Reflecting on Climathon 2015

Time to reflect at the end of our 28 week Climathon 2015 journey…

As I travel towards London on the Eurostar, after our 3-day #Climathon winners’ event, held in Paris during the UN COP21, the down-time allows me to reflect back on our 28 week Climathon journey! …and what a ride it has been!

But first, what is Climathon 2015, and why the focus on cities?

Climathon 2015 is Climate-KIC’s first ever global 24-hour hackathon-style climate innovation initiative, and part of Climate-KIC’s Journey to Paris campaign. Climathon officially kicked-off with a globally coordinated hack that took place simultaneously in 20 global cities on 18 June 2015.

Best practice exchange was a key global tool in the run up to the global event, as each global city set about identifying a key challenge that their city faced on climate change. Each city was then supported to organise their city-level hacks. The aim of the hack was that innovative solutions could be brainstormed to help mitigate or adapt the city to climate change. Each hack attracted a diverse range of participants, from city officials, citizens, climate and business experts whilst each city provided data and experts to be on hand to help the teams stimulate solutions. The following two quotes highlight how innovative ideas were born. First, from Wellington city lead, Silvia Zurr, New Zealand: 

“….The time pressure, the global connections, knowledge sharing, and Climate-KIC’s support all created a perfect environment for fresh innovative ideas to be born

Daniel Dias, City Lead for Sao Paulo, Brazil [USP Innovation Agency] sums this stage up as:
“The hackathon was a great opportunity to see how people can be connected and organized so fast to address a common global challenge. The opportunity to work and share knowledge and tips with different teams from different countries and identify how different approaches can be developed in a short space of time, considering the distances, time zones and mindsets, was fantastic!”

Post-hack, the teams with the best global ideas, entered a 5-month coaching trajectory to help develop their ideas into viable solutions for their cities. The best global solutions, judged by Climate-KIC in October, were invited to Paris during COP21, to present their innovative ideas to the international stage, in front of leading city, climate and business experts. The 12 global city winners (now may be a good time to take a deep breath!) were: Addis Ababa, Beijing, Boston, Canberra, Copenhagen, Frankfurt, London, Sao Paulo, Walbrych, Washington, Wellington and Winterthur.

Cities contribute over 70% of global carbon emissions, and further, 70% of the world’s population are expected to live in cities by 2050. City-level action is, therefore, urgently needed – at speed and scale (World Bank; 2010). Cities are a key innovation theme for Climate-KIC and the focus of Climathon 2015. Climathon 2015 aims to stimulate, drive and empower global citizens to take direct climate action in their local cities whilst accelerating and scaling up global climate innovations. The following quote, from a participant in Ethiopia, highlights the success of Climathon 2015, in engaging with global citizens to encourage direct climate action:

“I like the idea of pooling people to spread ideas and make partnerships. I like the part you kick-start ideas to make our city a better place”

As I settle back on my Eurostar seat, and the Eiffel Tower becomes a distant landmark behind me, I reflect back to the early days around April which saw the final rounds of global city recruitment. The excitement and buzz, as we connected and recruited global cities, such as Sao Paulo, Wellington and Addis Ababa was infectious….as well as, a challenge! My Eurostar coffee is a definite reminder of the different global time zones as we increasingly skyped in the run up to the event!

Beijing, China
Beijing, China

As the train enters the pitch black tunnel at Calais, at high speed, and with the light at the end of the tunnel being Dover, I can’t but help think of some of the similarities of how our participants felt at the start and the end of their hacks, as participant, Deepti Roy, from Frankfurt describes:

“The Climathon has been an amazing experience! … At first I was wondering what to expect [i.e. … entering the black tunnel] …. so many different people in a room, and so little time… are you supposed to come up with an idea that can really create impact? …But when we sat together in our group, it just clicked. In the morning we realised, ‘we have it!’ [i.e. … the light at the end of the tunnel].”

As my fellow Eurostar passengers and I finally relish the daylight of Dover, I recall that many cultures celebrate with the festival of light. A great time, therefore, to reflect on the many celebrations of Climathon 2015!

First amongst our objectives was to recruit a minimum of 6 global cities to geographically scale climate innovation solutions. We, however, surpassed our original objective 3-fold through recruiting 20 cities across 6 continents.

We were also keen to raise Climate-KIC’s global outreach and, through Climathon 2015, we partnered with 55 partners, including the George Washington University (USA), Ethiopia Climate Innovation Centre and the City of Copenhagen (Denmark). The following quote highlights successful global outreach to deliver climate impact:

 “Climathon has been the impetus for a group of innovators, experts, and public stewards in Washington DC to come together. Already the teams have formulated four possible public-private partnerships that provide creative business models to address food waste and loss in the city, and thus the ensuing impacts on climate change are mitigated. We were inspired and motivated by our counterparts in cities around the world. That global momentum has helped us think about new ways to redirect food waste into valuable resources.” Meghan Chapple, Director of Sustainability, George Washington University, Washington DC, USA.

Walbrych, Poland

Our aim was also to sign up at least 180 city participants to take direct climate action in their cities. We exceeded these original expectations with a significant increase in geographical scale of over 930 citizens. This included citizens in developing countries, at high risk of climate change but low opportunity for direct climate action, such as the following participant from Addis Ababa in Ethiopia:

“Climathon gave us as young people a chance to create innovative ideas to solve climate change related challenges of the city…. There are many people and researchers who have innovative ideas but lack the opportunity to present their ideas. So this is a great opportunity to explore new ideas”.

Another objective was to raise awareness and engagement in climate action. Through our marketing campaign, #Climathon trended on 18 June on twitter! Becoming short-listed in the Edie Sustainability Leadership Awards 2015, as finalists, was also another big achievement for the team.

Helsinki, Finland
Helsinki, Finland

Further, media coverage has increased our aim of spreading climate action and Climate-KIC’s profile, as the following quote from Hana Domagala, Climate-KIC Outreach Manager for Poland, highlights:

“The energy and media awareness of this initiative was huge in Walbrzych and allowed us to bring climate change to the forefront of a city in transition. Even, the Mayor of Walbrzych himself noted that this type of public collaboration is invaluable and worthy of repeating.” Hana Domagala, Outreach Manager, Climate-KIC, Poland.

Our key aim has been to stimulate global idea generation and coach solutions with climate impact. In October, our 12 best global solutions were announced and invited to a special 3 night #Climathon programme in Paris between 3-6 December during the UN talks. Solutions ranged from encouraging the uptake of cycling (Cycle Boks; Copenhagen) to new public-private partnerships to reduce food waste (Washington), as well as, consumer gamification apps to encourage energy-efficiency (Fräpp).

 A special part of the 3-night programme was a pitch training boot camp (Friday 4 December) to help participants fine-tune their pitches in readiness for their more formal presentations at the Grand Palais on Saturday 5 December. The setting, with the Eiffel Tower in the background, provided an inspirational backdrop. It obviously did the trick! The step-change in the participants’ pitches between the two days was a real achievement for all the participants.


After the #Climathon winners’ had presented their formal 2 minute business pitches, the next part of the event was an interactive element for the audience to walk around to each team to present feedback. This also included the audience voting for a “best audience award” for the best pitch using their ‘golden ticket’ opportunity!


….and the winner? Addis Ababa, with WAT Green Business!

WAT Green Business specializes in designing and implementing a creative, conscientious, and cost-effective means of river or stream reclamation and buffer zone development and protection, while enhancing their ecological and recreational property value.

Winner, Tadesse Alemu

There were also two runners up:

London with AirPublic

…. AirPublic aims to build networks of mobile sensors producing organic, reliable, real-time information on air quality that reflects the movements and lives of everyday people. The mission of AirPublic is to provide cities and citizens with more dynamic, granular and representative air pollution data than is currently available. This data is expected to be produced by pollution sensors attached to mobile moving units (for example, hire bike schemes or bike couriers) and published as Open Data.



Washington with Raw Food Rescue

…. Raw Food Rescue is a logistics management private-public partnership devoted to rescuing and redistributing food waste from commercial and residential sectors in Washington DC. Raw Food Rescue offer same-day food recovery by crowdsourcing volunteer food rescuers close to commercial donors, such as restaurants and grocers, and offer incentives for regular and continual participation.


As news emerged, of the first draft Accord, in record time, from the UN COP21 talks on Saturday night, an air of optimism could be felt flowing through the streets of Paris! ….. In fact, my phone was already buzzing post-event with requests from the audience to help connect our teams to their networks to further their ideas.

As the Eurostar, sped through Kent, the ‘Garden of England’, my mind began to turn towards home comforts, a nice cup of tea and lots of sleep! I was nearly at the end of my enjoyable journey reflecting on Climathon 2015!

But for the Climathon winners, their journeys are just beginning! The new connections, feedback and fine-tuned pitches resulting from Climathon 2015 will help them to continue their entrepreneurial journeys well into the future!

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