Innovation That Matters

Taking stock of climate innovation

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The UN has released its latest stocktake report on progress against the Paris Climate Agreement. What are the key insights for innovation?

In 46 pages of densely typed, scientifically worded prose, the UN’s latest ‘stocktake’ report on the world’s response to the climate crisis highlights the gulf between today’s climate action and the emissions reductions necessary if we are to meet the long-term goals of the Paris Agreement.

The Global Stocktake is a process overseen by the UN that was set up at COP 21 in Paris back in 2015. It brings together governments, experts, and other stakeholders every five years to assess how the world is responding to the climate crisis. The findings of this process will inform the next round of national climate targets, known in climate diplomacy jargon as nationally determined contributions or NDCs, which are due to be submitted by 2025.

The report, which was published on Friday 8th September, is the product of a data collection process and a series of meetings, held in 2022 and 2023, that gave stakeholders the opportunity to share their views. The final document synthesises all these inputs into 17 key technical findings.

The standout finding is clear, alarming, and was widely anticipated before the report’s publication: “While action is proceeding, much more is needed now on all fronts.” More specifically, when it comes to climate mitigation, the document argues that: “Urgent action and support are needed to ramp up implementation of domestic mitigation measures by realising opportunities across all sectors and systems.”

A case for optimism?

The headline findings of the report add to the sense of doom coming out of a summer that has brought so many climate-related disasters across the globe. But, within the report, there are kernels of hope. Chief among these is the fact that: “There are now sufficient cost-effective opportunities to address the 2030 emissions gap… [the gap between the forecast level of emissions in 2030 under current policies, and the level required to meet climate targets].”

Delving into this point in more detail, the document points to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s sixth assessment report (AR6). This found that implementing climate mitigation solutions that today cost less than $100 per tonne of CO2 equivalent (CO2e) could halve emissions by 2030 compared to 2019 levels. And more than half of this potential reduction could be achieved with technologies that cost less than $20 per tonne of CO2e.

There is therefore a suite of potential solutions that we can draw on to tackle emissions, with the report specifically highlighting the expansion of renewable energy, clean fuels like ammonia and hydrogen, energy storage, electrification, reforestation, sustainable land management, smart city planning, and circular economy practices, among many other promising solutions. It also emphasises the co-benefits of many mitigation activities for issues such as health, access to energy, and job creation.

What did the report say about innovation?

The report strikes a balance between highlighting that we already have many cost-effective solutions that need to be scaled up, and the need for innovation in key areas. Key finding 16 within the document outlines that: “Existing cleaner technologies need to be rapidly deployed, together with accelerated innovation, development and transfer of new technologies, to support the needs of developing countries.”

There is also a clear emphasis within the report on the importance of international collaboration when it comes to innovation, with the document highlighting that: “More effective and strategic international cooperation on technology development and transfer and innovation would enable rapid systems transformations that are aligned with achieving the goals of the Paris Agreement.”

Ultimately, the stocktake report cements the importance of innovation in the fight against climate change, highlighting that: “Intensive efforts to support cooperation and innovation are essential throughout the technology cycle and across all sectors and geographies…”

Which innovations embody the report’s findings?

Every day at Springwise, we give oxygen to inspiring innovations that are tackling the climate challenge. Three recent ones, in particular, provide excellent case studies either for the deployment of clean technologies to developing countries or for international cooperation.

Access to energy in underserved communities was highlighted as a particular co-benefit for climate mitigation in the report. An example of a solution that delivers this in practice is OffGridBox, a US company operating in 18 countries worldwide. The company’s all-in-one system provides solar energy and water purification for climate-vulnerable communities. These modular systems utilise innovative solar panels and inverters to harness solar power, and this electricity not only supports entire communities but can also be stored in internal batteries for future use. Additionally, the OffGridBox system includes a rainwater collection and purification system, allowing it to gather and purify water from multiple sources.

In another initiative, a partnership between EIT InnoEnergy, RIC Energy, MAIRE, Siemens Financial Services, InVivo, and Heineken has launched FertigHy, a green fertiliser provider. FertigHy will build low-carbon fertiliser plants that will use green hydrogen to replace the natural gas-based feedstock used in traditional fertiliser plants. The green hydrogen itself will be produced using electrolysis powered by renewable or low-carbon electricity. The initial plant, due to start construction in 2025, will produce more than one million metric tonnes of low-carbon fertilisers per year and will be based in Spain. FertigHy also plans to build and operate a number of large-scale low-carbon fertiliser projects in other European countries.

Finally, in a project called WASTE2FUNC, which began in June 2021 and is scheduled to conclude in November 2024, 12 global partners are collaborating to turn food waste into plastic. These partners include research institutes such as the City University of Hong Kong and Ghent University, agricultural associations, small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), and major corporations like Croda, Evonik, and Ecover. The collective aim of the partners is to transform food waste into bioplastics for cosmetic applications using a process that converts the waste into lactic acid and microbial biosurfactants, which are valuable components in bioplastic production.

These three innovations are among many in the Springwise library that are helping to mitigate climate change in the real world.

Written By: James Bidwell