Because scaling innovation is the key to stopping climate change


Before the last big COP meeting, in Paris in 2015, innovation was barely on the climate agenda. This year in Glasgow it will be the protagonist. Shifting the world’s attention to the invention of clean technologies was one of the greatest successes of the Paris COP. Continuing on this trajectory is, perhaps, its biggest opportunity this year, because innovation is the only way the world can reduce greenhouse gas emissions from around 51 billion tons per year to zero by the year. 2050.

There is now much more money for basic research and development and more venture capital for clean startups in sectors that are difficult to decarbonise than ever. As a result, some important clean technologies, such as sustainable jet fuel, green steel, and extra powerful batteries, now exist and are ready to scale.

If the world is truly committed to climate innovation, however, these discoveries must only be the beginning of the story, not the end. At COP, we need to think about how to transform lab-tested concepts into ubiquitous products that people want and can afford to buy. This will require a huge effort to fund hundreds of early stage commercial climate technology demonstration projects.

It is incredibly challenging for whatever startup to market its product, but this is the case only for energy companies. When I was starting Microsoft, we didn’t need much infrastructure to write the code, and once written, we could make nearly infinite copies with perfect fidelity for very little money.

Smart climate technologies are much more difficult to navigate. Once you can make green hydrogen in a laboratory, you need to prove that it works, safely and reliably, on a large scale. This means building a huge physical plant, ironing out engineering, supply chain and distribution problems, repeating them over and over again, and constantly reducing costs. Demonstration projects like this are extremely complicated, extremely risky and extraordinarily expensive, and very difficult to finance.

In clean technology, there is yet another complication. When all that complicated, risky and expensive work is done, you end up with a product that does pretty much the same thing as the one it is meant to replace – green steel has pretty much the same functionality as today’s steel – but it costs. more, at least for a while.

Of course, buyers are hard to find, which means banks charge more for loans. The high cost of capital, in turn, raises the price of products. Because funding is so difficult to obtain, commercial demonstration can be an extremely slow process. Right now, the key to the climate innovation agenda is to speed it up.

believe us Power Do this. Hundreds of governments and companies have made zero net commitments and have billions of dollars to invest. If we create systems that incentivize them to finance these projects and engage in purchasing products such as sustainable aviation fuel and green steel, then we have a chance to accelerate the innovation cycle. By putting much more money into building demonstration projects, recognizing these grants as one of the best ways to meet net zero commitments, and creating a system to measure the impact of these investments, we will give ourselves our best chance of averting a climate disaster.

When I think I’m going to zero, I ask three questions. First, can the world maintain public support for climate action? This depends on making sure the energy transition doesn’t cost so much that people lose patience. Second, can emerging economies like India, Brazil and South Africa, which have contributed far less to climate change than rich countries but are the hardest hit, continue to reduce poverty without emitting greenhouse gases? This is due to the reduction in the price of green materials, so that they do not face a trade-off between growth and a livable climate.

And third, what happens in the meantime? Almost everyone living today will have to adapt to a warm climate. The effects of higher temperatures – more frequent droughts and floods, desiccation of agricultural land, spread of pests that feed on crops – will particularly affect farmers. These changes will be problematic for farmers in rich countries, but potentially deadly for low-income ones. So, in addition to making clean energy cheaper, we need to double up on innovations like improved seeds that will help the world’s poorest farmers grow more food.

At COP, the world should put the scalability of clean tech innovation on its agenda – both to mitigate worst climate impacts and to adapt to the impacts we will already feel – in the same way it put on R&D in 2015.

For further information on this topic, see “This is how we build a zero-emission economy. ”

This article originally appeared on Financial Times.


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