Can we fix it? The top 20 most effective climate change solutions, ranked for your pleasure

Project Drawdown is a collection of very smart people with a range of skills that aims to “present the best available information on climate solutions in order to describe their beneficial financial, social and environmental impact over the next 30 years”. Here are the top 20, in handy list form. Visit for more information – and more solutions. 

1. Refrigerant Management: "Every refrigerator and air conditioner contains chemical refrigerants that absorb and release heat to enable chilling. Refrigerants, specifically CFCs and HCFCs, were once culprits in depleting the ozone layer. Thanks to the 1987 Montreal Protocol, they have been phased out. HFCs, the primary replacement, spare the ozone layer, but have 1,000 to 9,000 times greater capacity to warm the atmosphere than carbon dioxide." 

2. Wind Turbines (Onshore): "Wind energy is at the crest of initiatives to address global warming in the coming three decades. Today, 314,000 wind turbines supply nearly 4 percent of global electricity, and it will soon be much more. In 2015, a record 63 gigawatts of wind power were installed around the world."

3. Reduced Food Waste: "A third of the food raised or prepared does not make it from farm or factory to fork. Producing uneaten food squanders a whole host of resources—seeds, water, energy, land, fertilizer, hours of labor, financial capital—and generates greenhouse gases at every stage—including methane when organic matter lands in the global rubbish bin. The food we waste is responsible for roughly 8 percent of global emissions."

4. Plant-Rich Diet: "Shifting to a diet rich in plants is a demand-side solution to global warming that runs counter to the meat-centric Western diet on the rise globally. That diet comes with a steep climate price tag: one-fifth of global emissions. If cattle were their own nation, they would be the world’s third-largest emitter of greenhouse gases."

5. Tropical Forests: "In recent decades, tropical forests have suffered extensive clearing, fragmentation, degradation, and depletion of biodiversity. Once blanketing 12 percent of the world’s landmass, they now cover just 5 percent. While destruction continues in many places, tropical forest restoration is growing and may sequester as much as six gigatons of carbon dioxide per year."

6. Educating Girls: "Education lays a foundation for vibrant lives for girls and women, their families, and their communities. It also is one of the most powerful levers available for avoiding emissions by curbing population growth. Women with more years of education have fewer and healthier children, and actively manage their reproductive health."

7. Family Planning: "Securing women’s right to voluntary, high-quality family planning around the world would have powerful positive impacts on the health, welfare, and life expectancy of both women and their children. It also can affect greenhouse gas emissions."

8. Solar Farms: "The sun provides a virtually unlimited, clean, and free fuel at a price that never changes. Solar farms take advantage of that resource, with large-scale arrays of hundreds, thousands, or in some cases millions of photovoltaic (PV) panels. They operate at a utility scale like conventional power plants in the amount of electricity they produce, but dramatically differ in their emissions."

 9. Silvopasture: "Silvopasture is an ancient practice that integrates trees and pasture into a single system for raising livestock. Research suggests silvopasture far outpaces any grassland technique for counteracting the methane emissions of livestock and sequestering carbon under-hoof. Pastures strewn or crisscrossed with trees sequester five to ten times as much carbon as those of the same size that are treeless, storing it in both biomass and soil."

10. Rooftop Solar: "Small-scale solar systems, typically sited on rooftops, accounted for roughly 30 percent of PV capacity installed worldwide in 2015. In Germany, a leader in solar, rooftops boast 1.5 million systems. In Bangladesh, population 157 million, more than 3.6 million home solar systems have been installed."

11. Regenerative Agriculture: "Conventional wisdom has long held that the world cannot be fed without chemicals and synthetic fertilizers. Evidence points to a new wisdom: The world cannot be fed unless the soil is fed. Regenerative agriculture enhances and sustains the health of the soil by restoring its carbon content, which in turn improves productivity—just the opposite of conventional agriculture."

12. Temperate Forests: "A quarter of the world’s forests lie in the temperate zone, mostly in the Northern Hemisphere. Some are deciduous; others are evergreen. Over the course of history, 99 percent of temperate forests have been altered in some way—timbered, converted to agriculture, disrupted by development. However, forests are resilient. They are dynamic systems that constantly recover from impacts, even if regaining their full ecological integrity may require centuries."

13. Peatlands: "Peatlands, also known as bogs or mires, are neither solid ground nor water but something in between. Peat is a thick, mucky substance made up of dead and decomposing plant matter. It develops over hundreds, even thousands of years, as wetland vegetation slowly decays beneath a living layer of flora and in the near absence of oxygen." 

14. Tropical Staple Trees: "The dominant agricultural crops are annual—planted, harvested, and replanted every year. Perennials come back year after year, with similar yield and higher rates of carbon sequestration. Many have been cultivated and harvested for millennia, and some are critical to the world’s food supply today, particularly in the tropics."

15. Afforestation: "Creating new forests where there were none before is the aim of afforestation. Degraded pasture and agricultural lands, or other lands corrupted from uses such as mining, are ripe for strategic planting of trees and perennial biomass."

16. Conservation Agriculture: "Plows are absent on farms practicing conservation agriculture, and for good reason. When farmers till their fields to destroy weeds and fold in fertilizer, water in the freshly turned soil evaporates. Soil itself can be blown or washed away and carbon held within it released into the atmosphere. Tilling can make a field nutrient poor and less life-giving."

17. Tree Intercropping: "Like all regenerative land-use practices, tree intercropping—intermingling trees and crops—increases the carbon content of the soil and productivity of the land. The arrangement of trees and crops varies with topography, culture, climate, and crop value, but there are common benefits."

18. Geothermal: "The heat energy contained below the earth’s surface is about 100 billion times more than current world energy consumption. Geothermal power—literally “earth heat”—taps into underground reservoirs of steamy hot water, which can be piped to the surface to drive turbines that produce electricity. That feat was first accomplished in Larderello, Italy, on July 15, 1904."

19. Managed Grazing: "Grazing animals create extraordinary environments—witness the Serengeti plains and tall grass prairies of the United States. Where original grasslands are still intact, they are abundant lands with carbon-rich soils. They benefit from the activity of migratory herds that cluster tightly for protection; munch grasses to the crown; disturb the soil with their hooves, intermixing their urine and feces; and then move on."

20. Nuclear: "Nuclear plants use fission to split atomic nuclei and release the energy that binds protons and neutrons together. It is the most complex process ever invented to boil water, which powers steam turbines that generate electricity. Greenhouse gas emissions are calculated to be ten to a hundred times higher for coal-fired plants than for nuclear."

Want more solutions? Buy the book here

The 'Can We Fix It?' series, which looks at how we're using innovation and ingenuity to try and solve some of our thorniest problems, is brought to you by KiwibankKiwibank is passionate about the future of New Zealand, and about making Kiwis better off. They’re 100% Kiwi-owned, which means their profits stay right here in New Zealand.

Idealog has been covering the most interesting people, businesses and issues from the fields of innovation, design, technology and urban development for over 12 years. And we're asking for your support so we can keep telling those stories, inspire more entrepreneurs to start their own businesses and keep pushing New Zealand forward. Give over $5 a month and you will not only be supporting New Zealand innovation, but you’ll also receive a print subscription, an Idealog t-shirt and a copy of the new book by David Downs and Dr. Michelle Dickinson, No. 8 Recharged (while stocks last).