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Tech potential must be tapped to protect planet

By Borge Brende | China Daily Global | Updated: 2021-11-05 09:05
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In this file photo taken on July 15, 2021 a resident stands next to damaged furnitures in a flooded street in Bad Neuenahr-Ahrweiler, western Germany. [Photo/Agencies]

Our planet is in peril.

Rising temperatures and harsh weather patterns-once risks that were on the horizon-have arrived. Tragic flooding in Europe and Asia this summer, intense storms rolling across the Americas this fall, and record heat waves in the Arctic this year all tell the same story: Climate change is unfolding fast.

The devastation to our environment should come as no surprise. In the past three decades, global greenhouse gas emissions have shot up by more than 60 percent. Temperatures are now 1.2 C above preindustrial levels-uncomfortably close to the 1.5 C limit needed to preserve our environment.

These are dark developments.

But fortunately, there is hope. We live in an era of immense innovation, with breakthrough technologies reshaping our economies and societies. If we steer this innovation in the right direction, we can stave off the worst environmental outcomes.

The potential for technology to address climate change is clear. The rapid expansion of solar and wind power-key components of our efforts to reduce the use of fossil fuels-has been possible because of advancements that led costs to drop by as much as 89 percent over the past decade.

There are so many more possibilities ahead.

According to estimates by the United Nations, artificial intelligence and digitization can help reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 10 to 20 percent this decade. Indeed, the Paris climate agreement states that "accelerating, encouraging and enabling innovation is critical for an effective, long-term global response to climate change".

But we are not yet near where we need to be with green innovation. Half of the technologies necessary for helping us reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 are still in prototype phases. All told, we need between $78 trillion and $130 trillion of new investment to accelerate this pipeline.

The only way to realize the promise of innovation is through deeper collaboration between business and government. We need business to invest in research and development and government to set enabling frameworks to help unlock the capital necessary to fund green technologies.

A key conclusion reached this spring by the Technology Executive Committee-the UN body helping countries develop green technologies-is that "attention needs to be paid to the 'how' of private sector participation". Because while there are a host of collaborative climate efforts around the world, few focus on funding or implementing new technologies.

This is why the World Economic Forum and the United States Department of State launched the First Movers Coalition on Wednesday at the 26th UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP 26) in Glasgow, Scotland. Steered by US climate envoy John Kerry, this new partnership of the world's leading companies across emissions-intensive sectors will make proactive purchasing commitments for emerging green technologies.

In leveraging the collective purchasing power of its members, the coalition will send a strong demand signal to the market and incentivize the development of technologies that can eliminate carbon emissions in emissions-heavy sectors such as trucking, aviation, shipping and steel production. Ultimately, the aim is to scale green technologies across industries that currently account for a combined total of 30 percent of carbon emissions.

There is momentum for action. President Xi Jinping has pledged that China would peak carbon emissions before 2030 and achieve carbon neutrality before 2060, and US President Joe Biden has pledged that the United States would cut greenhouse gas emissions in half by 2030. China recently released a road map for reaching its net-zero targets, and the country's climate envoy, Xie Zhenhua, has said that technology is key to realizing these ambitions.

In addition, the European Union, the United Kingdom, Japan and other major economies have committed to achieving net-zero emissions by 2050.

The private sector has shown that it is a committed partner. The World Economic Forum's Alliance of CEO Climate Leaders is working with one-fifth of the world's largest 2,000 public companies to meet net-zero targets by 2050.

We need business and government to work together to unlock the potential of technology. It is the only way we will be able to meet our climate objectives.

Through their collaboration to unlock the potential of innovation, we can secure a more sustainable future.

The author is president of the World Economic Forum.

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