Our Climate Crossroads: How Technology Can Lead Climate Action and Sustainable Development
Photo by KaXu Solar One
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Climate technology and innovation plays an important role in accelerating climate action and sustainable development.

The next UN climate change conference will focus on translating Paris Agreement goals into action on the ground.

We are living through an amazing moment in human history. We understand more than ever before how economic growth and human development is driving the climate change on our planet. Science shows the connection with great clarity. And we are witnessing the impacts firsthand, as extreme weather throughout the second half of 2017 has showed.

Climate change is one of the greatest challenges of our time, and this improved understanding of that fact has led to agreement in the international community to meet this challenge head on. In 2015, governments of the world adopted the Paris Agreement on climate change and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. These agreements point the way towards a future where all development is defined by lower emissions, increased resilience to impacts and sustainability.

At the same time, we are also witnessing a moment of unprecedented technological advance. From the discovery of fire to the invention of the automobile, human development has been marked by our technological capacity. But in this new computer age, so much is changing so quickly.

This rapid advance of technology – connecting people, helping us understand our world and opening better ways of doing business – bodes well for the future of our planet and everyone who lives on it. We must use technology to accelerate climate action and open the door to a stable, secure future on a peaceful, prosperous planet.

When we look at what we know about climate change, leveraging technology to achieve our common goals makes a lot of sense. Technology is already improving our understanding of climate change, giving us better models and more concrete reasons to act. Technology is already changing the foundation on which we build healthy societies – from cheaper, cleaner energy to sustainable transportation to smart agriculture. And technology is helping people adapt to impacts that are almost certain to appear due to the emissions already released into the climate system.

One look at recent headlines shows the transformative power of technology.

During this year’s record-breaking Atlantic hurricane season, scientists used technology to quickly establish the link between warmer waters and stronger storms – data that can also be fed into parametric insurance platforms to deliver immediate relief following a severe storm.

The rebuilding of some islands is being led by notable tech voices and innovators like Elon Musk and Richard Branson. The idea is that renewable energy and battery storage can be used by islands like Puerto Rico and others to build back better and more resilient in the face of future impacts.

All of this is happening as more and more companies join Google, Microsoft and Apple in the move to 100% clean energy under RE100 and other initiatives. As countries, cities and consumers move to electric vehicles because they are cheaper to operate, faster and more reliable, and produce far less carbon pollution, which in turn improves the health of citizens. And as more industries from cement and steel to agriculture and aviation turn to technology and innovation to reduce their climate footprint while increasing their bottom line.

These are all examples of how technology can spark climate action that allows companies and governments to serve an increasing – and increasingly climate change-aware – population. They also show the inter-relationships with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), where acting on climate also addresses public health, energy access, food and water security and many more sustainable development issues. But many barriers to the widespread deployment of tech solutions to climate change remain, especially in the developing world where these advances stand to do the most good.

These barriers generally fall into two categories – policy barriers and implementation barriers. And they are barriers that can be overcome with help by the UN Climate Change Technology Mechanism established in 2010 and strengthened by the Paris Agreement.

The UNFCCC Technology Mechanism aims to scale up technology solutions in countries around the world. Its policy arm, the Technology Executive Committee (TEC), provides solutions such as recommendations that support government aims to tap into technologies that bring them closer to their climate goals. Recently, the TEC published policy recommendations and briefs that can attract innovation, improve energy efficiency and open cooperation in crucial areas like water and agriculture.

The implementation arm led by the Climate Technology Centre and Network (CTCN) promotes low-carbon and climate-resilient development solutions. On this front, the CTCN has engaged with 82 developing countries on 190 requests for technical assistance. And the Centre is working with the Green Climate Fund (GCF) to assist developing countries to identify and implement green technologies that put them on course towards meeting their climate and sustainability goals.

For example, the Centre recently supported Senegal (watch CTCN video here) to identify actions to increase its industrial energy efficiency. Through this support, Senegal is reducing consumption and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. It is also reducing energy costs for industry and consumers.

A key focus of both bodies is supporting countries to turn their climate contributions into investment plans. In doing so, cooperation between governments and private sector actors, in the developed and developing worlds, can break down barriers to implementation and make a real, on-the-ground difference.

In early October, UN Climate Change announced the 2017 lighthouse activities for our Momentum for Change initiative. One of this year’s winners is KaXu Solar, a project in South Africa that is the first large-scale concentrated solar power plant with storage developed by the private sector to begin operating in an emerging market.

The plant uses parabolic mirrors to reflect and concentrate the sun’s rays to produce heat, which then generates steam that powers turbines and produces electricity. Energy storage allows the plant to produce firm, base-load electricity even when the sun is not shining, offering a remarkable low-carbon solution to a growing African economy. The project resulted in channeling approximately USD$900 million of private sector financing, utilizing an innovative project finance structure with blended finance elements led by the International Finance Corporation (IFC), the private sector arm of the World Bank Group.

This is a great example of leveraging private sector finance to fund renewable energy projects in emerging economies. The costs to construct large-scale concentrated solar power plants remain excessively high, and, combined with a limited track record, make investors cautious, especially in developing markets.

This is just one of many examples of how technology can take the lead on climate action and sustainable development that will be in focus at this year’s COP 23 UN Climate Change conference in Bonn. Under the leadership of the COP Presidency from Fiji, the 160-plus countries that have ratified the Paris Agreement will seek solutions that help fulfill their contributions to the Agreement.

In Bonn, governments of the world will be writing the next chapter in human history. We have the strong institutions and political will to realize the goals laid out in Paris. And crucial to those goals, we have the technology and the means to proliferate those technologies around the world in ways that help people improve their lives and safeguard their livelihoods.

I encourage everyone to follow the proceedings at COP 23, and to look at how you can be part of the technology trend towards lower emissions and green ways of life. We all have a role to play in meeting the climate change challenge. Technology makes it easier than ever to step up and do your part. It is an exciting time to be alive, and exciting for the future of the planet.

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