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Climate hackathon aims to use tech to save the planet

London joins cities around the world to seek technology solutions to tackle climate change and help the environment

Innovation partnership Climate-KIC has held a global hackathon to develop technology to fight climate change and manage its impact on particular parts of the world.

The aim was for app developers, businesses, entrepreneurs and academics in participating cities around the world to spend 24 hours developing ideas and solutions to tackle an issue that their region faced because of climate change.

The hack, dubbed Climathon, saw more than 59 cities across 36 countries take part, including Shanghai, Washington DC, Medellin, Harare, Toronto and Seoul at locations such as universities, research centres and government facilities.

Ebrahim Mohamed, director of education for Climate-KIC, said: “The science of climate change is indisputable, but the problem often seems so removed from everyday reality that organisations have for many years struggled to engage citizens.

“The Climathon changes this, providing the critical impetus for citizens, innovators, business experts and policymakers to come together in a global climate movement to solve one of the most pressing issues of our time.”

For the event, London chose to tackle air pollution, which causes about 40,000 deaths in the UK each year, while cities around the world contribute 70% of global carbon emissions.

London’s winning idea for 2016 was filtAIR, a concept to fit filters to London buses that would create clean air instead of emissions.

Second place went to Baby Bubble, a mesh designed to cover babies’ prams to protect them from air pollution.

Other ideas included a lightbulb that would remove pollutants from the air, a company producing hydroponic furniture for London offices, and a delivery service that also reduces air pollution.

The London event was staged in partnership with the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, while organiser Climate-KIC is supported by the European Institute of Innovation and Technology.

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Tibor Navracsics, European commissioner for education, culture, youth and sport, said: “Climate change presents an enormous challenge, but we know this challenge is a surmountable one if we are able to mobilise global citizens in our response.

“In the Climathon, we not only have the chance to educate citizens across the world on climate issues, but also the critical opportunity to engage them in the development of the innovation we need to successfully mitigate and adapt to climate change.”

The 2016 Climathon built on the success of last year’s event, when 20 cities across the world took part in projects such as proposing an increase in cycling in Copenhagen, river and stream reclamation in Addis Ababa, and reduction of food waste in Washington DC.

Technology already plays a major role in a number of climate change initiatives, as well as helping to build public awareness of climate change, waste reduction and global warming.

Breakthrough Energy Coalition

In 2015, a group of IT entrepreneurs including Microsoft’s Bill Gates, Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, Salesforce’s Mark Benioff and Hewlett Packard Enterprise’s Meg Whitman helped to launch the Breakthrough Energy Coalition – a movement claiming that technology can be used to solve many of the problems contributing to climate change.

In 2014, Amazon Web Services (AWS), Microsoft and IBM made a commitment to award free access to their supercomputing and cloud resources to help drive research into climate change, and in 2015 AWS made 85,000 Nasa climate change images available to access through its cloud storage services.

And this year, IC Tomorrow ran a Future Retail contest, with one of the categories focused on finding technologies to reduce food waste.

Louise Brent, a student who took part in the Climathon, said hackathons and global initiatives would help to shift the dial by enabling global communities to work together, helping the people affected by these real-world issues to make a positive change.

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