Building a More Climate-Resilient Future for the Poor: Themes from TEDxAcumen

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In November, Acumen hosted TEDxAcumen in connection with TED Countdown, a global initiative to champion and accelerate solutions to the climate crisis. The goal of TEDxAcumen was to amplify the intersection of poverty and climate change and to highlight the need for investment in adaptation and resilience–along with mitigation. The event brought together more than one hundred people from the Acumen community to explore what it will take to build a more climate-resilient future for the poor. Watch the talks from TEDxAcumen here.

Climate change is having devastating effects around the world, especially for the poor. While the poor are the least responsible for climate change, they are the most vulnerable to its impacts. Climate change is threatening livelihoods, homes, food security and health. While billions of dollars are being invested in climate mitigation, less is being invested in climate adaptation and resilience, especially in poor communities.

While Acumen has already been investing in social enterprises that support climate adaptation and resilience for the poor, we are determined to do more. At TEDxAcumen, we shared Acumen’s preliminary climate plan.

In addition, and thanks to the contributions of social entrepreneurs and climate leaders, TEDxAcumen had the following key themes:

Combatting Poverty and Climate Change at the Same Time

Emiliano Mroue, co-founder and CEO of WARC Group, shared how smallholder farmers can improve their output and sequester carbon by adopting regenerative agriculture techniques, such as no-till planting, continuous crop rotation, and cover cropping. Regenerative agriculture is a practice that increases the organic matter and overall health of soils. Mroue explained, “The 500 million smallholder farmers in Africa have the potential to store over 5 gigatons of carbon for centuries to come. They can mitigate climate change while producing the food that an ever-growing population needs.”

Providing off-grid solar energy to poor, rural communities can deliver significant mitigation benefits as well. Off-grid solar provides clean, safe and affordable energy to communities living in poverty while eliminating the use of fossil fuels, such as kerosene, which pose a risk to the health of both people and the planet. As Per Heggenes, CEO of the IKEA Foundation, shared, “Clean energy is a lifeline for millions of people. It’s a catalyst to ensure a bright, prosperous and healthy future for generations to come.” Acumen’s Pioneer investments in off-grid solar, made possible by support from leading partners such as the IKEA Foundation, have avoided more than 42 million tons of carbon emissions to date, equivalent to avoiding the emissions from 9 million passenger cars each year.

Investing in Solutions that Support the Adaptation and Resilience of Poor Communities

Tamer El-Raghy, who leads Acumen’s resilient agriculture initiative, shared how extreme weather patterns are already threatening the livelihoods of smallholder farmers in East Africa, who faced drought in 2017, severe flooding in 2018, and no dry season in 2019. He explained, “Climate change is a fact of life, and we need to help those most affected by climate change.” Tamer and his team invest in three types of agricultural businesses that help farmers become more resilient to the impacts of climate change: aggregators, which are companies that are providing bundled one-stop shopping solutions for smallholder farmers; agritech businesses that are providing digital solutions and support for smallholder farmers; and innovative financial services for smallholder farmers facing our changing climate.

Combining Moral Imagination with Entrepreneurship to Solve Big Problems

While climate change is a daunting challenge, there is ample reason for hope. Social entrepreneurs are pioneering innovative solutions that are helping poor communities adapt to the challenges ahead. One such entrepreneur is Carlos Ignacio Velasco Castrillon, co-founder and CEO of Cacao de Colombia. In his home country of Colombia, thousands of smallholder coffee farmers are at risk of losing their sole source of income as their farms are at altitudes where coffee is no longer viable because of the impacts of climate change. His company, Cacao de Colombia, is working in partnership with the Colombian Coffee Growers’ Federation to help these farmers adapt by switching to the cultivation of cacao. He hopes to help switch thousands of hectares to cacao to ensure farmers have a reliable source of income. And he is only getting started. As Carlos noted, “Our job is far from finished; Colombia is a big country. Cacao has the ability to help farmers adapt to the harsh reality of climate change, a reality they probably have little responsibility for, but for which they are paying a very high price.”

Reimagining Capitalism to Tackle Climate Change

Change will require a reallocation of risk and reward, especially as it pertains to the poor.  Markets must be truly fair. Governments cannot allow companies to emit greenhouse gases into the atmosphere to the detriment of the most vulnerable. Companies must begin to measure success not just by shareholder returns but by how their stakeholders fare: customers, employees, suppliers, shareholders and the earth itself. Government, corporations and philanthropy should work together to rise to this collective challenge of climate change.

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