Business ready to do its part for climate goals

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 heatwaves in the Arctic this year all tell the same story: climate change is unfolding in real-time.

The devastation to our environment should come as no surprise. In the last three decades, global greenhouse gas emissions have shot up by more than 60%. Temperatures are now 1.2 C above pre-industrial 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 together, 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% over the last 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% 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.”

Yet, we are not near where we need to be with green innovation. Half of the technologies necessary for helping us reach net-zero emissions by 2050 are still in prototype phases today. 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 R&D and government to set enabling frameworks to help unlock the capital necessary to fund green technologies.

Indeed, a key conclusion this past spring of the Technology Executive Committee — the U.N. 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 U.S. Department of State are launching the First Movers Coalition at the U.N. Climate Conference in Glasgow. Steered by U.S. 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 sectors such as trucking, aviation, shipping and steel production. Ultimately, the aim is to scale green technologies across industries that today account for a combined total of 30% of carbon emissions.

There is momentum for action. Over the past year, President Joe Biden pledged the United States would cut greenhouse gas emissions in half by 2030, President Xi Jinping pledged China would peak carbon emissions by 2030, and the E.U., the U.K., Japan and other major economies have committed to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050.

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

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

COP26 is what Kerry has called “the last best chance” the world has to make meaningful progress on the environment. This is why there is an unprecedented level of business engagement in the climate negotiations. It is why the Forum, as the international organization for public-private cooperation, is working with the State Department to launch the First Movers Coalition.

If we collaborate in unlocking the potential of innovation, together we can shape a more sustainable future.