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Climate innovation must be accelerated by both state and non-state actors

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The Paris climate goals were formulated two years ago, but there have been major advances in climate innovation since then. As such, there may be a lack of awareness of potential products and services that may accelerate the transition to a low carbon and resilient economy. How can we best identify and scale such innovation? A panel of leading companies, investors, and NGOs took up this discussion at COP23 in Bonn.

Bertrand Piccard, Initiator, Chairman, and Pilot of Solar Impulse, illustrated the need to overcome assumptions and closed thinking by drawing on his own experience:

“The experts told me it was impossible,” he said, of the notion that he could build a solar powered airplane. When Piccard was informed he would not have enough energy from the sun to power the plane, he worked on energy efficiency. On 25 July 2016, he completed 40,000 km totally emissions-free.

“Innovation isn’t the new idea you have, it’s getting rid of old paradigms… free yourself from old ‘certainties,’” he said.

Piccard continued on this point, emphasising the urgency for states to locate and support these innovations, “When we speak of 2050, it’s far too late… what’s so important is having the governments understand at every level, the possibilities today.”

Meanwhile, certain shifts are happening at a non-state level. CDP is a non-profit financial disclosure organisation working on assessing climate impact. So far, 6,300 companies have disclosed their climate-related information and over 500 cities, signalling a new norm.

Ed Wells, Head of Global Markets Policy, HSBC, highlighted the challenge of finding new finance technologies, and getting them from niche to mainstream: “We need to find the financial structures that will unlock that investment. We find that a lot of the money is there, we just need to find a way to mobilise it… investors want to invest sustainably.”

At a corporate level, some of the largest companies in the world are giving themselves ambitious green targets. For example, Walmart has pledged to take gigaton of CO2 out of the atmosphere by 2030. Katherine Neebe, Director of Sustainability, Walmart, emphasised the need for cross-industry collaboration, saying they consulted NGOs to develop their science-based plan.

Eric Olson, Senior VP, BSR, echoed the importance of both systemic change and collaboration—especially between corporations and governments: “These are challenges that, to make a big difference, have to be addressed at a systemic level. We have the technology today to achieve what we want to work on, (therefore) what we spend most of our innovation time on is how companies can work together and with governments, so they can do what they can’t do themselves.”

How can we mobilise state and non-state actors? C40—a network of the world’s megacities committed to addressing climate change—and their new partnership with Climate-KIC gave an encouraging example.

According to Emmanuelle Pinault, Head of City Diplomacy, C40, there’s much opportunity for innovation to address pressing climate mandates; C40 focuses on the following four: decarbonising electric city grid, optimising energy efficiency in buildings, enabling the next generation of mobility, and improving waste management.

“70 percent of C40 cities report they strongly feel the effects of climate change,” she added, signalling that governments are aware of the urgency to act.

According to Piccard, incentive may transform awareness into political will: “The political world has a lot to do, but we have to push them to do it… If we want to speak to people we can to convince, we have to speak their language and the language of the political world is profit,” he continued, “Climate finance and finance are now one in the same—green solutions are profitable.”

Persuading the political world of the value of innovation (at an economic level and beyond) requires a collective shift in mindset—a reimagining of rigidly defined or even traditionally oppositional concepts. Kirstin Dunlop, CEO, Climate-KIC said: “There’s the idea that regulation can marry and balance stewardship, and of entrepreneurship as a principle of good governance… Innovation is not just technologies, but the way we live and the way we think.”

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