ESI Wins GEF Challenge Program for Adaptation Innovation

The MIT Environmental Solutions Initiative is one of nine winners of the first Global Environment Facility (GEF) Challenge Program for Adaptation Innovation, the GEF announced at COP25 in Madrid. Over 400 entrants competed for seed funding under the program, which focuses on private sector approaches to helping communities adapt to increased environmental risks from climate change, especially in developing nations.

ESI’s winning project, “UAVs/Drones for Equitable Climate Change Adaptation,” will deploy unmanned aerial vehicles in the Amazon piedmont of Colombia, in collaboration with activist and indigenous groups in and around the city of Mocoa. These UAVs will monitor the region for landslides, a growing risk in the area under conditions of heavy precipitation that is rising as a result of climate change. At the same time, the UAVs will collect data that can be used to direct loans through the micro-finance sector for agro-forestry businesses that preserve the Amazon as a source of income for local producers. This data will also be available to planning authorities and community organizations in Mocoa.

“The basis of this project,” said ESI Director John Fernández at a pitch presentation at COP25, “is to take technologies that are exploding in other realms, like UAVs, AI, and machine learning, and shift them over to the things that we are interested in: climate change, conservation, and other issues.”

The project is part of ESI’s Climate, Equity and Sustainability Program, and will be used as a model for engaging with similar communities across Colombia and the greater Amazonian region, to support conservation of the rainforest, sustainable local development, and resilience to climate risks. It will be undertaken in partnership with the Colombian Ministry of Environment, the environmental regulator Corpoamazonia, and the Latin American Development Bank CAF. This team is eligible to receive up to $550,000 in seed funding from GEF, pending additional rounds of review.

“We are privileged to partner with Corpoamazonia, the Colombian Ministry of Environment and Sustainable Development and the Latin American Development Bank (CAF),” said MIT Vice President for Research Maria Zuber. “Reducing diverse risks from climate change can be achieved through a low-carbon future but adapting to these risks today is urgent. Our work is intended to support local communities in monitoring, protecting, restoring and pioneering sustainable uses of the forest as a new source of income and security.”

MIT and CAF teams, with Colombia’s Minister of Environment and Sustainable Development, at COP25 in Madrid