Micro-solutions to global problems: understanding social processes to eradicate energy poverty and build climate-resilient livelihoods


This research explores the agent dynamics, learning processes, and enabling conditions for the implementation of microscale win-win solutions that contribute to energy poverty eradication and climate resilience in a selection of low-income rural and peri-urban communities in India, Indonesia, and South Africa. We define these micro-solutions as energy-related interventions and resilience services or products—used at community, household, small production unit, or business level—that yield both economic and climatic gains. Our analysis identifies five elements critical for the robust design of these interventions: (i) The ability to collaborate and share different kinds of expertise with a range of networks operating at multiple levels of activity; (ii) The application of place-based systems-learning perspectives that enable project participants to integrate different types of solutions to meet different needs at the same time; (iii) The ability to yield tangible short-term benefits as part of long-term strategic visions and commitment; (iv) The use of novel technologies and financial instruments in ways that foreground the needs of poor populations; and (v) The inclusion and empowerment of economically marginalised groups through institutional and technological innovations and responsible business models. We conclude that the most critical aspect of successful micro win-win solutions is support for communities’ own endogenous transformative capacities as this helps ensure that solutions are shared and continuously adapted to changing conditions over time.

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  1. 1.

    See the Global Multidimensional Poverty Index at https://ophi.org.uk/multidimensional-poverty-index/; for instance, in South Africa, some informal settlements have state-subsidised access to municipal electricity.

  2. 2.

    A related concept is the ‘no regrets option’ (see http://www.ipcc.ch/ipccreports/tar/wg3/index.php?idp=292). However, in contrast to this concept, we do not assume a single economic equilibrium producing inevitable trade-offs between economic growth and reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, or that any economy operates at its optimal level. The notion of win-win solutions, especially at a micro level and in poor and informal contexts, assumes the existence of multiple equilibria and much room in which it is possible to achieve higher levels of economic growth and meaningful reductions in greenhouse gas emissions (Jaeger et al. 2012).

  3. 3.

    See the supplementary material for more detailed descriptions of each case.

  4. 4.

    The Kruistementvlei Integrated Organic Farm in South Africa is a good example of how integrated learning is contributing to community empowerment while promoting renewable energy use, environmental health, and organic food production.

  5. 5.


  6. 6.

    During the first GREEN-WIN workshop, see www.barefootcollege.org


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We would like to thank all participants to the workshops held in India, Indonesia and South Africa. This paper benefited from the thoughtful comments of two anonymous reviewers.


This research is part of the EU-funded H2020 project GREEN-WIN—Green Growth and Win-Win Strategies for Sustainable Climate Action (Grant Agreement No 642018; www.green-win-project.eu).

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Correspondence to J David Tàbara.

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This article is part of a Special Issue on Win-Win Solutions to Climatic Change edited by Diana Mangalagiu, Alexander Bisaro, Jochen Hinkel and Joan David Tàbara

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Tàbara, J.D., Takama, T., Mishra, M. et al. Micro-solutions to global problems: understanding social processes to eradicate energy poverty and build climate-resilient livelihoods. Climatic Change 160, 711–725 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10584-019-02448-z

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