Today represents a key inflection point in terms of international climate diplomacy, with the start of the much-anticipated COP 26 (Conference of the Parties) for the UNFCCC (United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change) in Glasgow.

It sounds like a mouthful but, tongue-twisters aside, this is the highest decision-making body on the international scene which has the potential to usher in the much-needed cuts in greenhouse emissions so to steer clear of any temperature spikes which are higher than the dreaded two-degree threshold.

After the failings of previous COPs (for instance, the Paris Agreement in 2015 ended up with largely non-binding targets), the Glasgow COP is a big deal indeed, as testified by the tense run-up to it.

For instance, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres definitely did not mince his words when he boldly opined, in a recent interview with The Washington Post, that “I would not like them (his three granddaughters) to come to say that the planet is hell and that I have not done enough to avoid it” following his ‘Code Red for Humanity’ stark warning issued last August in the aftermath of the IPCC report publication. In a nutshell, the stakes could not be higher in Glasgow.

While the wrangling over burden-sharing will invariably dominate the weeks-long proceedings in Glasgow, a number of visionary individuals are already effecting the necessary changes, at grassroots level, delivering products and methodologies which reduce our carbon footprint.

Having participated in the first-ever national climate conference and the associated climate action awards, I was regaled with a kaleidoscopic overview of the various innovative solutions being churned out there at grassroots level.

For instance, within the Seed Green awards category, assigned to assist budding entrepreneurs to validate their green solutions into financially-feasible realities, an innovative multitrophic and polyculture way of growing crops all year round while slashing water usage by 95 per cent was devised by the winning ‘Tal-Kampanjol’ proposal.

The second-placed proposal within the same category – EcoWash – was similarly audacious, given that it delivered a washing liquid for use in domestic and vessel kitchens which is entirely composed of natural products rather than synthetic ones and, thus, does not pose a hazard to the marine environment, where it will invariably end up through the sewerage system.

The third submission within the same category – Plant B – seeks to promote a plant-based diet as an alternative to one revolving on meat consumption (given that meat production is carbon-, water- and land-intensive) by delivering a smartphone app detailing a myriad of vegetarian dish recipes.

In cognisance of the plethora of ways individuals and entities can bring about change in terms of climate change abatement, five different categories – the Agent of Change, Engager, Facilitator, Illuminator and the Innovator ones – were also conceived.

The sense of urgency about climate action is finally taking root in society- Alan Deidun

TAPP Water, winners of the first category, devised a biodegradable water filter which can be seamlessly connected to water taps in order to promote the usage of tap water for drinking and cooking purposes, thus slashing our dependence on plastic-intensive bottled water.

The Malta Business Bureau were the recipients of the Engager award, by virtue of their engagement with local businesses to audit their climate performance and assist the same in mitigating their carbon footprint.

EWA (the Energy and Water Agency) were the recipients of the Facilitator award for having provided tangible support to the implementation of 120 different initiatives aimed at ushering in a greater degree of energy efficiency.

The Biology Department at the University of Malta were bestowed with the Illuminator award for the valid work conducted through the SimaSeed project, through which the establishment of seed banks for indigenous plant species and the eradication of alien/exotic plant species were promoted.

The Faculty of Engineering at the University of Malta, through the start-up company FLASK, landed the Innovator award as well as the prestigious Climate Crusader one, for their groundbreaking research into harnessing energy generated by marine renewables (such as floating solar farms, offshore wind farms) and storing it for future use and for transport to land-based electricity grids.

In so doing, FLASK addressed two major caveats faced by marine renewables:  their intermittency and, in the case of offshore installations, their distance from land-based electricity grids, with the latter point normally necessitating the costly installation of submarine cables.

Rummaging through the valid and sometimes even audacious projects being embarked upon by enlightened individuals aiming to slash our carbon footprint, you do get an inkling that the sense of urgency about climate action is finally taking root in society  as well a sense of frustration that multilateral discussions on the international scene are not delivering the change most of us want to see.

A bottom-up approach, with the real change taking place through community-devised, nature-based solutions, is being experienced, a change which does not need world leaders to thrash out a binding but elusive agreement. While all eyes will be on Glasgow for the next few weeks, the real change is happening somewhere else, away from the limelight and the statements.

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