Madrid, Spain – A “green zone” at Madrid’s COP25 climate summit is dedicated to showcasing innovative projects and encouraging dialogue among direct action groups in relation to fighting climate change.
All participants – ranging from businesses to indigenous groups to local governments – have to answer one overriding question: what actions are you taking to help achieve the United Nations’ goal for a carbon-neutral planet by 2050?
From bladeless windpower to low-intensity cattle farming, Al Jazeera presents five of the most interesting proposals talked about inside the 3,000 square-metres “green zone” of the climate summit in the Spanish capital.
Bladeless wind turbines
For David J Yanez, a University of Valladolid graduate, it was the 1940 footage showing the Tacoma Narrow bridge collapsing in high winds that inspired him to look at the possibility of designing bladeless windpower turbines.
These are turbines where the entire structure oscillates in the wind, while the motor to convert wind to energy is inside its column.
“Not only is it very cheap to make, oil-less and low-maintenance, tests suggest each structure will last longer than 15 or 20 years, all of which I think is a very useful contribution to the fight against climate change,” says Yanez, who hopes to commercialise bladeless windpower by launching his own business in the next two to three years.
“It’s also silent and does far less damage to birds than normal wind turbines,” adds the 43-year-old.
One million signatures
“2050 is too late!” declares Paola, a member of Juventud por el Clima, a youth movement for climate spanning the whole of Spain.
Instead, Paola says, the group is seeking to get “a million signatures for the European Climate Emergency Declaration for a reduction of 80 percent of carbon in 2030″.
Along with launching such initiatives, Juventud por el Clima also organises demonstrations every Friday and holds talks in schools, street theatre performances and workshops, according to its members who are at pains to emphasise that helping create a carbon-neutral planet is anything but boring.
As Blanca, another member points out, sometimes when acting alone it’s difficult to see a global effect. “But when you’re in a big group doing things like planting trees, helping something living to grow and knowing that’s going to consume CO2 – that works.”
From biowaste to bioplastic
In the European Union, more than 100 million tonnes of biowaste are thrown away each year and 75 percent goes to landfill or is incinerated, producing greenhouse gases and costing 143 billion euros ($158bn).
Rather than turning biowaste into compost, one groundbreaking solution being proposed by the EU cities of Kozani, Madrid, Albano Laziale and Lund, alongside waste management companies and technology developers, is the transformation of biowaste products such as urban sewage into high value-added products including bioplastics and foodstuffs.
How does it work?
“We use micro-organisms that break down the residue to grow and at the same time act as ‘factories’ to produce products that would otherwise come from fossil fuels,” says David Sanchez, who works for Spain’s National Centre for Renewable Energies.
“Not all bioplastics are themselves then biodegradable, but we’re focussing our research on developing those that are.”
From streets to courts
A Mexican activist in his early 30s, Max Trejo, has been on what he calls “both sides of the fence”: protesting for the environment and civil rights outside official public buildings, but also, as he and his association do now, concentrating on the creation of specific legal documents focused on improving those rights within a country’s established constitution and legislation.
“Our central demand and proposal is to create legally binding international agreements [about the environment] decided by and for young people,” says Trejo, the secretary-general for the Organismo Internacional de Juventud Iberoamerica (International Ibero-Americana Youth Organisation).
“Young people in our association want everything from climate issues to human rights to be included in a legal framework, because we feel that the one isn’t possible without the other.
“That way, too, governments are legally obliged to listen harder to our proposals.”
Cows for climate change
If most people are asked to name a nature-based solution for climate change, they will likely name modern-day renewable energy sources such as wind power.
But according to Ana Carricondo, the head of conservation at Spanish NGO SEO-Birdlife, some nature-based solutions that were used for centuries and are now returning to modern-day agriculture can make an important difference in the battle against climate change, too.
“To put it simply, the practice, which is getting increased numbers of EU grants, involves farming cattle and other livestock across several fields over several years, not just one,” Carricondo says.
“By allowing fields to lie fallow for at least two years, when the grass grows back, the field to acts as a carbon ‘sink’, maximising absorption of CO2.”
But there is more to it than that.
By spreading livestock across greater areas of land, vegetation is kept at a lower level in general and therefore reduces the risk of forest fires – also helping climate change.