CREA’s first year in action – how did we make a difference in 2020

Photo: Thomas Richter

Two founders of CREA, Lauri Myllyvirta and Nandikesh Sivalingam have been climate activists for many years. Myllyvirta started fighting power plant investments in Finland in his younger years and has now led climate projects in East Asia, Southeast Asia, Europe as well as many other regions. Sivalingam started working on coal and energy in India eight years ago because for him, it is a cause of severe suffering in relation to both people and climate. As they both have campaigned for non-profits and research organizations on environment and climate issues, they realized there’s still an actor missing in the field of environmental research. In lack of an organization that provides quality research for climate campaigners and companies across the world, they had to set up one themselves. 

CREA’s mission is to fight climate change with data 

CREA is an independent research organization founded in December 2019 to drive change towards clean energy and clean air across the globe. CREA’s mission is to fight climate change through data and track pollution in order to support organizations to enable energy transitions as well as to provide knowledge for the public discussion. 

Founder and CEO Nandikesh Sivalingam, emphasizes that CREA supports national and regional campaigning groups with credible cutting edge research on air pollution modeling and health impact assessments. This mission is achieved by being well versed in the latest science and being able to understand and interpret larger shifts in energy and air pollution. This enables CREA to have the capability to conduct tailor made research with quick turnaround time for partners. Sivalingam concludes, “for us, the move towards clean energy and air results in successful policies, investment decisions and advocacy efforts through effective research and communication”. 

Since often in academic research, air pollution measuring models do not respond to the needs of decision-makers and advocates as projects may take a long time to develop, CREA emphasizes policy-relevant and fast-paced research. CREA’s purpose is to equip research and data to make a difference. By doing high-quality, reliable research in a way that is responsive to the needs of decision-makers and clean air advocates around the world, founder Myllyvirta stresses that “we have found a unique and impactful way to contribute to global challenges, such as fight against climate change and the health effects of air pollution”. CREA’s entire operating model is designed to be fast and responsive without cutting corners on quality, and the methodology is unique; the use of remote sensing data to support campaigns in clean air and clean energy, identifying regulatory violations and tracking the energy sector and emissions trends. 

The data CREA produces includes 

  • air quality and health impact assessments
  • assessment on energy trends
  • electricity growth and industrial output
  • analysis of trends in air quality and sources of air pollution
  • critical analysis of fossil fuel EIAs (Environmental Impact Assessments)
  • legal advice and emission inventories and source apportionment models 

CREA’s work builds on top of its team’s multidisciplinarity and networks

CREA’s team combines experienced researchers and analysts from fields of energy and climate research while also having expertise in mechanical engineering, agriculture, strategy and public policy. The teams’ capabilities build up from knowledge and know-how from various international organizations such as the UN, the EU, Greenpeace and World Resources Institute. During this first year, the growth of the team has been rapid; before April 2020 CREA’s team consisted of only three full time researchers, whereas now they have a strong team of seven employees. The key strengths of the CREA team are multidisciplinarity and the ability to learn and adapt information quickly.

With this talent CREA has provided campaign groups with credible and detailed research about the effects of air pollution and energy initiatives across Europe and Asia. According to Sivalingam, during the year of 2020 CREA “supported campaigns in over 20 countries through more than 40 research outputs with partners”. For a first year of action, these numbers are an impressive milestone. 

One of CREA’s tools in succeeding in its mission is to rely on its partners in different countries through listening and understanding. Air and energy issues ask for an approach that builds up from interpreting and constructing from multiple perspectives in order to understand topics as holistically. CREA’s team thrives from finding a research idea that can help shift a policy decision or an investment decision, or to help protect a community. These ideas arise from people who live and work in the culture and in the context where these decisions are made. 

In 2020, reports of the effects of Corona-virus to air pollution levels in Europe and Asia has been notable

CREA’s Lead Analyst, Lauri Myllyvirta urges that “an era of green resuscitation should begin after the Corona-virus has been seized”. Founded right on the verge of the spread of a global pandemic, the first year of CREA’s role as a research institution focusing, among other, the health effects of air pollution has been an important one. CREA’s findings about the improvement in air quality and the avoidance of pollution deaths over the months of coronavirus lockdowns in Europe caught the attention of international media, such as Reuters, medical professionals as well as climate campaigners. Even though the effects of coronavirus are globally shocking, the level of improvements in air quality across the globe has underlined the meaning of clean air — addressing the issue has helped in the fight against climate change. 

However, the work has been significant also outside Europe. CREA has claimed a notable amount of public and media attention with its partners by pointing out the effects of air pollution, especially in Asia. CREA’s analysis on China’s pollution and energy trends has been noted among government officials and caught the attention of international media, such as the Guardian. Also the assessment on China and India’s carbon emissions and the inputs to an air pollution citizen lawsuit in Indonesia were important interventions CREA contributed to in 2020.  

In 2021, CREA expands to new geographies and sectors in field of energy 

CEO Sivalingam believes that in the future, the need for credible science outside of conventional academic spaces increases. Therefore, during its second year, CREA expects to expand their capacity and capability to work on different sectors that influence energy demand and air pollution. The research work will also aim to reach wider geographies to support more campaigns for clean air and clean energy.

Find out more about CREA’s work in 2020 through this interactive map including our publications across the globe. By hovering over the highlighted regions and countries, you can see the specific reports.