To solve the climate crisis, we need an investment revolution

climate 2020

(Credit: Unsplash)

This article is brought to you thanks to the collaboration of The European Sting with the World Economic Forum.

Author: Nicole Systrom, Founder, Sutro Energy Group


  • The scale of the climate crisis and its potential impacts mean we need a scientific and investment revolution to tackle it.
  • There are opportunities for patient investors in areas such as energy storage and electrification.
  • It’s time to tap into the power of science and innovation. Here’s a guide.

It’s hard to know its ultimate scale or how long it will take, but over the coming months the world will be watching the urgent efforts of scientists to develop a COVID-19 vaccine. At the same time, engineers and academics will develop technologies and models to help businesses and our economy adapt to this extended period of social distancing, Zoom calls and home schooling. And manufacturers will continue to dedicate some of their factories to the mass production of everything from hand sanitizer to ventilators. It’s clear our capacity for innovation is being tested.

It reminds us that as much as we depend on our leaders in moments of crisis and need – and boy, do we ever – we also depend on the tenacity and insights of scientists, the ingenuity and vision of entrepreneurs, and the resourcefulness and boldness of companies to solve big problems. But we also need investors.

I have spent much of my career trying to facilitate innovations that will help us address another existential threat to our society: climate change. Like COVID-19, this is an area where the scale of the problem is so vast and the repercussions so massive – with huge economic and social justice implications – that we need nothing less than a scientific and investment revolution.

 

Decarbonizing our entire economy by 2050 will require two things:

1. Massive investments and innovation in areas like electrification, affordable long-term energy storage, and regenerative agriculture.

2. Investors patient enough to allow these investments to pay off.

For those willing to wait 10 to 15 years for returns, there is an opportunity to focus long-term on energy storage and the technology we need to remake transportation systems. Electrifying our vehicle fleet is the single biggest opportunity we have to reduce emissions in the transportation sector, but we’ll need a seismic increase in electricity production in order to shift from oil and gas, and provide equitable access to clean transportation options. This increase in demand for clean power can be met by solar and wind, but will also require long-term seasonal energy storage—batteries that can provide energy when renewables don’t provide enough to keep the lights on.

One prominent company working on long-term seasonal energy storage is Form Energy, which is developing a new type of sulphur-based battery. Form, which is based in the Boston area and is backed by Bill Gates’ Breakthrough Energy Ventures, was founded by Mateo Jaramillo, who launched Tesla’s PowerWall business, and MIT professor Yet-Ming Chiang. Another start-up, Quidnet, is pioneering technology that pumps water to store energy at extremely large capacities.

Game-changing innovations aren’t always about new technologies. A generation ago, in the 1990s, New York began to purchase land in the Catskills watershed. The innovative idea was that by acquiring land upstate to restrain development, they could reduce runoff and pollution to provide clean water to New York City. In this case, better short-term forest management saved taxpayers between $8 billion and $10 billion because they didn’t have to build a filtration plant that would cost millions of dollars a year to operate – allowing the state to sequester carbon, offset greenhouse gases and help communities better adapt to the extreme weather patterns and precipitation changes brought about by climate change.

New investments in clean energy over the past 14 years have flattened
New investments in clean energy over the past 14 years have flattened
Image: Bloomberg New Energy Finance

At a time when tropical forests are sequestering less carbon dioxide – studies show that by 2035 the Amazon won’t be taking on any new CO2, and that deforestation has been rapidly increasing while the world was distracted by the COVID-19 crisis – investors should be exploring ways to empower local municipalities and indigenous communities to better manage and restore forests, marshland and other natural ecosystems. New financial instruments could provide payoffs in the form of cash raised for local communities, increased biodiversity and climate resiliency.

None of this is to minimize the importance of near-term investments in proven or close-to-proven technologies. Indeed, investing in sustainable infrastructure and all the jobs that will create can be a cornerstone of the world’s economic recovery from the COVID-19 crisis. Everything from building community solar farms to next-generation energy-efficiency retrofits and energy-efficient coatings for windows should be on the table for investors.

So should making electric grids more efficient. While replacing them all will take decades, companies like Siemens and Stem have been developing software that learns from patterns and allows everyone from utility partners to industrial facility managers at universities and corporate campuses across the country to forecast and manage electricity use more efficiently. These, too, are worthy areas of investment.

What’s the World Economic Forum doing about the transition to clean energy?

Moving to clean energy is key to combating climate change, yet in the past five years, the energy transition has stagnated.

Energy consumption and production contribute to two-thirds of global emissions, and 81% of the global energy system is still based on fossil fuels, the same percentage as 30 years ago. Plus, improvements in the energy intensity of the global economy (the amount of energy used per unit of economic activity) are slowing. In 2018 energy intensity improved by 1.2%, the slowest rate since 2010.

Effective policies, private-sector action and public-private cooperation are needed to create a more inclusive, sustainable, affordable and secure global energy system.

Benchmarking progress is essential to a successful transition. The World Economic Forum’s Energy Transition Index, which ranks 115 economies on how well they balance energy security and access with environmental sustainability and affordability, shows that the biggest challenge facing energy transition is the lack of readiness among the world’s largest emitters, including US, China, India and Russia. The 10 countries that score the highest in terms of readiness account for only 2.6% of global annual emissions.

To future-proof the global energy system, the Forum’s Shaping the Future of Energy and Materials Platform is working on initiatives including, Systemic Efficiency, Innovation and Clean Energy and the Global Battery Alliance to encourage and enable innovative energy investments, technologies and solutions.

Is your organisation interested in working with the World Economic Forum? Find out more here.

One major lesson from COVID-19 is that science matters. Sometimes it tells us that we need to make a moonshot investment in, say, decarbonizing energy-intensive industries like cement and steel production. Other times, science points to simpler but equally game-changing steps, such as how crop rotation, managed grazing, and manure and organic fertilizer management could make the agricultural sector carbon-neutral.

But of all the lessons we’ve learned from COVID-19 as we race toward a solution, perhaps the biggest is that we ignored the warning signals instead of preparing. With the climate, let’s make the most of this opportunity. Let’s start that race now and tap the power that innovation has to accelerate change and unlock new and surprising possibilities. And let’s look to scientists, enabled by savvy investors, to lead the way.

the sting Milestone

Featured Stings

Can we feed everyone without unleashing disaster? Read on

These campaigners want to give a quarter of the UK back to nature

How to build a more resilient and inclusive global system

Stopping antimicrobial resistance would cost just USD 2 per person a year

This entrepreneur is helping farmers get food to consumers during lockdown

Switzerland has the most highly skilled workers in the world. This is why

These are the countries best prepared for health emergencies

The essence of care is cosmopolitan

Call to revitalize ‘language of the ancestors’ for survival of future generations: Indigenous chief

Mental Health: Role of the individual for their well-being in the pandemic

‘Fire-fighting approach’ to humanitarian aid ‘not sustainable’: Deputy UN chief

Black babies more likely to survive when cared for by Black doctors, suggests new study

EU Commission spends billions without achieving targets

“The Arctic climate matters: to what degree?”, a Sting Exclusive co-authored by UN Environment’s Jan Dusik and Slava Fetisov

EU-Vietnam free trade deal gets green light in trade committee

Here are five things to know about the future of being human

UN health agency spotlights stalled effort to close health divide across Europe, in new report

IMF v Germany: Eurogroup keeps the fight under control

European Junior Enterprise Network – Ready to take the Step Into the Future?

Here’s what I learned at Davos 2020

Yesterday’s “jokes” and sarcasm by Digital Single Market’s Vice President Ansip on EU member states’ right to protect their telco markets

We need to talk about integration after migration. Here are four ways we can improve it

UN human rights chief fears world has grown numb to Syrian carnage

Health is nothing but the main consequence of climate change

Financial abuse of elderly ‘rampant, but invisible’, says UN expert

Europe should make voice ‘more heard’ in today’s ‘dangerous world,’ says UN chief

Reducing disaster risk is a good investment, and ‘the right thing to do’, says Guterres

5 priorities for leaders in the new reality of COVID-19

How the United States can win back its manufacturing mojo

From low-earth orbit, ‘envoys’ of humanity join UN space forum

iSting: Change Europe with your Writing

Council Presidency: Floundering with the EU 2014 budget

This wall of shoes is for the women killed by domestic violence

Workplace risks: Final vote on protection from carcinogens, including diesel fumes

Copyright: MEPs update rules for the digital age

UN chief calls for ‘united front’ against anti-Semitism after US synagogue mass-shooting

Eurogroup asked to reduce public debts of its member states

Top UN political official updates Security Council on Iran nuclear deal

I created a class to teach zero waste. It turned into so much more

Superbugs: MEPs advocate further measures to curb use of antimicrobials

‘Amid stormy global seas, UN charter remains our moral anchor’, says Guterres on United Nations Day

ECB’s €1.14 trillion again unifies Eurozone; Germany approves sovereign debt risks to be pooled

Grexit no longer a threat but how to manage a “tutti frutti” government if not with fear?

‘Our goal is to democratize the air.’ How aerial transportation will shape cities of the future

Service and Sacrifice: For Ghana, UN peacekeeping is a ‘noble opportunity to serve humanity’

Israeli security forces’ response to Gaza protests ‘a recipe for more bloodshed’, says UN expert

Environmental Implementation Review: Commission helps Member States to better apply EU environment rules to protect citizens and enhance their quality of life

Yemen ceasefire deal: ‘Potential’ now to restore humanitarian lifeline to millions

AI can wreak havoc if left unchecked by humans

Celebrating Gaston Ramon – the vet who discovered vaccinology’s secret weapon

2 trillion drinks containers are made every year – so where do they go?

E-cigarettes are killing us softly with their vapor

Business is a crucial partner in solving the mental health challenge

The Ultimate Career Choice: General Practice Specialist

State aid: Commission approves German scheme for very high capacity broadband networks in Bavaria

These airports are now opening their doors to non-fliers

AI looks set to disrupt the established world order. Here’s how

Why do thousands of migrants need to be drowned for Brussels to wake up?

EU-US resume trade negotiations under the spell of NSA surveillance

There are 3 barriers blocking good menstrual hygiene for all women. Here’s how we overcome them

Denmark’s last circus elephants are retiring – here’s what might take their place

Tax havens cost governments $200 billion a year. It’s time to change the way global tax works

This AI can predict your personality just by looking at your eyes

Here’s how we reboot digital trade for the 21st century

More Stings?

Advertising

Speak your Mind Here

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s