In the past year, several countries have been discussing climate emergency declarations, investors are demanding climate-risk disclosures and the public has been mobilized through the Fridays for the Future movement and Extinction Rebellion. Now, zero-carbon technologies outcompete fossil-fuels and several technical, business and organisational transformations are closer than ever to delivering energy and food security, less pollution, clean cities, and green growth.
Understanding where we are, and what are the levers for tackling climate change is foundational for stabilising the Earth’s temperature at 1.5°C and accelerating the efforts of civil society, businesses, cities, and people towards a sustainable future. And whilst digital tools aren’t silver bullets for solving climate change, they do have a great capacity to bring people together to achieve things that they couldn’t otherwise. In the next sections, we will explore:
- which digital technologies can have a transformative impact in understanding, mitigating and adapting to climate change,
- What are the cross-sectoral enabling conditions and environments for this impact to take place.
These questions have been shaped by my conversations with Cassie Robinson and with the data help of Kostas Stathoulopoulos.
Environmentally sound technologies for low carbon and climate resilient development can be broadly divided into two categories: those used in mitigation and in adaptation. In the following two sections you can explore the breadth and depth of those climate technologies through visualisations organised by type, sector, technology group, and technology. The data is provided by the Climate Technology Center and Network which is hosted by the UN Environment Programme and the UN Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO). Hopefully, these visualisations can help us make new connections and think in interconnected systems.
Climate Change Mitigation Technology
Mitigation measures are those actions that are taken to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Examples of mitigation include increasing energy efficiency, phasing out fossil fuels by switching to low-carbon energy sources, removing carbon dioxide and increasing the capacity of carbon sinks, e.g. through reforestation. Various climate change mitigation technologies are deployed in: Carbon Fixation and Abatement; Transport; Energy efficiency; Renewable energy; Waste Management; Agriculture; and the industry. The vizualisation is explorable here:
Climate Change Adaptation Technology
Even the most effective climate change mitigation would not prevent further climate change impacts, making the need for adaptation unavoidable. Climate change adaptation aims to build resilience i.e the capacity to prepare, plan for, recover and adapt to weather-related disasters (drought, floods, hurricanes, wildfires) as well as natural hazards. Climate adaptation technology spans Early Warning and Environmental Assessment; Water; Human Health; Urban Infrastructure; Coastal Zones. The vizualisation is explorable here:
There are several cross-cutting digital technologies that can help limit global warming. Below are some examples: (More details can be found in the Exponential Roadmap)
- Promote science-based climate change facts and help tackle misinformation
- Use behavioural insights, network science, and social contagion to promote sustainable lifestyles
- Facilitate engagement with global climate movements
- Help remote organisation/communication and limit the need to travel
Internet of Things
- Optimise systems to save energy and materials
- Enable a circular economy
- Enable demand-driven responses
- Support anticipatory maintenance of infrastructure
Data Science and AI
- Enable continuous improvement of processes
- Enable probabilistic inference and optimisation
- Support large scale spatiotemporal monitoring and prediction
- Support data-driven policymaking
- Through digital twins, helps test and simulate how systems can be improved and optimised i.e electricity grids
- It allows for greater transparency in the value chain making it easier to drive decarbonisation.
- Enables distributed coordination of physical energy flows and financial flows
The UK Landscape
There are various actors responsible for delivering sustainable transformations, across all scales of society: local, regional, national and international as well as private and public. In the map below, I decided to focus on:
- civil society organisations,
- think tanks
- and community-based organisations
that broadly fall under 10 categories:
- carbon, climate & energy;
- environmental policy & campaigning;
- marine conservation; water & hydrology.
- sustainable transport;
- conservation & wildlife;
- environmental education;
- food, farming & horticulture;
The data about environmental organisations were obtained from the website environmentjob.co.uk and the visualisation is explorable here:
Data can also be viewed in more detail here.
This section explores the questions we need to ask regarding the systems’ conditions to adopt and deploy climate-related technologies i.e what is getting in the way of it being implemented, and how can we fund ideas that address those barriers. These new ideas include among others novel financial & organisational incentives, policies and codes, social contracts, new collaborations, services, new system information flows, and new community-based interventions. The cross-sectoral enablers include:
Communication and governance
- How do we better communicate climate change solutions using multimedia and human stories?
- How do we better map existing solutions?
- How do we better understand the different stakeholders i.e who is connected to whom, what are the qualities of their connections, and which connections in the system need to be woven and nurtured?
- What are the existing information flows in the system & what is the quality of this information?
- How do we encourage links between public and private sectors to research new climate technologies, pilot their use, and encourage their dissemination?
- How do we best bring forward examples of new innovations and methods that have demonstrated the potential for tackling climate change?
- What is the human resource capacity — How do we equip individuals with the skills, information, and training to enable them to generate, communicate and use decision-relevant climate information;
- Infrastructural capacity — How do we enable access to the resources needed to generate, and use climate data including observing networks, data management systems, computer hardware, and software etc
- Procedural capacity — How do we implement and advance best practices for generating and using climate information?
- Institutional capacity — How do we create new processes and procedures that enable effective climate services, not only within organizations but also in managing relationships between the different organizations and sectors (public, private and community, including international collaboration).
- How do we improve the quality, standardization, publishing, and access to climate-related data on open platforms?
- How can accessible data let users follow policies and solutions, quantify their impacts and compare findings across nations, sectors, and businesses?
- How do we best publish data on targets, strategies, and successes to allow knowledge-sharing between citizens, industries, companies, cities, and nations?
- How do we automatically track carbon footprints of global value chains of components, products, and services?
- Where are the data gaps and opportunities for new climate services in sectors that are sensitive to climatic conditions? (i.e disaster management, agriculture, health, water resources, energy, ecosystems, oceans and coasts, transport, tourism, megacities)
- What are the opportunities for community and citizen engagement in designing those climate services?
- What are the opportunities for data sharing to increase situational awareness, shed light on the trends and geographic distributions of climate change impacts, and create new predictive capabilities?
- How do we improve collective sensing and cognition of climate change impacts including -but not limited to- citizen science tools and local knowledge?
- How do we improve the tools for collective coordination and organisation of environmental ad-hoc, advocacy and activist communities?
- How do we improve the application of existing technologies to advance collaboration or coordination for climate change mitigation?
- What are the new tools needed for collective action to tackle climate change including open-source software, p2p energy business models and open innovation?
- What are the different ways in which public sector organizations can utilise crowd intelligence?
- How do we engage people to imagine and develop more sustainable and inclusive futures?
- How do we harness collective intelligence to address the needs of marginalised communities i.e in rural areas and older populations?
Climate change is a systemic, intractable challenge that can be addressed using different levers at different scales. In the next months, I will be elaborating on those environments and how to enable them, so please do get in touch if you want to think about and work on this together!