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Climate CoLab featured in ClimateWire


Latest MIT ‘CoLab’ contest seeks ideas for regional climate plans around the world

Brittany Patterson, E&E reporter

Published: Thursday, May 14, 2015
Copyright 2014, Environment and Energy Publishing LLC. Reprinted with permission.
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In the months before climate change negotiators take the stage in Paris, citizens will have the opportunity to create climate change action plans on a regionwide basis as part of the recent round of contests announced yesterday by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Center for Collective Intelligence’s Climate CoLab.

Since its founding three years ago, the Climate CoLab has used crowdsourcing to solicit and develop proposals to mitigate the effects of climate change, similar to the way Wikipedia has allowed the world to create an online compendium of knowledge.

“The goal of the Climate CoLab is to tackle what to do about climate change but involve the whole world,” said Laur Fisher, project manager for the Climate CoLab. “We break down the issue into sub-challenges, invite people to provide high-impact solutions and then put them back together to get a global strategy.”

Previous contests from the Climate CoLab have centered around participants submitting plans to address one of 18 specific areas related to climate change, including urban energy efficiency, waste management or energy supply (ClimateWire, Oct. 7, 2014).

The structure of the latest contests mirrors the way the world, and individual countries, have been confronting climate change in that participants are being encouraged to combine area plans and create regionwide plans for the four major greenhouse gas emitters — the United States, Europe, China and India. The two other contests are for developing nations and other developed countries.

Soon, the Climate CoLab plans to announce a global contest in which members will be asked to combine plans created for regions to form a global climate agenda. Winners will be announced in December.

Connecting winners with policymakers

With more than 34,000 members from all over the world with a broad range of backgrounds, the Climate CoLab thinks its cyber nature — and carefully crafted competitive, yet collaborative structure — opens the door for many people to tackle one of the most complicated social issues facing humanity.

“Climate negotiations have been limited to a well-informed but small group of experts,” Fisher said. “The issue of climate change is enormous and enormously complex. It involves more expertise than any one group can possess.”

The plans will be judged by experts from leading universities, government agencies like the Department of Energy and State Department, and global organizations like the U.N. Environment Programme, Clinton Foundation and World Bank.

This year, the Climate CoLab is teaming up with MIT’s Solve conference, which brings movers and shakers together for a four-day-long festival of innovation on global issues that have been determined are “ripe for progress.” The winners of the six contests will be given access to some of the closed-door sessions and will present their winning climate change action plans to some of the participants.

Fisher said the Climate CoLab doesn’t expect the winners to necessarily see their plans come to fruition during the conference, but said the philanthropists, business leaders and policymakers in attendance can provide feedback, help with implementation and push the ideas forward to the people who can help make them happen.

When the global contest winners are announced in December, they will split the $10,000 prize.

Fisher said this iteration of the contest has been in the works for many years and described it as parallel, but also complementary, to the Paris talks.

“It’s certainly ambitious of us to think it will impact negotiations, but we think there is no better time to do this than before what are arguably the most important climate negotiations that are going to happen,” she said.

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