The ClimateLaunchpad Quarterly is a periodic global update on all things climate & cleantech. Sharpen your mind and get yourself up to speed with just one read.
World leaders are setting the course
During the largest virtual gathering of world leaders to date, the US-hosted climate summit last April saw 40 countries discuss their objectives to cut emissions. The summit appears to have raised the bar for climate targets. The US committed to the goal of halving greenhouse gas emissions by 2030, compared to 2005 levels. The UK is targeting cuts of 68% by 2030 and 78% by 2035. The EU already pledged to cut carbon by 55% by 2030, compared to 1990 levels.
During the summit Japan was criticized for its inadequate target of reducing 46% of emissions by 2030. Experts say the country can only achieve net zero emissions in 2050 (in line with the Paris agreement) with a 60% reduction from 2013 levels.
Australia is expected to announce additional plan and new targets were set by Canada. South Korea might reduce its stake in fossil fuels overseas. China had already promised to peak its emissions by 2030 and achieve carbon neutrality by 2060, a pledge that is largely consistent with the Paris Agreement’s aim of limiting global warming to 1.5°C.
“[This] is a reminder of the strength of the Paris agreement. It’s a reminder that we have begun the most exciting economic transformation in human history – a permanent shift away from high carbon to net zero emissions.” – Christiana Figueres, former UN Climate Chief
The lockdown effect: just ‘a blip’
If you thought the global lockdowns made a dent in the growing CO2 levels, think again. 2020 showed a record amount of CO2 in the atmosphere with a peak of 417 parts per million in the month of May. The last time we exceeded 400 parts per million was around four million years ago.
“We are seeing record levels every year,” says Ralph Keeling, head of the CO2 programme at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, in an interview with BBC. The effect of lockdowns on concentrations of CO2 in the atmosphere was so small that it registers as just a ‘blip’. The effect on the rising CO2 levels has been negligible.
“If we keep tracking the worst-case scenario, by the end of this century levels of CO2 will be 800ppm. We haven’t had that for 55 million years. There was no ice on the planet then and it was 12°C warmer,” says Martin Siegert, co-director of the Grantham Institute for climate change and the environment at Imperial College London.
Mountain glaciers melting at record speed
A new study published in Nature shows that nearly all of the world’s glaciers are losing mass – at an accelerated pace. Researchers in Canada, France, Switzerland, and Norway collected 20 years of satellite images taken from a special camera on a NASA satellite. Over 210,000 glaciers around the world (excluding Greenland and Antarctic) were involved in the study and lost an average of 267 gigatonnes of ice per year. The impact on the rising sea levels was about 0.74 millimetres per year (or 21 percent of overall sea-level rise observed during the period). Global thinning rates doubled in the last 20 years.
Rising sea levels pose a threat to the welfare of people in regions like Indonesia, Bangladesh, Panama, the Netherlands, and some parts of the United States. But shrinking glaciers are not just causing the oceans to rise. Millions of people depend on snowmelt for clean water. “They provide cool, plentiful water for many systems throughout the planet,” says Brian Menounos, professor of Earth sciences at the University of Northern British Columbia and. “Once those glaciers are gone, you don’t have that buffering capability.”
“Ten years ago, we were saying that the glaciers are the indicator of climate change, but now actually they’ve become a memorial of the climate crisis.” – Michael Zemp, World Glacier Monitoring Service Director
Will the world be able to deliver on target?
So, with science explaining the necessity to increase the scale and speed of climate action; those renewed and adjusted climate action pledges are no luxury.
Up until now too many individual countries that vowed to meet the Paris agreement fell short of setting adequate goals to meet that challenge. Even if every country met its goal, total global emissions would still push warming well above 2°C.
The newly announced emission goals set the strategic direction to meet the Paris’ accord. However, reaching the targets will be challenging to the extreme. Setting the goal is the easy part. As it is, a lot of countries struggle to meet their (inadequate) goals. And as the newly set intentions are light on detail, the question remains how to deliver on them. Yes, power generation industries face the biggest challenges, but all sectors and economies will be called on to reduce emissions. In many cases the pathway to get there has yet to be determined.
Even so, the fact that leading countries and economies are setting goals for the next underscores the urgency of and the growing international momentum behind climate action.
The challenge beyond: “Even if we get to net zero, we need carbon removal”
The remark came from John Kerry (special climate envoy to the Biden administration) during the climate summit: “Even if we get to net zero, we need carbon removal”. He warned that net-zero emissions by the middle of this century will not be enough to avert catastrophic warming. “To preserve a safe and recognizable global climate, the world will need to start removing the carbon dioxide we’ve spewed into the atmosphere over the last 200 years, which has created an insulating layer around our planet.”
While it is difficult enough to get countries to reduce consumption of oil, gas and coal, carbon removal is yet another challenge to gear up for. It requires more attention and action than we currently see.
Momentum for climate tech start-ups
The world has 9 years to halve global carbon emissions and 29 years to get to net zero. These deadlines mark the point of no return to stay within the 1.5°C of global warming and avert the most dangerous scenarios.
Within this short time frame, every sector and every economy needs to transform. Climate tech solutions demand rapid acceleration and commercialisation. But progress so far has been slow. PWC analyzed that we need a seven-fold increase in the climate action rate to bridge the gap between the targets and the inadequate global response. This decade needs to bring forth transformational solutions to get the world to net zero. Start-ups are vital to make that real.
The risk of these disruptive pandemic times is a wish to return to the way things were. But to address the challenges of tomorrow, countries, sectors, organisations and individuals need to rethink. We need to seize this moment to guide the world to an achievable path to sustainable growth. The role of startups in resetting and reconfiguring for an inclusive net zero future is vital.
With governments, global corporations and investors pledging to a net-zero (or even carbon negative) future, the demand for breakthrough climate technology is on the rise. The momentum is here for the best ideas and entrepreneurs to be backed – so they can scale and help transform industries and society.
That’s it for our first ClimateLaunchpad quarterly. The next edition will be released in July. Any subjects you would like us to cover? Drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.