Million Cool Roofs Challenge named a ‘Climate Policy Breakthrough’

  • Maddy Kavanagh

    Maddy Kavanagh

    Programme Manager, Longitude Explorer Prize

    View profile

05 Mar 2021

One of our challenge prizes has been named on a list showcasing climate policies that have demonstrated the potential for scalability and effective change.

The year of 2020 will be remembered for a lot of reasons, the majority of which need no introduction here. As we entered 2021, there was more bad news, as NASA announced that 2020 broke records as (marginally) the hottest year on record. 

The effects of the climate crisis and rising temperatures are wide-spread, long-term and potentially catastrophic without action. One of the many impacts of rising temperatures is the complex challenge that cities in hot developing countries face: the conundrum of expanding access to energy for citizens and the need for cooling systems against the heat, whilst reducing carbon emissions. The demand for passive cooling systems – solutions to cool buildings and people without using energy – has  never been greater. 

“There is no quick fix; but every individual action and each policy change at every level gets us ever closer to reducing emissions.”

The Million Cool Roofs Challenge, a $2million initiative delivered in partnership with Kigali Cooling Efficiency Programme, Global Cool Cities Alliance, Nesta Challenges and Sustainable Energy for All, aims to increase access to solar-reflective “cool” roofs in developing countries suffering heat stress. By lightening the colour of roofs schools, hospitals and homes, the inside temperature can drop by an average of 1-4 degrees C (and as much as 10C). Crucially, where cool roofing material is applied across a cluster of buildings, the average outdoor air temperature can be reduced at a similar rate. This is why the overall aim of the project – which launched in 2019 – is to deliver cool roofs at scale: to impact as many communities as possible during the life of the project, and to help embed sustainable policy. The Challenge is accomplishing this by empowering local champions who are raising awareness, installing cool roofs, and advocating for supportive policies at the local and national level.

Recently, the Million Cool Roofs Challenge was acknowledged on Apolitcal’s list of 100 climate policy breakthroughs. Looking at innovations that enable scalable and effective change, the list is an inspiring and optimistic read about the future of sustainability. As Apolitcal says, there is no quick fix; but every individual action and each policy change at every level gets us ever closer to reducing emissions.

A cool roof pilot program in the town of Kheis, South Africa, is improving comfort and creating new businesses.

An overhead shot of a selection of one-storey buildings

We’re excited that the Million Cool Roofs Challenge has been selected, and we’re particularly proud of our ten finalist teams who are delivering projects on the ground and have achieved great progress. Across the project we have seen cool roofs result in lower indoor temperatures which will reduce heat stress and provide a more comfortable environment for those living, working and learning in the building. As a result, there is decreased need for air conditioners and the associated energy expenditure. People living in homes without air conditioning are reporting more comfortable conditions after the cool roofs are installed. Furthermore, projects have been delivered for and with communities, providing a cooling system for low-income areas and creating training and job opportunities for local people. 

When the Judging Panel selected the teams in the Summer of 2019, we expected to be announcing the winner of the $1million prize this month; but March 2021 looks completely different to how any of us could have imagined back then. Teams will soon be preparing their final submissions before the judging panel meets to select the winner. Whatever the outcome, based on their achievements over the last two years, we have no doubt that we will see many of the teams continuing to appear on lists like Apolitical’s in the future.  

You can read more about how teams have adapted to the COVID-19 Pandemic in this blog.

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