This event is exclusive to Friends of Tortoise
in partnership with Ericsson
What if the technology we need to deliver our Net Zero commitments already exists, just not enough of it? There are those who argue that increasing investment in digital infrastructure to accelerate the roll out of 5G is, in fact, the most pressing and effective action we can take now to create more resilient economies post COVID-19 and avoid irreversible damage from climate change. What is the role of 5G in achieving Net Zero? Does it have to be a choice? Join us to discuss whether a reset is required, to refocus climate innovation conversations on the technology that can make a difference today.
Over the course of an hour, we discussed the risks and opportunities around relying on tech, the role of 5G in achieving Net Zero, and why remembering the physical as well as the digital is still important.
Cop26 has now entered its second week – when world leaders have largely left, and technical negotiators together with ministers take over to turn talk into action.
Information technology has an essential role to play in tackling carbon emissions. As per Ericssons’ connectivity and climate change report, today’s 5G technology can help break the energy curve and accelerate the path to Net Zero greenhouse gas emissions. Yet ultimately, scaling up tech is what matters the most, and this won’t happen without money, and enough political will to make it a reality.
Follow the money. Public research and development (R&D) investment from government corporations and in the venture capital market is around £80 billion a year. That’s nowhere near enough – Amazon alone invests twice as much. But alarmingly, this lack of funding is nothing new. R&D has been on the decline for decades, and the tech sector is lagging behind the rest of business. There’s little doubt that demand for climate tech is going to skyrocket, but capital for climate-focused solutions remains thin. If stakeholders don’t back the innovations the world needs, the gamble on tech won’t have the chance to pay off.
Internal targets aren’t enough. Tech giants like Google, Facebook, and Apple, are making active efforts to become carbon neutral companies. Encouraging progress has been made in how they manufacture, run data centres, and power their offices. But building their own “walled gardens” isn’t enough. Running a closed ecosystem where technology and information aren’t shared only limits opportunities to collaborate. “You’ve got to get that high level of commitment,” said Helen Clarkson, Climate Group’s CEO. “Companies do then start to innovate about the way they do things and hit targets early.” A common goal would be a good starting point. If companies can be brought together to tackle emissions, it will put greater pressure on governments to set better market structures such as how accessible it is to buy renewable energy.
We don’t have an innovation problem, we have a scale problem. A lot of the technology we need to make a real difference across energy, transport, food or heavy industry already exists – but governments lack the incentives to get it out in the world and scale it up so that it can have a global impact. The world can’t afford to sit around and wait for the “next big thing” to save us. It should start making an impact with the technology we already have. Big tech might have part of the answer when it comes to the question of scale because the real challenge is how to build a chain between government, businesses and individuals.
Having greater diversity will lead to bold decisions and better outcomes. The tech sector has the wrong people sitting in instrumental places, at the wrong time. Climate change will impact the most vulnerable communities the hardest but the subconscious bias of those sitting on boards will mean investment and resources are directed elsewhere. The majority of venture capital firms don’t have a single female partner, meaning women are often left out of the conversation on climate. Thinking more creatively and differently will only lead to better outcomes, and maximise the chances of success.
We need to be socio-technical rather than just technical. Tech can only take us so far. There is a need to radically rethink how we live as a species, and that alone will be more of a challenge than inventing new tech. Constant fixation by venture capitalists on digital innovation and solutions creates a risk of neglect towards our physical world. Remembering what can be done alongside developing tech will help turn up the dial on innovation.
A common thread throughout the ThinkIn was creating chains of collaboration – between businesses, with governments, and with individuals. It’s this kind of collaboration that Tortoise is hoping to achieve with its Accelerating Net Zero Coalition. To find out more, visit our Accelerating Net Zero homepage.
editor and invited experts
Baroness Martha Lane Fox
Director, Peers for Planet; co-founder, Lastminute.com
Climate Change Action Program Manager, Ericsson
CEO, Climate Group