Over 120,000 tonnes of greenhouse gases are being emitted every 2 minutes worldwide. This will cumulatively set us on track for catastrophic climate change, a world where it is too hot to farm, grow crops or be outdoors, and other devastating effects that will be felt everywhere. We have observed two key issues in the current efforts to tackle climate change.
Problem 1: Despite a growing number of young people (expected to number 1.3bn by 2030, with a global youth unemployment rate estimated at 15% last year) we have not effectively employed or included them in the development of climate action plans. Nor do they benefit from climate action in terms of opportunities to use their ideas and energy, or to generate incomes.
Problem 2: The current solutions available are predominantly based on nature or on engineering technologies, such as carbon sweatshops or environmentally friendly robotic vacuum cleaners. In contrast, carbon markets remain underdeveloped when it comes to financing climate action. They remain restricted to undervalued carbon credits, that are a form of greenwashing as they neither meet targets evolved through scientific investigation nor tackle the climate crisis with equality and equity.
An effective solution to these problems needs collaboration across sectors as well as the involvement of the worst affected communities to co-invest in the strategic responses meant to benefit them. The Gigatonne Challenge is an at-scale, grassroots, massively distributed, strategic response intended to demonstrate in practice how global emissions of CO2 can be made to peak and decline by a gigatonne (1 billion tonnes) a year after 4-5 years of targeted efforts. Our mission is thus to build the world’s most effective response to the climate crisis and shift its direction within 60 months. As we aim to benefit a billion of the poorest families on the planet, our emissions reduction approach includes creating and providing direct benefits to the 20% of people with the lowest incomes in any community.
To tackle the first problem we observed, we mobilise and support teams of young people around the world to implement practical, context-specific initiatives for reducing carbon emissions at speed and scale, and equitably. These teams have diverse backgrounds and include people from local communities, organisations, governments and informal groups who want to begin a climate initiative. The Open Gigatonne Protocol gives the teams the operational requirements to become part of this strategic response, including, critically, the requirements to access financial resources through our ‘supercredits’.
Gigatonne teams undertake direct emissions reductions, typically starting by diverting food waste from landfills. They diversify into food production, zero-emissions transport, biogas and solar renewable energy, land rejuvenation, and carbon sequestration. They work to lower greenhouse emissions and benefit those with the lowest incomes by offering part-time paid employment, food security, and energy security that will further unlock pathways to sustainable living. We also invest in their capacity building through customised training initiatives including with dedicated Gigatonne coaches.
The teams capture their performance and impact data using the Gigatonne open-monitoring platform. The platform, built on a blockchain, collects high-integrity, audit-quality performance data that’s verified by third parties. By making the supercredit transparent, it dramatically reduces transaction costs. AI tools help generate reports in several formats, significantly lowering the costs of reporting. We create and sell high-integrity premium supercredits for the voluntary carbon market, connecting buyers with the impact of Gigatonne teams. In this way the Gigatonne platform targets the second problem we identified by developing a high-integrity and high quality credit that addresses abatement with equity in a time bound manner. Our projects operationalise intersectionality both horizontally and vertically. Horizontally, we build multi-sectoral teams, involving civil society organisations, businesses and governments. Vertically, we work at the grassroots level to ensure the participation of a wide range of stakeholders, and also work with high-level supporters and champions. Our approach thus involves building highly diverse teams of perhaps unlikely allies.
For instance, on India’s eastern coast, along the Bay of Bengal, the city of Vishakhapatnam or Vizag is one of India’s industrial engines and the ninth largest contributor to its GDP. As an industrial hub and a coastal town, Vizag is vulnerable to the effects of climate warming. Our team here is a local sports team, composed of formerly blue-collar workers. They have worked with us since 2020, when we helped them launch their innovative waste management business.
Between October 2020 and June 2022, the team had successfully abated 131 tonnes of CO2 emissions on a budget of only USD 36,000. They began by focusing on collecting, segregating and composting food waste, and later diversified into building zero emissions transport networks (for which three electric auto rickshaws with carriers were purchased to support their work). During this period they employed 19 full-time team members, further supporting over 200 families from the bottom 20% of the socioeconomic strata in the community by providing partial employment to around 150 people and distributing free food packages to another 50 families.
Their next phase of development spanned from September 2022 to March 2023, where they leased 6 acres of land for the cultivation as well as installation of 3 biogas units. In this period their work reduced emissions by an additional 878 tonnes of CO2. The team processes an average of 110 tonnes of organic waste every month, employing a core team of 50 people and 80 part-time members who are all from their community, while also providing benefits to nearly 1,200 vulnerable families in the area, such as employment opportunities to marginalised women.
On a small budget of approximately USD 120,000, they have forged effective interventions with measurable effects on the ecosystem and on their communities in a defined span of time. The ecological effects were observed in terms of lowered carbon emissions and waste diverted from local landfills, helping reduce the pressure on landfills and lowering emissions further. In the process, their project created employment opportunities for young people and women and has increased the income of households in the community. The food they grew was also distributed to people in the community who work as manual labourers (in earth works, construction and more) and to widows and elderly people in the community who are unable to provide for themselves.
As the number of teams in the region grows and their impact scales, we will see the growth of sustainable food systems, access to clean / renewable energy, and the emergence of a new green economy.
Our role is to build the social, operational, reporting and financial infrastructure of the Gigatonne strategy. Our goal is to establish 1,000 teams worldwide, located in strategic climate flashpoints, who working together will provide an at-scale response to the climate crisis and open up pathways to a green economy for the millions of people who remain the most vulnerable to climate warming. The Gigatonne Open Protocols will guide teams in developing their prototypes while the Gigatonne Open Reporting Platform will collect, audit and share the impact and performance data to ensure measurable impacts and accountability.
The Gigatonne strategy arises from a deep understanding of the nature of complex challenges. Our team has extensive experience across philanthropy, civil society, the private and public sectors. We are former CEOs, strategists, researchers, project managers, and community organisers. We have managed multi-billion-dollar foundations and agile startups and have collectively supported thousands of people in tackling complex challenges, from global food systems to youth disemployment. Given our deep sectoral expertise and wide networks of relationships to draw on, we are confident in growing our footprint.
 Youth unemployment, underemployment, informal employment and working poverty are concerns in virtually every part of the world and especially in developing countries. ILOSTAT data indicate that in 2019 the global youth NEET rate (not in employment, education or training) stood at 22% where it has hovered for the past decade. This means that at least 1 in 5 young people are not able to acquire livelihood skills through education or work. Young people who are not in education, employment or training are more likely to suffer social and economic exclusion. See here for more.