Betting on people

May 5, 2023


Droughts in the Horn of Africa, flooding in South Asia, and severe summer heats and droughts in in many regions in the Norther Hemisphere, is the snapshot of the increased impact of climate change across the globe. 

The 2022 report ‘Too Little, Too Slow’  describes our gloomy reality but also prescribes action to adapt and mitigate the impact of climate change. Particularly noteworthy for this article, is an argument within the report that analyzes the principles of effective adaptation, which claims that ‘the integration of local, traditional and indigenous knowledge into adaptation design, implementation, monitoring, evaluation and learning can enhance local buy-in and ownership of adaptation actions, thus increasing the effectiveness of risk reduction and the likelihood that these actions will deliver benefits that are sustained beyond the end of an intervention’s lifetime’.  We echo this argument, in fact one of the core goals of the Accelerator Labs is to explore and experiment with solutions developed at local level, actively including communities for the development challenges of today. The focus of our Labs is to learn about bottom-up solutions to trigger action, and since the beginning of 2023, we have been working specifically on triggering climate action, as a part of a collective intelligence process together with 14 other UNDP offices and Labs. 

We are very supportive of this process as there is a noticeable impact of climate change on citizens and communities in North Macedonia, and there is an urgent need to act. Extreme weather events have become more frequent in North Macedonia, and higher temperatures have posed a challenge for urban communities and the local population. These changes have affected people and institutions in various aspects of life. 

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change synthesis report from 2023 discusses the impact of heatwaves in urban settings, that people in North Macedonia can easily relate to. It notes:

‘In urban settings, climate change has caused adverse impacts on human health, livelihoods, and key infrastructure (high confidence). Hot extremes including heatwaves have intensified in cities (high confidence), where they have also worsened air pollution events (medium confidence) and limited functioning of key infrastructure (high confidence). Urban infrastructure, including transportation, water, sanitation, and energy systems have been compromised by extreme and slow onset events, with resulting economic losses, disruptions of services and impacts to well-being (high confidence). Observed impacts are concentrated amongst economically and socially marginalized urban residents, e.g., those living in informal settlements (high confidence). Cities intensify human-caused warming locally (very high confidence), while urbanization also increases mean and heavy precipitation over and/or downwind of cities (medium confidence) and resulting runoff intensity (high confidence).’

Citizens and communities are exposed to extreme climate events, and in future scenarios we see an increase in heatwaves, maximum temperatures, and tropical nights. The Study on the climate-resilient infrastructure for North Macedonia offers an assessment of the vulnerabilities and risks for our infrastructure based on the enhanced climate risks, including extreme heat. Ranging from impact of the transportation sector (oration of road surface, damage to bridges and viaducts related to thermal expansion), to the energy sector (where the increased energy demand in the summer period is noted as one of the vulnerabilities alongside the reduction of wind powered generation and discharge capacities in reservoirs), to the waste and water related infrastructures. But we also can see that heatwaves account ‘for some of the deadliest disasters on record’, with an impact that is unequal in both social and geographic terms, as noted by the ICRC

Any conversation about development goals and futures for North Macedonia, must also account for how to mitigate and adapt to the increasing impact of heatwaves on public heath, biodiversity, tourism, energy, agriculture as well as water management. The strategic risk of environment hazards is increasing and the ‘recognition that only transformational change gives the world a chance of meeting the Paris goals shows that the world is now in an emergency’. Clearly, the implications of climate change formulate a very complex development challenge, and we believe that one way, a promising angle to look at these types of challenges is through joint action and collective intelligence processes, where we rely on community ideas and insights in addressing social challenges.


The people in North Macedonia have been very active, vocal, and innovative when it comes to advocating for; raising awareness about the impact of climate change in their communities; as well as taking action. We’ve had initiatives from civil society organizations that visually presented to the public the reduction of green spaces in our cities; movements that have encouraged recycling and waste transformation; businesses that have used citizens science to raise awareness about air pollution; architects and enthusiasts that have offered visions about redesigning public spaces and making them friendlier and more humane for people; and initiatives to make our cities more friendly for biking and walking, to name a few. We’ve also seen a public conversation spearheaded by both people and institutions on heatwaves and heat islands in our cities. One initiative that is of particular interest for this text is the analysis and action plan for urban heat islands in the capital city Skopje, from 2018. This initiative, supported by the UNDP country office has mapped [using a thermal map] the urban heat islands in the city and has proposed policy actions to mitigate the impact of these heat islands. Policy action plans have also been created to prevent and mitigate the risks of urban heatwaves on the people living in North Macedonia. 

All these initiatives have diagnosed the problem quite well, and offered policy prescriptions on how to tackle it, however at the same time, the average temperatures across cities are increasing, ‘cooling spaces’ are shrinking, and the problem seems to be getting worse in our communities. Of course, transformational change is needed to make our cities more resilient to the impact of climate change, but the core question must be - how do we achieve that.  Mindful that our country office is working with 15 other UNDP offices on designing and piloting collective intelligence methods and tools to try and tackle the impact of climate change in our communities, we are going to try and complement existing initiatives, build new ones, and add new partners to existing UNDP processes that we believe can change the status quo on this topic. Inspired by the existing knowledge/experience/activism among people in our country, we are aiming to tap into these communities, engage with them, and enable citizens engagement on community level to help plan, monitor and implement policies that could reduce the impact of heatwaves. Our core goal is to work towards establishing an informal network of enthusiasts [‘Cool-ing heroes’] that will work with our team, as well as within existing movements to advocate for more resilient and greener communities on local level. In doing so, we hope that through collective intelligence methods we will: tell the story about the impact of heatwaves on people, organizations, and infrastructure in North Macedonia, that we will collaborate with students, academia, citizens on design challenges to provide solutions for some of the urban challenges in our city, and hopefully empower people to act as climate advocates for local urban planning. 

In the first few months of 2023, we have invested in piloting and experimenting with certain ideas of what could potentially be our contribution in this space, how we are going to use collective intelligence for the challenge of climate change in our communities. We already have some initial learnings and insights from those pilots that tried to capture fragments of the overall CI idea. Namely, we have piloted a small survey to test the knowledge of people on the topic of urban heatwaves, but also their willingness to act as advocates for more resilient and greener communities on local level. We learned that not only people understand the challenge, but they are also eager and enthusiastic to act. Our small pilots also indicated that people from different age groups perceive the challenge of heatwaves differently. Then, we decided to test if we can easily map and identify ‘cooling solutions’ from other countries and cities that could potentially be implemented in our communities, and we learned that a lot of great work has been done in this field, and that there are mapped solutions that can be piloted/deployed with the intention of ‘cooling our cities'. We see potential in understanding and categorizing cooling solutions that would serve in/beyond our local context, and we see the benefit of creating open/commons in this realm.  Furthermore, we learned that our academic institutions are willing to collaborate with us, to develop solutions to the urban challenges that we are facing, by involving our students in ideation/design/problem solving challenges.

Climate change is real and felt in all countries, no matter the location or size. Climate change impacts North Macedonia in different ways, including through extreme weather events, prolonged and more frequent heatwaves, and floods. Joint action and collective intelligence processes can be one of the ways in which we can try and address these challenges. Current initiatives offer policy prescriptions, but the problems seem to be worsening, and we know that there are no silver bullets for these questions, so we believe investing in knowledge and the willingness of people to act and contribute to the improvement of their communities, is one of the ways forward. 

The Accelerator Lab and the Environment unit of the UNDP country office in North Macedonia has been a part of the NESTA Collective Intelligence Studio Design on climate action as a part of a global UNDP initiative [link here] and have been working in an interdisciplinary manner on the outlined challenge.