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Main article: Global warming

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Topics from 1 to 10 | in all: 18

Investors and utilities are seeding carbon markets with new startups

23:02 | 7 January

While most of the world agrees that carbon dioxide emissions from human activity are creating a climate crisis, there’s little consensus regarding how to address it.

One of the solutions that’s both the most obvious and, seemingly, the most difficult for the international community to agree on is establishing a market that would put a price on carbon emissions. Making the cost of emissions palpable for industries would encourage companies to curb their polluting activities or pay to offset them.

The holy grail of a global carbon market — or a collection of regional ones — has been on the agenda for climate activists and regulators since the Kyoto Protocols were ratified in 1997, but enacting the policy has proven elusive.

Now, as the results of climate inaction become more apparent, there appears to be some movement on the regulatory front and concurrent activity from early-stage technology investors to make carbon offsets more of a reality.

It’s still early days, but startups like Project Wren, Pachama and Cloverly prove that investors and utilities are willing to take a flyer on companies that are trying to enable carbon offsets for consumers and corporations alike.

These small bets for investors are complemented by the potential for outsized returns given the size and scope that’s possible should these markets actually develop.

After years of languishing in relative obscurity, global carbon markets rebounded with vigor in 2017 and into 2018, according to data from the World Bank.

Countries raised about $44 billion in revenues from carbon pricing in 2018, an increase of $11 billion, with more than half coming from carbon taxes. In 2017, the $33 billion raised by governments from carbon pricing was an increase of 50% over 2016 numbers.

However large that number may seem, it’s dwarfed by the figure required to make any real changes in industry emissions, according to the World Bank. The current pricing schemes that exist cover a small percentage of global emissions at a cost that’s consistent with achieving the goals of the Paris Agreement, the latest international treaty around climate change and greenhouse gas emissions. Prices need to rise to between $40 per ton of carbon dioxide and $80 per ton by 2020 and between $50 per ton and $100 per ton by 2030.

 


0

Carbon dioxide emissions are set to hit a record high this year (it’s not fine, but not hopeless)

06:21 | 4 December

Carbon dioxide emissions, one of the main contributors to the climate changes bringing extreme weather, rising oceans, and more frequent fires that have killed hundreds of Americans and cost the U.S. billions of dollars, are set to reach another record high in 2019.

That’s the word from the Global Carbon Project, an initiative of researchers around the world led by Stanford University scientist Rob Jackson.

The new projections from the Global Carbon Project are set out in a trio of papers published in “Earth System Science Data“, “Environmental Research Letters“, and “Nature Climate Change“.

That’s the bad news. The good news (if you want to take a glass half-full view) is that the rate of growth has slowed dramatically from the previous two years. However, researchers are warning that emissions could keep increasing for another decade unless nations around the globe take dramatic action to change their approach to energy, transportation and industry, according to a statement from Jackson.

“When the good news is that emissions growth is slower than last year, we need help,” said Jackson, a professor of Earth system science in Stanford’s School of Earth, Energy & Environmental Sciences (Stanford Earth), in a statement. “When will emissions start to drop?”

Globally, carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuel sources (which are over 90 percent of all emissions) are expected to grow 0.6 percent over the 2018 emissions. In 2018 that figure was 2.1 percent above the 2017 figure, which was, itself, a 1.5 percent increase over 2016 emissions figures.

Even as the use of coal is in drastic decline around the world, natural gas and oil use is climbing, according to researchers, and stubbornly high per capita emissions in affluent countries mean that reductions won’t be enough to offset the emissions from developing countries as they turn to natural gas and gasoline for their energy and transportation needs.

“Emissions cuts in wealthier nations must outpace increases in poorer countries where access to energy is still needed,” said Pierre Friedlingstein, a mathematics professor at the University of Exeter and lead author of the Global Carbon Budget paper in Earth System Science Data, in a statement.

Some countries are making progress. Both the UK and Denmark have managed to achieve economic growth while simultaneously reducing their carbon emissions. In the third quarter of the year, renewable power supplied more energy to homes and businesses in the United Kingdom than fossil fuels for the first time in the nation’s history, according to a report cited by “The Economist”.

Costs of wind and solar power are declining so dramatically that they are cost competitive with natural gas in many parts of the wealthy world and cheaper than coal, according to a study earlier in the year from the International Monetary Fund.

Still, the U.S., the European Union and China account for more than half of all carbon dioxide emissions. Carbon dioxide emissions in the U.S. did decrease year-on-year — projected to decline by 1.7 percent — but it’s not enough to counteract the rising demand from countries like China, where carbon dioxide emissions are expected to rise by 2.6 percent.

And the U.S. has yet to find a way to wean itself off of its addiction to cheap gasoline and big cars. It hasn’t helped that the country is throwing out emissions requirements for passenger vehicles that would have helped to reduce its contribution to climate change even further. Even so, at current ownership rates, there’s a need to radically reinvent transportation given what U.S. car ownership rates mean for the world.

U.S. oil consumption per person is 16 times greater than in India and six times greater than in China, according to the reports. And the United States has roughly one car per-person while those numbers are roughly one for every 40 people in India and one for every 6 in China. If ownership rates in either country were to rise to similar levels as the U.S. that would put 1 billion cars on the road in either country.

About 40 percent of global carbon dioxide emissions were attributable to coal use, 34 percent from oil, 20 percent from natural gas, and the remaining 6 percent from cement production and other sources, according to a Stanford University statement on the Global Carbon Project report.

“Declining coal use in the U.S. and Europe is reducing emissions, creating jobs and saving lives through cleaner air,” said Jackson, who is also a senior fellow at the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment and the Precourt Institute for Energy, in a statement. “More consumers are demanding cheaper alternatives such as solar and wind power.”

There’s hope that a combination of policy, technology and changing social habits can still work to reverse course. The adoption of new low-emission vehicles, the development of new energy storage technologies, continued advancements in energy efficiency, and renewable power generation in a variety of new applications holds some promise. As does the social adoption of alternatives to emissions intensive animal farming and crop cultivation.

“We need every arrow in our climate quiver,” Jackson said, in a statement. “That means stricter fuel efficiency standards, stronger policy incentives for renewables, even dietary changes and carbon capture and storage technologies.”

 

 


0

Earth is headed for its second warmest year in recorded history (the record was three years ago)

05:02 | 19 November

Data from the U.S. government sure seems to indicate that the Earth is warming (despite what the current leadership may say).

Apparently, the globe just experienced the second-hottest October ever recorded and is on track for the second-hottest year to date on record, according to data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Not only are we experiencing a run of hot Octobers (this is the tenth year that temperatures have hit recorded-history highs since 2003 and all five of the highest temperature years were in the past five years), but arctic ice has also shrunk to its lowest extent since satellite records began in 1979.

Even as the Trump Administration enacts policies to reverse course on curbing the emissions that seem to be leading to a changing global climate, federal agencies like the NOAA keep releasing reports that reveal exactly how much the planet is changing.

Earlier this month Secretary of State Mike Pompeo began the process of formally withdrawing the U.S. from the Paris Agreement on climate change. As with most momentous events of the Administration, the world was notified via Twitter.

While Secretary Pompeo was praising the nation’s approach to “reducing all emissions”, Europe, Africa, Oceania, the Caribbean and Hawaiian Islands hit historic record-setting temperatures and the world’s average sea surface temperature hit its second-warmest ever-recorded temperature.

Meanwhile, new projections are revising the risk that cities face from rising sea levels that are caused by melting glaciers due to warmer temperatures.

Maps created by the research organization Climate Central, and published in the journal Nature Communications indicate that rising seas could flood land that’s currently home to some 150 million people at high-tide by 2050, if steps aren’t taken to improve the resiliency of cities to flooding or reverse course on climate.

Even the Federal Reserve is waking up to climate change risks. The regulator responsible for U.S. monetary policy convened an event earlier this month to focus on the financial impacts of climate change.

“By participating more actively in climate-related research and practice, the Federal Reserve can be more effective in supporting a strong economy and a stable financial system,” Lael Brainard, a member of the Fed’s board in Washington, said in prepared remarks at the same event, according to a report in The New York Times. 

 


0

Cervest raises £3.7M for Earth Science AI platform to predict climate effects

19:33 | 1 November

Climate risk including extreme events and the related pressures our environment are fundamentally affecting the way business and governments operate – both tactically and strategically. Increasing climate volatility is causing food supply disruptions, and increasing pressure on Enterprises (including financial institutions, insurers, producers) to disclose what’s going on.

The trouble is, while there is a lot of data about all this, its complexity, incompleteness and sheer volume is too vast for humans to process with the tools available today. So just as the climate changes, we are faced with ‘data chaos’. Equally, other parts of the world suffer from data scarcity, making it much harder to provide useful and timely analysis.

So the challenge is to address these issues simultaneously. So a new startup, Cervest, has created an AI-driven platform designed to inform the decision-making capabilities of businesses, governments and growers in the face of increasing climate volatility.

Cervest, has now closed a £3.7m investment round to fund the launch of its real-time, climate forecasting platform.

The round was led by deep-tech investor Future Positive Capital, with co-investor Astanor Ventures . The seed-stage funding round brings the company’s total funding to more than £4.5m.

Built on three years of research and development by a team of scientists, mathematicians, developers and engineers, Cervest says its Earth Science AI platform can analyze billions of data points to forecast how changes in the climate will impact the future of entire countries right down to individual landscapes.

It does this by combining research and modeling techniques taken from proven Earth sciences – including atmospheric science, meteorology, hydrology and agronomy – with artificial intelligence, imaging, machine learning and Bayesian statistics.

Using large collections of satellite imagery and probability theory, the platform can identify signals, or early-warning signs, of extreme events such as floods, fires, and strong winds. It can also spot changes in soil health, and identify water risk.

Cervest says the platform could do such things as reveal to a multinational the optimum location to build a new factory; warn a wheat grower that their crop yield isn’t expected to meet its targets; or used by insurers to help them set premiums for the next 12 months.

The team comes from a network of more than 30 universities, including Imperial College, The Alan Turing Institute, Cambridge, UCL, Harvard and Oxford, and has published more than 60 peer-reviewed scientific papers.

A beta version of the platform is due to launch in Q1 2020.

Iggy Bassi, Founder & CEO, Cervest said: “Our goal is to empower everyone to make informed decisions that improve the long-term resilience of our planet. Today decision-makers are struggling with climate uncertainty and extreme events and how they are affecting their business operations, assets, investments, or policy choices.”

Sofia Hmich, Founder, Future Positive Capital said: “With reports suggesting we have fewer than 60 years of farming left unless drastic action is taken, the need for science-backed decisions could not be greater. Businesses and policymakers hold the key to change and with access to Cervest’s proprietary AI technology they can start to make that change a reality at low cost – before it’s too late.”

Bassi previously ran the impact-led agribusiness, GADCO, which was supported by Acumen Fund, Soros, Gates Foundation, World Bank, and Syngenta . Its impact featured in UNDP, World Economic Forum, FT, Guardian and Huff Post. He previously built a software company focused on data analytics.

Cervest was inspired by Bassi’s experience building a farm-to-market agribusiness whilst confronting first-hand the impacts of climate and natural resource volatilities.

The Cervest team includes 8 scientists and 4 PhDs. Between them, they have published more than 60 peer-reviewed scientific papers with more than 3000 citations in high-profile titles including Nature, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and The Royal Statistical Society.

 


0

How Carl Pope helped drive a $500 million pledge to push the U.S. “Beyond Carbon” (Part 2)

22:53 | 18 July

Billionaire businessman and philanthropist Michael Bloomberg recently pledged to rapidly spend $500 million in a bid to push the U.S. “Beyond Carbon,” aiming to end this country’s use of coal and natural gas power in a generation or less.

In another recent piece, I featured an in-depth interview with Carl Pope, the veteran environmental leader who has essentially been the inspirational force behind Bloomberg’s evolution. The former New York City Mayor had never given a major gift to environmental causes as of a decade or so ago, until Pope “convinced” him to get involved.

Carl Mike Option 1

My previous piece was an attempt to understand the ethical vision influencing Bloomberg’s work, by looking at Pope’s personal story and the history of the environmental movement he has helped to shape. Below, Pope joins me again to look at the details of Bloomberg’s “Beyond Carbon” plan, including how he was able to persuade Bloomberg to take it on, and some areas of controversy that could arise as the $500 million is distributed.

Greg Epstein: You and Michael Bloomberg met around a decade ago or so, right?

Carl Pope: About 12 years ago, actually. 2007.

Epstein: Bloomberg had never given a major gift to an environmental group before he met you, and, as he writes in the book, you “convinced him” to get massively involved, to the tune now of many hundreds of millions of dollars. What do you think it is about you, the way that you approach things, or the work you do that made the two of you, in this relatively unlikely partnership, work so well?

Pope: We both like big ideas, and we both like to pursue them very pragmatically. We set very high expectations for what we want to get, and we’re willing to take necessarily small steps to get there. That’s one thing.

The second thing is, my original environmental frame was air pollution, [which] I worked on the first seven or eight years I was an environmentalist. Mike is a big public health advocate. So the fact that I was talking about saving people’s lives made a lot of sense to him.

Epstein: He talked about how you ‘showed him the numbers,’ back in 2011, on just how deadly coal actually is.

Pope: Yeah, that was the deal sealer.

Epstein: Interpersonally, what the interactions between you and him like?

Pope: We’re both public figures who are actually somewhat introspective, and so it works.

Epstein: I’ve read the “Beyond Carbon” plans as they’re presented by the Bloomberg organization. They do seem quite promising as far as broad, sweeping PR statements go.

But whether or not they will work is all in the details, right? You’re a detail-oriented person, as you just mentioned, so, what are some of the practical steps the plan calls for that you think deserve the most attention, beyond the headlines?

Pope: In A Climate of Hope, Mike and I articulated an approach to climate in which we gave our reasons for thinking that most climate leadership is going to come not from national governments but from businesses, cities, provinces, civic organizations, from the bottom up.

 


0

The climate is our biggest threat. Carl Pope is fighting to change our fate

20:22 | 18 July

Michael Bloomberg is an unrepentant capitalist who, as he says in his 2017 book A Climate of Hope, is “not exactly your stereotypical environmentalist.” Yet over the past decade, Bloomberg has become arguably the biggest environmental philanthropist in the world — especially given the $500 million investment Bloomberg announced last month that he would soon make in rapidly moving the U.S. “Beyond Carbon,” off both coal and natural gas and to a “100% clean energy economy.” How did this happen?

It turns out one of the biggest factors in Bloomberg’s green transformation has been his friendship with Carl Pope, the longtime former head of the Sierra Club, whom Bloomberg first met about a decade ago, as Mayor of New York.

Carl Pope Headshot

Pope is not exactly a household name, but nonetheless at this point can probably be called one of the most influential environmental activists in history. He wears a leather jacket and a weathered-looking sweater on the cover of Climate of Hope alongside Bloomberg’s suit, tie, and flag pin.

The two co-authored the book — and not just in the sense that Pope ghost-wrote Bloomberg’s opinions, as happens regularly when busy political and cultural celebrities take on a lesser-known co-author for some glamour project they may barely even read. A Climate of Hope is an extended dialogue between Bloomberg and Pope, with the two alternating chapters throughout and at times even disagreeing on potentially important issues.

What there’s no disagreement on, however, is that Pope “convinced” his co-author to dive into massive environmental spending (a feat accomplished in part by showing the health-conscious Bloomberg the numbers on how lethal coal can be).

Pope is no stranger to controversy — perhaps unsurprising for a nonprofit leader who has raised money well into the nine figures. He’s a “pragmatist,” as he says many times in the interview below, which depending on who you ask either means compromise to the point of being compromised, or simply that he has a knack for actually getting things done where others merely talk.

His legacy has previously been associated with taking money from natural gas executives in a fundraising bid some saw as necessary and others called ethically tainted; with overlooking people’s polluting individual choices to buy large cars and even bigger homes; and with “looking forward to an active partnership” with Republican leaders when it was obvious they weren’t completely on board with key tenets of the environmental movement.

But Pope has also been equally or better known for pushing the Clinton/Gore administration to be better on emissions; preventing neoliberal environmentalists from adopting a nativist stance on immigration; championing a more diverse and inclusive environmental movement; and now, of course, with potentially ending the use of carbon fuel in America.

Despite 30+ years in the public eye, Carl Pope is a relatively private person who doesn’t seem to like to talk much about himself. So for starters below, I wanted to see if I could figure out what makes him tick.

Because if we could get into the heads of people who persuade billionaires to act against their short-term economic interests, with the bigger human picture in mind, maybe we could do it more often.

Then our conversation moved on to NASA, Ro Khanna, Tesla, AOC and the Green New Deal, and more. And in a soon to come follow up piece, I’ll talk with Pope about the details of the Beyond Carbon plan, including how he was able to persuade Bloomberg to take it on, and some areas of controversy that could arise as the $500 million is distributed.

All of this, after all, is part of what it means to think about the ethics of technology — Pope and Bloomberg’s work, love it or not, is certainly an attempt to reform or transform some of the most influential technologies human hands have ever touched.

How do we motivate people of all backgrounds and means to help make changes for the greener? How do we know what the right changes are to make? How do we grapple with the ethical dilemmas involved and the compromises that can seem to be required?

(Oh and by the way: in the weeks since I spoke with Pope, I have mostly been skipping big evening meals and eating more healthily in the afternoon. So at least there’s that!)

Carl Mike

Greg Epstein: I have enjoyed discovering you as —  I would even say as a historical figure, though important parts of your story are yet to be told.

I’d like to hear a bit about the key developments in your life that gave you the ethical perspective that you have.

Carl Pope: I can tell you some things about my childhood and my formation. Which particular ingredients formed my ethical perspective, I’m not sure I’ll be able to tell you, but I’ll tell you some things [that might] help.

 


0

Heat waves bring record-breaking temperatures on a geological scale

23:15 | 5 July

From Alaska to Europe the world has spent the past few weeks roasting under temperatures never before seen in recorded history.

In Alaska, all-time high record temperatures were set across the state on July 4th,

. In Anchorage, the mercury soared to highs of 90 degrees, the highest temperature since recording began in 1952.

Temperatures in Alaska have reached 90 degrees in other cities around the state before, but this is the first time that the thermometer hit that mark in Anchorage.

Meanwhile, hot winds blowing North from the Sahara set temperatures in Europe soaring to record highs, according to data released by the Copernicus Climate Change Service.

It was Europe’s record three degree temperature spike that brought global temperatures to their recorded-history highs.

Screen Shot 2019 07 05 at 12.16.41 PM

“Although local temperatures may have been lower or higher than those forecast, our data show that the temperatures over the southwestern region of Europe during the last week of June were unusually high,” said Jean-Noël Thépaut, head of the Copernicus Climate Change Service. “Although this was exceptional, we are likely to see more of these events in the future due to climate change.”

According to data from Copernicus, the temperature spikes across Europe was the highest on record for the month.

Compared for the same five-day period during the last thirty year climatological reference period, six to ten degree Celsius temperature spikes happened in most of France and Germany, throughout northern Spain, northern Italy, Switzerland, Austria and the Czech Republic.

As these events become common, the need for technologies that can reduce carbon emissions because more pressing.

Increasingly, businesses and investors are returning to the once-shunned market of clean technology and renewable energy to back new electric vehicle manufacturers, new energy efficient construction technologies, the rehabilitation of outdated infrastructure and consumer goods that have a smaller carbon footprint or reduce waste.

Data from Bloomberg New Energy Finance published earlier this year indicated that venture investments into what was once called clean technology hit $9.2 billion in 2018. That’s the highest cumulative investment in the sector since 2009. Much of those deals were in Chinese electric vehicle manufacturers who attracted some $3.3 billion in venture capital and private equity dollars.

That’s critical because global carbon emissions have increased over the past two years, according to estimates from the Global Carbon Project.

“We thought, perhaps hoped, emissions had peaked a few years ago,” said Rob Jackson, a professor of Earth system science in Stanford’s School of Earth, Energy & Environmental Sciences (Stanford Earth). “After two years of renewed growth, that was wishful thinking.”

In the U.S. specifically, climate related pressures (a warmer summer and a colder winter) led to increasing demand along with an uptick in gasoline consumption as demand for bigger vehicles fueled higher gas consumption.

“We’re driving more miles in bigger cars, changes that are outpacing improvements in vehicle fuel efficiency,” Jackson explained.

 


0

CO2 in the atmosphere just exceeded 415 parts per million for the first time in human history

01:43 | 13 May

The human race has broken another record on its race to ecological collapse. Congratulations humanity!

For the first time in human history — not recorded history, but since humans have existed on Earth — carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has topped 415 parts per million, reaching 415.26 parts per million, according to sensors at the Mauna Loa Observatory, a research outpost of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Agency.

CO2 emissions over time as recorded by measurements of Arctic ice and the Mauna Loa Observatory. Courtesy of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography.

The macabre milestone was

by the climate reporter Eric Holthaus, based on the data recorded and presented by the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California, San Diego.

If the threshold seems unremarkable (it shouldn’t), it’s yet another indication of the unprecedented territory humanity is now charting as it blazes new trails toward environmental catastrophe.

Just last week a report revealed that at least 1 million species were at risk of extinction thanks to human activity and the carbon emissions that are a byproduct of economic development.

That’s on top of news that climate change, which has been inextricably linked to carbon emissions, will cost the U.S. alone some $500 billion per year by 2090.

The increasing proportion of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is important because of its heat absorbing properties. The land and seas on the planet absorb and emit heat and that heat is trapped in carbon dioxide molecules. The NOAA likens CO2 to leaving bricks in a fireplace, that still emit heat after a fire goes out.

Greenhouse gases contribute to the planet maintaining a temperature that can sustain life, but too much can impact the entire ecosystem that sustains us. That’s what’s happening now. As the NOAA notes, “increases in greenhouse gases have tipped the Earth’s energy budget out of balance, trapping additional heat and raising Earth’s average temperature.”

The properties of CO2 also mean that it adds to the greenhouse effect in a way that other emissions do not, thanks to its ability to absorb wavelengths of thermal energy that things like water vapor can’t. That’s why increase of atmospheric carbon dioxide are responsible for about two-thirds of the total energy imbalance causing Earth’s temperature to rise, according to the NOAA.

 


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Scalable, low cost technologies needed to repair climate, Cambridge professor suggests

12:18 | 10 May

Cambridge University has proposed setting up a research center tasked with coming up with scalable technological fixes for climate change.

The proposed Center for Climate Repair is being co-ordinated by David King, an emeritus professor in physical chemistry at the university and also the UK government’s former chief scientific adviser.

Speaking to the BBC this morning King suggested the scale of the challenge now facing humanity to end  greenhouse gas emissions is so pressing that radical options need to be considered and developed alongside efforts to shift societies carbon neutral and shrink day to day emissions.

“What we do over the next 10 years will determine the future of humanity for the next 10,000 years. There is no major centre in the world that would be focused on this one big issue,” he told BBC News.

In an interview on the BBC Radio 4’s Today program, King said the center would need focus on scalable, low cost technologies that could be deployed to move the needle on the climate challenge.

Suggested ideas it could work to develop include geoengineering initiatives such as spraying sea water into the air at the north and south poles to reflect sunlight away and refreeze them; using fertilizer to regreen portions of the deep ocean to promote plankton growth; and carbon capture and storage methods to suck up and sequester greenhouse gases so they can’t contribute to accelerating global warming.

On the issue of nuclear power King said interesting work is being done to try to develop viable nuclear fusion technology — but also pointed to untapped capacity in renewable energy technologies, arguing there is an “ability to develop renewables far more than we thought before”.

If established, the Center for Climate Repair, would be attached to the university’s new Cambridge Carbon Neutral Futures Initiative, which is a research hub recently set up to link climate-related research work across the university — and “catalyse holistic, collaborative progress towards a sustainable future”, as it puts it.

“If [the Center for Climate Repair] goes forward, it will be part of the Carbon Neutral Futures Initiative, which is led by Dr Emily Shuckburgh,” a spokeswoman for the university confirmed.

“When considering how to tackle a problem as large, complex and urgent as climate change, we need to look at the widest possible range of ideas and to investigate radical innovations such as those proposed by Sir David,” said Shuckburgh, commenting on the proposal in a statement.

“In assessing such ideas we need to explore all aspects, including the technological advances required, the potential unintended consequences and side effects, the costs, the rules and regulations that would be needed, as well as the public acceptability.”

 


0

Corporations and private investors are backing new “green” deals as climate worries mount

16:33 | 22 April

In the nine years since private equity and venture capital investments into sustainable technologies last crossed the $6 billion threshold, the problems caused by global carbon emissions have only intensified.

Now, as the world confronts the reality that there’s not much time left to reverse course on carbon emissions and the impact they will have on life on earth, both corporate and private investors are once again stepping up their commitments to startups in the space.

In 2018 global venture capital investment into startups focused on sustainability jumped 127% to $9.2 billion, the highest since 2010, according to a January report from Bloomberg New Energy Finance. Powering that boost was a $1.1 billion investment in the smart window maker, View, and another $795 million for Chinese electric vehicle firm Youxia Motors. In fact, there were no fewer than eight VC/PE financings of Chinese EV specialist companies in 2018, totaling some $3.3 billion.

That stark assessment is coming from more corners of the scientific community and the reality of the danger is being emphasized by politicians and concerned citizens around the globe.

The simple truth is that things are getting worse. And for the past two years, emissions have been increasing as countries continue to use oil and gas and coal to fuel economic growth, even as the global community realizes that carbon emissions are an increasing threat.

A recent assessment by the U.S. government put the cost of climate change caused by carbon emissions at $500 billion annually by the end of the century. And the financial toll doesn’t begin to assess the cost to the quality of human life and the potential lives that will be lost because of climate-related disasters.

This isn’t the first time that the world has realized the threat climate change poses. It’s not even the second. Back in 1979 — and throughout the next decade —  the U.S. grappled with how to craft an appropriate response to the coming climate-related crisis. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the government failed, and the issue of imminent climate disaster was set aside.

Former Vice President Al Gore, picked up the thread in the mid-2000s in the wake of his defeat in the contested 2000 Presidential election by the Connecticut yankee turned Texas oilman George W. Bush. Through advocacy work and the popular climate-focused documentary “An Inconvenient Truth”, Gore was able to proselytize among a group of technocrats looking for the next big thing in the wake of the Internet explosion that had transformed professional and personal lives.

Venture capital investors flocked to invest in renewable technologies — from biofuels to new solar energy generating technologies to new battery chemistries and beyond.

Over the next seven years billion dollar companies would rise and fall on the back of speculative investment in the promise of a cleaner energy future that would disrupt the oil industry and turn billionaires into multi-billionaires — all while saving the world.

It didn’t work out.

Problems with scaling technologies beyond a controlled laboratory setting; global economic pressures wrought by an explosion of manufacturing capacity in countries like China; and the hubris of investors who thought that their investment acumen in picking winners of the information age could work just as well in centuries-old industries like oil and gas, or electricity, found themselves floundering in complicated, regulated markets with deep-pocketed incumbents and entrenched interests in promoting the status quo.

In the process investors lost hundreds of millions of dollars in the U.S. alone and destabilized some of the oldest firms in the investment industry.

Now, companies and investors are returning to the market in a major way. Some of the largest businesses in teh food and agriculture industry are investing in new companies that are developing protein replacements and novel cultivation technologies; utilities are investing more heavily in smart grid technologies as electrification and microgrids become more real; automakers and battery manufacturers are backing new energy storage technologies; and frontier investors are backing companies tackling everything from biologically based chemical manufacturing to new construction technologies for smart homes and cities, to new kinds of nuclear power that could transform how the world conceives of energy abundance (along with geo-engineering tech to remove carbon from the atmosphere).

“In the last few years, the number of technologies ripe for investment has expanded dramatically,” Ravi Manghani, research director for energy storage at Wood Mackenzie, an energy research and consultancy firm, told CNBC in March. “It’s no longer just three or four technology verticals.”

While none of these technological advancements are a guaranteed solution to the threats carbon emissions pose, or are surefire commercially viable businesses, the fact that investors are once again looking at sustainability as a viable investment thesis — capable of producing multiple billion dollar businesses is a good step forward.

Any plan to address decarbonization has to confront industries as diverse as agriculture, construction, transportation, chemicals and consumer goods from clothes to chemicals.

Failure to confront these challenges would be catastrophic. Even if global warming is restricted to just the 2 degree Celsius target set at the Paris climate agreement, that could mean the extinction of the world’s tropical reefs and several meters of sea-level rise, as The New York Times reported last August. Already the impacts of climate change have meant tens of billions of dollars in damage for the U.S. in 2018 alone.

“The era of incrementalism on climate change is over,” said Massachusetts Senator Ed Markey, one of the architects of the “Green New Deal” legislation, in an interview with Vox. “We are now in the era of the Green New Deal. It’s not going away. It is creating an incentive for governors to do more, for mayors to do more, for companies to do more. The polling says it has political legs that will drive it right into the election of 2020, and when that cycle is done, I think we’re going to see a much greater capacity for us to take the kind of action that we need.”

 


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