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Scale climate innovation with a supporting regulatory environment

Flickr - UNFCCC
Flickr - UNFCCC

Innovation must be supported by creating a favourable regulatory environment.

This was the major message of a special session on innovation and climate change, organised by the UNFCCC’s Technology Mechanism Technology Executive Committee (TEC), last Friday (12 May) as part of the UN Climate Change Conference in Bonn.

UNFCCC executive secretary Patricia Espinosa, who had an instrumental role in establishing the Technology Mechanism at COP16 (2010, Cancun), opened this unique session by reminding the audience that innovation is the foundation for transformational change.

The day of dialogue started with high-level discussion about innovation systems and the drivers. Markets are responding to climate technologies, now it is time to create incentives for innovation and to invest in innovation, the first panel agreed.

Anders Wijkman, Chair of the governing board of Climate-KIC, was one of a number of panellists including Zitouni Ould-Dada, Head of Technology Unit, UN Environment; Bruce Campbell, Director, CGIAR Research Programme on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security; and Ellina Levina, Senior Climate and Energy Policy Analyst, International Energy Agency. Wijkman urged caution about the risk of locking current technologies in for longer through incremental change. This is why transformative innovation is needed, he argued.

Improving national innovation systems

The panel stressed the importance of improving national innovation systems by targeted development of capacities, institutions and leadership, as well as by good regulation and incentives that shape the ecosystem for innovation.

Throughout the session, examples of national innovation systems from Argentina, the Kenya Climate Innovation Centre, TERI India and successful projects on microgrids, energy efficiency, mobility, digital drought management and data driven disaster risk management were shared.

Successful innovation cases

One example, SolarCity and Tesla: Ta’u Microgrid demonstrated how the remote island of Ta’u in American Samoa, now hosts a solar power and battery storage-enabled microgrid that can supply nearly 100 per cent of the island’s power needs from renewable energy. The project provides a cost-saving alternative to diesel, and eradicates the hazards of power intermittency.

Another example, Drones, Data and Rising Sea Levels in the Maldives, by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and DJI, is helping the Maldives islands cope with the growing threat from rising sea levels and coastal storms by using drones in preparing for and responding to disasters.

The UNEP CLIMWARN Project has been researching in Burkina Faso, Ghana and Kenya on how Early Warning Systems (EWS) can be more functional. EWS can improve resilience of households to climate related hazards, by providing information for early action. However, to be effective, EWS must incorporate aspects of resilient systems: diversity, flexibility, local relevance, learning, acceptance of change, consideration of justice and equity.

Innovate every aspect of business

The case studies shared underlined how innovation encompasses not just technology hardware, but finance and business models. Another point raised by speakers and panellists was that the key to successful climate innovation is not to lose sight of the business model in the technology development.

For climate innovation the technology is no longer the hard part, the challenge is to find the right information, approach and business model to scale. As the discussion continued, panellists and the audience collaborated on how to scale up climate technology innovations.

Scale climate innovation for impact

Speakers also called for impact investing, for “scaling the idea” through business models that can reach millions of people, rather than setting a million dollars revenue target first. Innovative financing, including proof-of-concept grants, technical assistance or green bonds are important, as well as creating demand from end-users through awareness-raising and bringing attention to co-benefits. When asking, “technology for what?”, focus goes beyond mitigation or adaptation, and responds to the needs of people, creating inclusive wealth and prosperity.

Knowledge must be shared

Knowledge is the common heritage of humanity, and it must be shared, concluded the event. Exchanging good practice and the learning from failures is crucial in a successful scaling process. Collaboration across sectors helps to bring forward the capabilities of each; collaboration across geographies creates the opportunity for scaling impact and for an integrated approach to sustainability and climate change.

About the TEC

The TEC identifies policies that can accelerate the development and transfer of low-emission and climate resilient technologies. It comprises 20 experts, advising the Parties of UNFCCC on all technology related issues.

Activities of the TEC include:

  • Providing an overview of countries’ climate technology needs and analysis of policy and technical issues related to climate technology development and transfer
  • Recommending actions to promote climate technology development and transfer
  • Recommending guidance on climate technology policies and programmes
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