From developing renewable energy projects in Brazil and sub-Saharan Africa to piloting people-centered restoration efforts in Colombia, the 2023-2024 Three Cairns Fellows are implementing on-the-ground climate solutions across the Global South.
In sub-Saharan Africa, less than 50% of the population has access to electricity. As efforts to increase electrification rates ramp up, there is an urgent need to accelerate the transition to clean energy, says Danson Mugambi, a Kenyan-based project developer for renewable energy company SOWITEC. Mugambi has been developing a pipeline of projects in Kenya, Zambia, and Zimbabwe, but says that getting the financial backing to move forward can be difficult.
“In Zambia and Zimbabwe, we suffer from low investor confidence due to political instability and high debt levels, making it challenging to secure financing for wind projects in these markets. Kenya also lacks a regulatory framework for licensing green hydrogen projects,” he said.
Over 6,000 miles in away in Brazil, Pedro Schuch Mallmann says he deals with similar issues as a partner and director at Renobrax, a Brazilian company that develops large-scale wind and solar projects. Renewable energy projects all entail intensive use of capital, assessment of natural resources, environmental permits, and regulatory compliance, and countries often face the same challenges in implementing them, he notes.
“The issues we face in renewables is not a topic under discussion in Brazil alone. All countries and regions are on the same path to raise deployment rates and assure that we can mitigate climate change and reach Paris Agreement goals,” Mallmann says.
To gain insights and practical knowledge they could use to advocate for green energy policies and secure financing for renewable energy projects, Mugambi and Mallman both enrolled in the Financing and Deploying Clean Energy (FDCE) certificate program as Three Cairns Fellows. The Fellows program, part of the Three Cairns Climate Program for the Global South at YSE, offers scholarship support to environmental professionals seeking to enroll in one of YSE’s two online certificate programs: FDCE, which is offered through the Yale Center for Business and the Environment, and Tropical Forest Landscapes: Conservation, Restoration, and Sustainable Use (TFL), which is offered through the Environmental Leadership Training Initiative (ELTI). This year TFL admitted 28 participants as Fellows in its 2023-2024 cohort, up from 16 in the inaugural cohort, while FDCE admitted 10 Fellows this year, up from five in its first cohort of Fellows. YSE also welcomed 21 inaugural Three Cairns Scholars this fall. The Scholars program is an enhanced scholarship initiative supporting qualified master’s students from the Global South who are committed to advancing climate solutions in their home countries.
The Three Cairns Fellows program has enabled both FDCE and TFL to expand their reach globally and have brought a new dimension to the online courses.
“The Three Cairns Fellows are phenomenal examples of climate leadership who inspire us all to do more. In the FDCE program, Fellows are sharing critical insights on approaches to sustainability and prompt us to ask how we can do more,” said Coral Bielecki, online programs director at CBEY.
Gillian Bloomfield, program manager at ELTI, says the Fellows have brought fresh perspectives from environmental professionals working on innovative restoration efforts and climate solutions throughout the Global South.
“Three Cairns Fellows has been so influential in making our certificate program accessible to new audiences of climate leaders, especially those working to design and implement nature-based climate solutions in Africa, Asia, and Latin America,” Bloomfield says. “Our 2023-2024 cohort is the most geographically diverse cohort yet, with over 35 countries represented.”
A People-Centered Approach
One of the 35 countries represented is Colombia, where Federico Perez founded Selvitas, a company that co-creates and advances community development projects.
Initially focused on the global value chain, exporting coffee and sustainable wood, Perez and Selvitas have evolved to focus on carbon markets and forest restoration, creating partnerships with the International Trade Centre. Most recently, the company helped more than 8,000 previously displaced families in Antioquia, a department in northwest Colombia, gain land tenure, enabling them to transition to active land management.
"We use carbon market financing as a tool, not just to regenerate biodiversity, but to provide a stable income for local people, thereby addressing the root causes of deforestation," Perez said.
Only a few weeks into the TFL certificate program, he’s already gained knowledge that he’s able to put into practice at Selvitas. “The TFL program is transformative. It is equipping me with the scientific and policy frameworks to refine our projects. I'm learning how to integrate traditional ecological knowledge with modern restoration techniques, while getting a better understanding of the sociopolitical dynamics that influence these ecosystems." he notes.
Funding provided through the Three Cairns Climate Program for the Global South, which was established with a generous gift from the Three Cairns Group, is supporting the development of two new certificate programs with a Global South focus — one in environmental data science and one in urban climate leadership.
“The mid-career certificate program in urban climate leadership is an opportunity to accelerate climate action in cities around the world,” says Karen Seto, Frederick C. Hixon Professor of Geography and Urbanization Science and director of the Hixon Center for Urban Ecology. “The certificate will train leaders, from local to national scales, on the knowledge and tools needed to help cities mitigate and adapt to climate change.”
Meet More Three Cairns Fellows
Advocating for Renewable Energy in Sudan
Elaff Abdallah, a renewable energy specialist, has worked on a wide range of clean energy projects in Sudan. There is no lack of will in the country when it comes to the transition to clean energy, she says. However, finding the way is a challenge. She enrolled in the Financing and Deploying Clean Energy (FDCE) certificate program to round out her technical expertise with a strong foundation in renewable energy financing.
An International Approach to Scaling Renewable Energy
As a partner and director at Renobrax, a Brazilian company that develops large-scale wind and solar plants, Pedro Schuch Mallmann works with a range of government officials and stakeholders to implement green energy projects across the largest country in the South America. He enrolled in the Financing and Deploying Clean Energy certificate program to engage with an international group of renewable energy developers with a goal of helping to raise deployment rates globally.
Advancing the clean energy transition in Sub-Saharan Africa
Danson Mugambi, a project developer for SOWITEC, a renewable energy company, is working to establish a pipeline of clean energy projects in sub-Saharan Africa. One of two people in the region has no access to electricity, and the need to diversify energy sources to provide universal electricity access and green the grid is urgent, Mugambi says. The Financing and Deploying Clean Energy (FDCE) certificate program is giving him a better understanding of how to source the financing needed to advance these projects.