive, centralized paths led by large organizations. On the other, a network of intricate trails blazed by local communities and individuals.
Our mission with ClimateGains is to reroute streams of finance from the former to the latter, ensuring fairness and justice in environmental stewardship and prosperity.
During COP28, we had the privilege of bringing together a diverse group of individuals, each with their unique expertise and passion for addressing the urgent challenges posed by climate change. Our session convened frontline activists from Uganda and Congo, development bank finance experts, insurance specialists focused on micro-insurance for vulnerable communities, negotiators, and our dedicated ClimateGains team.
As I reflect on our discussions and the parallels with our ClimateGains activities, one thing becomes increasingly clear: the need for rapid and adaptable responses on a climate-destabilized planet.
Individuals and self-organizing informal groups are the key driving force behind effective mitigation, adaptation, and crisis response activities within their communities. But they need support, especially through agile financial mechanisms.
This conviction is rooted in both 1) personal experience and 2) science.
ClimateGains began with a simple act of trust, where funds were sent to activists in Uganda to renovate schools with fuel-efficient kitchens and solar panels.
The process was straightforward: the funder (my co-founder Tim) provided funds for a specific action, renovating schools with fuel-efficient stoves for cooking school meals and solar panels. The activist (Vanessa Nakate) documented their progress through videos sent over WhatsApp, and the cycle continued. This initiative unlocked a process that led to the successful renovation of 70 schools in Uganda.
Guillaume Kalonji, a biologist in Congo, heard about the work in Uganda and reached out to replicate it in schools in his country. We repeated the process.
But when flash floods struck Congo, Guillaume redirected his efforts toward relief work in the community. The funder (now ClimateGains) adapted, providing resources for relief materials and transport. This quick response made a crucial difference, with the informal group led by the activist providing essential aid days head of larger organizations e.g the World Food Program.
This kind of accessibility, flexibility, and speed will become even more critical as we face increasing climate-related challenges. Enter climate finance. We’ve identified the key enabler: Establishing a chain of trust.
Drawing from our experiences on the ground and within institutions, we’re exploring the concept of a Million Activists mechanism to support youth-led activities in mitigation, adaptation, and crisis response. We’re excited to announce that we’re working closely with a major development bank on this initiative. Stay tuned for updates in a future post!
When it comes to tackling climate change, the academic world often looks at what’s called ‘Complex Adaptive Systems’ (CAS) to find solutions. These systems are like a busy city or a bustling ant colony — where everything is connected, and each part can learn and adapt. And yet individuals intuitively follow simple heuristics through the maze towards a collective vision.
Let’s break down this concept to understand how it can help us achieve our climate goals.
- The Power of Diversity: Heterogeneity in Complex Systems
What It Means: Just like a team with different skills can solve problems better, diverse systems in nature or society are stronger and more adaptable. Think of a forest with many types of trees versus one with just a single species.
Climate Action Implication: We should encourage a mix of people with different backgrounds and ideas to participate in climate initiatives. This diversity leads to more creative solutions and makes our efforts more resilient to change.
You can only determine the properties of a complex world by combining data from multiple perspectives. The key to our collaboration is building consensual, honest and trusting relations across crews of high perspective density. Even large, well-consulted democratic groups are not able to integrate a perspective missing from all its members.
This effect is dangerous and has lead to serious harm done by climate projects in the past. We acknowledge the Paris Agreement as the best effort we have ever witnessed to address the problem of perspective diversity for global support programs and thus do our best to adhere to its standards.
- Expect the Unexpected: Nonlinearity and Unpredictability
- What It Means: In CAS, small changes can lead to big results, and it’s hard to predict what will happen next. It’s like when a small rumor spreads rapidly and becomes big news or when a butterfly wing splash triggers a tornado.
- Climate Action Implication: Our climate strategies need to be flexible. We should be ready to quickly adapt to new information or unexpected environmental changes. Do not rely on detailed, long-term deterministic models for your decision making process.
- From Small Beginnings: Self-Organization and Emergence
- What It Means: Sometimes, order and new properties emerge on their own from the chaos. Think of how birds flock together without a leader or solidarity networks spring up everywhere after an environmental disaster.
- Climate Action Implication: We should support local, community-led climate actions and build networks between them. These grassroots efforts and their interactions can lead to innovative solutions that we might not have thought of before.
- Everything is Connected: Connectivity and Interdependence
- What It Means: Everything in a CAS is linked, so a change in one part can affect the whole system. It’s like a domino effect.
- Climate Action Implication: Our climate actions should consider the big picture, working across different areas and regions to tackle interconnected issues. However, at the same time each of them is a humble step in a much larger dance.
- Learning to Adapt: Adaptation and Learning
- What It Means: CAS can learn from experiences and change accordingly. It’s like how people learn from their mistakes.
- Climate Action Implication: We need to continually learn from our past climate actions and use that knowledge to improve our future strategies. As we work for the public benefit, we keep real-time logs of our work and share those freely as open data.
- Consistent Patterns: Scaling in Complex Systems
- What It Means: While CAS are unpredictable in detail, they have persistent patterns re-occouring through them. Some of these patterns stay the same, even as they grow or shrink in size - those are fractals - like the shape of the point of branching on a tree is oddly similar from the branching twigs to the trunk splitting into the crown.
- Climate Action Implication: Effective local climate solutions can often be expanded or modified for use in wider areas, taking advantage of such scale-consistent patterns.
- The Role of Feedback: Feedback Loops
- What It Means: Feedback loops in CAS can either amplify a process (positive feedback) or keep it stable (negative feedback). Controlling such loops is like turning up the music in a party or lowering it to keep the noise in check.
- Climate Action Implication: We should build climate strategies that constantly check and adjust themselves based on how well they are working and at what stage of growth they are.
Understanding complex adaptive systems teaches us that we need diverse, flexible, and learning approaches to handle the interconnected and often unpredictable nature of our world. By applying these principles, our strategies to mitigate and adapt to climate change can be more resilient, responsive, and ultimately, more effective.
We place our faith in the power of local ingenuity and commit to supporting it through Carbon Projects and appropriate processes and tools for resource allocation, Monitoring, Verification and Reporting.
We set three constraints to guide our efforts:
- Accessible to any young person with a mobile phone
- Compliant with the Paris Agreement
- Open Source everything
It turns out that the tech is the least complex part. Both tech we use for the emissions reduction work on the ground, and the digital tools we custom build in-house to support our work. Even the AI stuff is trivial.
The hard part is in building the backend processes of unlocking climate resources. Let’s call this democracy-hacking. And it requires a deep understanding of legal frameworks, geopolitics, finance, public administration, grassroots activism, communication skills, community engagement, deep knowledge of economic theory and history, tech policy and information politics, cultural literacy, design skills and a large diverse network of trusted allies.
Also, a clean track record helps - as in not having done anything misaligned with principles of environmental justice in your career.
It took us two years of hands-on work building on our life long idiosyncratic professional histories to get here - but it seems we have succeeded.
By channeling resources towards these grassroots paths, ClimateGains is not just funding projects; we are accelerating movements. We are setting a new precedent where finance follows momentum, speeding up every community’s journey to shape sustainable futures that work for them.
Understanding complex adaptive systems is key to effective climate action. It teaches us that we need diverse, flexible, and learning approaches to handle the interconnected and often unpredictable nature of our world. By applying these principles, our strategies to mitigate and adapt to climate change can be more resilient, responsive, and ultimately, more effective.
This was a first attempt at weaving together different threads that have shaped how we build ClimateGains projects and tech.
Looking forward, ClimateGains is steadfast in its vision for a democratized climate finance landscape. Our goal is a world where the fight against climate change is inclusive, just, and effective, powered by the collective strength of communities globally.
Any reflections or questions you might care to share are very helpful in helping us all learn together!