Climate shelter – how householders worldwide are adapting to climate change

Green building technology is key to cutting carbon emissions, but its role in adaptation is just as important, especially in developing countries where closeness to nature leaves people more exposed to climate change - writes Christian Aid's John McKie.

In the light of recent history, it is a statement not often quoted, but Tony Blair once said: “Sometimes it is better to lose and do the right thing than to win and do the wrong thing.” Sometimes though, it is possible to do both – win and do the right thing.

Christian Aid won prizes at two of the most recent Hampton Court flower shows for its themed gardens, both designed by Claire Whitehouse. In 2004, a representation of a Senegalese market place illustrated the iniquities of trade laws weighted against many African countries. It won the show’s highest honour, the Tudor Rose. This year, the garden depicted the Jamaican red light district side-by-side with an idyllic beach setting to illustrate the soaring rates of HIV in the Caribbean and won the Gold award. Both gardens provided campaign actions for visitors to lobby the government about the problems.

As a result of these awards the UK-based development agency decided to work on a new way of looking at gardening projects concerning another huge issue, arguably the most important of our age, global warming.

Christian Aid projects in Africa, South America and Asia combat global warming on many levels, from soil conservation in gardening projects to energy-efficient stoves to the burgeoning area of solar panels.

Its May 2006 report, The Climate of Poverty, estimated that a staggering 182 million people in sub-Saharan Africa alone could die of disease directly attributable to climate change by the end of the century. Many millions more throughout the world, it argued, face death and devastation due to climate-induced floods, famine, drought and conflict.

Christian Aid contended that climate change will affect those in the developing world, the people least responsible for carbon emissions, first and most severely. .

With that in mind, Christian Aid asked the Irish garden designer and TV presenter, Diarmuid Gavin to create a display for Grand Designs Live, the brainchild of Channel 4 design guru Kevin McCloud. The resulting Eco Home and Garden was one of the biggest features at the exhibition, which was on at the Birmingham NEC from October 6-8.

The Eco Home and Garden was intended as a snapshot of the problems created by extreme weather conditions on four continents -South America, Asia, Africa and Europe.

Eco-design features included walls that are built using sustainable techniques that, not only safeguard the environment, but also protect their inhabitants when disaster strikes. The Honduras exhibit featured a strengthened rammed-earth wall, insect-repellent decorative paint taken from local plants, an energy-efficient stove and tree replanting.

In the Asia section, visitors experienced a home, which was raised on stilts to avoid flooding, and featuring bio-gas and emergency assistance packs, while in Africa the home included ventilation systems, rain-water collection and a solar panel.

In the final section, a UK house encouraged visitors to the show to live a more sustainable and environmentally-friendly lifestyle in this country and cut some of the carbon emissions currently contributing to disaster in the developing world.

Diarmuid Gavin travelled to Kenya with Christian Aid to see for himself the effects of both drought and flood and saw the work of the UK agency’s partner organisation, BIDII. This is a Kiswahili word which means “effort”, but also stands for Benevolent Institute for Development Initiatives. BIDII encourage farmers to conserve their water, use farming techniques like the multi-storey garden and terraced planting to prevent loss of water and conserve soil and even welcomed the TV presenter and garden designer to the opening of a spring well.

Gavin, along with Andrew Mitchell MP, the shadow spokesman for international development, and TV property experts, Kevin McCloud, Sarah Beeny and Naomi Cleaver, all attended the Eco Home and Garden at the NEC.

It is hoped that the feature will be displayed at future Grand Designs shows, and there is a life for the project even beyond that, as it is intended to work as an incentive for enlightened campaigners on two levels.

Christian Aid advocates rich countries take responsibility for having largely created this problem and proposes that they cut CO2 emissions radically.

Leaders must have the political courage to set clear targets to reduce their national emissions, and then have the ingenuity and vision to find the ways and means to hit those targets, it argues. It is calling on Britain and Ireland to lead the way by setting an annual, constantly contracting ‘carbon budget’, which plots a course, year on year, towards a two-thirds reduction in emissions on 1990 levels, by 2050. It will be a key part of its campaigns strategy in 2006 and throughout 2007.

On a local level, people are encouraged to give ethical Christmas presents through Christian Aid’s Present Aid scheme. The scheme will have a variety of environmentally-friendly gifts from fuel-efficient stoves and small tree saplings which browsers can buy to support projects around the world, which the charity supports. Grand Designs Live in Birmingham made a promising start – by the end of the weekend, many children had completed the worksheet on disasters and climate change, visitors had picked up 15,000 leaflets on climate change and more than 15,000 had taken home Present Aid catalogues. In no small part due to this exhibition, the green shoots of environmental awareness continue to grow.

For more information on the Grand Designs exhibit, go to For more information on buying an environmentally-friendly present, visit

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