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Nov. 11, 2019, 2:08 p.m. EST

Solving the climate crisis requires innovation backed by the taxpayers

The private-sector won’t invest enough in climate-disrupting technologies on its own

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By Ambroise Fayolle


NASA
This map shows regions of extreme temperature change.

LISBON, Portugal ( Project Syndicate ) — Because it poses an existential threat to humanity, climate change represents the bad kind of disruption. But it can — and must — be fought with the good kind of disruption: innovation. Since the Industrial Revolution, disruptive innovation has generated growth, created jobs, and opened new avenues for investment.

And in the case of climate change, it could save humanity, by accelerating global efforts to reduce greenhouse-gas (GHG) emissions. In fact, innovation will be absolutely necessary for a successful transition to a green economy that leaves no one behind. Without it, we have less chance of achieving genuine sustainability.

The only way to get ahead of a crisis as large as climate change is through groundbreaking technological innovation in clean energy and low-carbon technologies. And that, in turn, will require efforts to mitigate investment risks for private-sector actors, who cannot be expected to ignore their own bottom lines.

The alternative, of course, is unthinkable. To understand the extent of the threat posed by climate change in the event that we do nothing, consider where we are today. Average global temperatures have already risen by almost 1°C above pre-industrial levels, owing to the accumulation of GHGs in the atmosphere; and two-thirds of that increase has occurred since 1975.

If the trend continues, global average temperatures could rise by 4°C by the end of this century.

If that doesn’t sound like much, remember that our climate is fragile. Small changes in surface temperatures will cause big problems. When average temperatures were 4°C below pre-industrial levels, much of Europe was buried beneath several kilometers of ice. Just imagine what a world that is 4°C warmer than today might look like.

Effective ideas

Nonetheless, I am confident that effective, disruptive ideas are out there.

Floating windfarms, for example, can unlock clean wind power for the dozens of countries whose coastal waters are too deep for traditional offshore facilities. And advances in technologies based on waste-eating bioluminescent bacteria promise to illuminate our streets and factories.

Now read this : Climate change will break the housing market

To bring these solutions to scale, we need to put more financing into the right hands. We also need to encourage industries to be more creative, and to pursue more breakthrough technologies.

For example, the European Investment Bank (EIB), the European Commission, and Breakthrough Energy Ventures established a €100 million ($110 million) fund in 2019 to support disruptive investments in clean energy.

Innovative disruption needs to happen fast. According to the International Energy Agency, only seven of the 45 energy technologies and sectors assessed in its most recent Tracking Clean Energy Progress report are on target to meet its Sustainable Development Scenario, which is aligned with the global commitments enshrined in the 2015 Paris climate agreement.

Hence, for the policy makers, technologists, executives, and entrepreneurs, the question is: Where do we go from here?

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