Last week, I spoke among tech, business and environmental leaders who are bringing bold solutions to the forefront of the climate crisis. Katharine Hayhoe, a leading climate scientist, kicked off Techonomy Climate with a clear directive: “Every bit of warming matters. And every action matters.”
Here’s my view of the state of climate tech.
1. This is the era of climate innovation. A decade ago, one of our greatest challenges was collecting data to make the economic, social and environmental case for climate action. Today, the challenge is getting stakeholders — business leaders, entrepreneurs, investors and policymakers — to act on the data and put forth solutions that drive down carbon pollution and build resilience. As Ryan Panchadsaram, co-author of Speed & Scale: An Action Plan for Solving Our Climate Crisis Now, put it: “We don’t need more science or more reports. We need the now and the new.” Many of the solutions needed to tackle our climate crisis already exist. We need to deploy them at scale, while investing capital into those areas where innovation is still needed.
2. We need to transform entire systems collaboratively. Reducing the climate footprints of individual companies and people is insufficient to drive change at scale. Delivering net zero carbon pollution by midcentury requires transforming entire systems. Hayhoe refers to this as taking into account our “carbon shadows,” advising individuals and companies to use their voices to advocate change in communities, across global supply chains and entire industries. The biggest environmental challenges can’t be conquered alone. Private-public sector partnerships and non-traditional collaborations are key to delivering impact at a transformative scale.
3. Equity must be at the heart of climate action. “Climate justice is the social justice issue of our time,” my colleague Heather McTeer Toney, VP of community engagement at EDF, told the audience. Devising inclusive and equitable solutions is imperative. But for those solutions to be effective, we need the voices of those who have experienced climate inequities represented. “Where are all the people who are being impacted in the room?” Suzanne DiBianca, Chief Impact Officer & EVP of Corporate Relations at Salesforce recalled asking. Entrepreneurship happens at the local level, creating opportunities for community-led solutions. Native Renewables, for example, provides clean power to homes on Navajo and Hopi reservations.
4. Good policy drives innovation. Strong public policy can help deliver emission reductions at the speed and scale needed to avoid catastrophic consequences of climate change. “You need smart policies and courage if you're going to tackle climate change ambitiously…. Smart policy works to accelerate clean solutions,” said Catherine McKenna, former Minister of Environment and Climate Change, Canada, and founder of Climate and Nature Solutions. The climate crisis has been, and will continue to be, confronted by policy obstacles. But there are also a lot of opportunities, like the new bipartisan infrastructure law, which includes funding to pilot new clean energy technologies, and the major clean energy tax credits Congress is considering right now. EPA is taking aggressive action on methane regulations and fuel standards. Meanwhile, businesses can use their political influence to accelerate climate policy.
5. Climate tech investment is booming. More than 600 climate tech startups raised over $60 billion in the first half of 2021 alone — a 210% increase from the prior year. That influx of capital is having two impacts: It’s driving down the green tech cost curve and making investments in climate tech look less risky. The Securities and Exchange Commission’s new rules for how publicly traded companies need to report the risks to their businesses from climate change could accelerate climate tech investing further. Looking ahead, investors can provide more opportunities for companies to unlock, test and deliver breakthrough solutions.
Energy transition is the biggest business opportunity we have today. As climate continues to propel the innovation agenda, we can reinvent business models, disrupt the status quo and drive solutions at scale.
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