Unliked any conference, Climathon is a call-to-action event taking place in 150 cities around the world at the same time every year, aiming to raise climate awareness, disrupt the status quo and rethink desired futures.
Climathon allows citizens the opportunity to pitch ideas for projects that address climate change, with the most impactful ideas winning cash prizes to finance their projects.
As they know their communities and cities best, local organizers carry the mission to bring people together. In Egypt, the Najma Project organizes Climathon Giza.
“It is the third time Climathon is held in Egypt, but the first time to be hosted in Giza, the only Egyptian governorate that has a climate change adaptation strategy,” Dr. Sawsan el-Awady, the founder of Najma Project, tells Business Today.
In an interview, held via Zoom, Awady explained that Giza’s nature is very diverse, from green patches, sweeping deserts, protectorates, and the Nile River, a microcosm of Egypt’s environmental climate.
As the city-based conference is held in many countries on the same date, November 26-27, 2021, Awady believes this global event offers Egypt a crucial to showcase its progress on the environmental level.
She added, “Egypt already has an ambitious strategy to address climate change, and our role as a civil society organization is to initiate work on problems that have yet to be approached.”
“Climathon is not just a conference that brings politicians and experts together to discuss climate change, it also hosts a competition, which is the core event in the conference, where participants pitch projects that can help reduce the negative impact of climate change,” she continued.
Awady explained that proposed projects could be anything from waste management, renewable energy, or any project that address climate change issues while using green economy or circular strategies.
“The door is open for young people to propose their ideas and engage in warm-up workshops, meeting with climate and entrepreneurship experts ahead of the conference, who help youth professionally compete with sustainable projects that have economic and environmental feasibility,” she said. According to Awady, the winning projects will be funded, and all participants will receive prizes too. Financing mainly comes from the European Union, with the Ministry of Environment and the Federation of the Egyptian Industries funding some projects too.
This year, the event will accept proposal from 15 teams of 3-5 participants.
A running marathon, cycling ride and a forestation campaign are scheduled to take place in October, showcasing the beauty of Giza city ahead of the event.
Climate change not a myth
“This year we have witnessed lots of fires regionally, floods and climate-related incidents, leaving casualties among people and animals… it is unfortunate that there are some people still stick to a narrow focus, and believe climate change is not a reality,” Awady said.
She continued, “climate change is a difficult and harmful reality, … and this was evident in the last UN environment report.”
In November, the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP 26) will be held in Glasgow. At the last summit in Paris in 2015, the world pledged to limit global warming to 1.5 °C.
“I am expecting this year’s summit to take bold steps to drive climate action through states’ policies, but I hope these policies are not only closed-door talks, but rather aim to raise awareness and engage people in the process,” Awady said.
In Egypt, President Abdel Fatah a-Sisi and the Ministry of Environment are paying great attention to environmental issues, Awady said, adding “but people still not aware how climate change could affect their lives, health and even their incomes.”
Atop of Climathon’s discussions agenda come water issues, according to Awady, who said that “many people thought that the major water desalination projects that Egypt is implementing are back-up plans because of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam crisis…but people need to know that Egypt will [also] face a water crisis due to climate change.”
Major projects like water desalination and canal lining to reduce the water loss are great alternative solutions that Egypt is mulling to mitigate water scarcity issues.
“It’s important to convey this message to people about how climate change affects their lives directly. For example, this year, the mango crop was affected by the climate change, and its prices are 30 percent higher than last year,” she explains.
However, Egypt’s new Waste Management System has proven efficient in raising people’s awareness to specific waste that they can recycle more than once, according to Awady, who explained that many citizens are now sending used oil and electronics to be recycled.
Photo of workshops held before Climathon
Awady suggests adding environmental material to schools’ curricula, raising public awareness about environmental issues.
Believing that women play an important role in the environment, Awady founded Najma Project six months ago, training women to launch their small enterprises tackling green or circular economy projects.
“We seek to empower women to believe that whatever their educational background, age or expertise, they can earn a living from their homes by running their projects even with a starting budget of L.E. 1,000,” Awady said.
Women enrolling in Najma are trained on marketing their projects, as well as developing economic feasibility, she added.
Egypt’s National Strategy for Adaptation to Climate Change and Disaster Risk Reduction’s main objective is to increase the Egyptian community’s agility in dealing with the risks and disasters that might be caused by climate change.
Although embedding environment-friendly practices like waste recycling is important, Dr. Awady raised a question in this regard, saying: “Why does the government not have its own recycling factories?”
Although the government currently signs collaboration protocols with private companies to supply them with the waste, it might be a great economic and public benefit if there were a recycling factory in every governorate.