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Time to turn the tide on climate change

COP28 marked a pivotal moment in climate change talks with the first-ever global stocktake since the Paris Agreement. It also included the first-ever agreement to transition “away from fossil fuels in energy systems in a just, orderly and equitable manner, accelerating action in this critical decade, so as to achieve net zero by 2050 in keeping with the science.”.

However, the UN’s climate change conference has fallen disastrously short of enforcing a fossil fuel phase-out or indeed providing sufficient climate finance, known as Loss and Damage, to support affected communities in dealing with the impact of climate change impact.

It is now abundantly clear that the COP framework will not help us meet greenhouse gas (GHG) targets, and it’s time for businesses to step up. We are heading for a climate catastrophe, and we must reduce GHG emissions as quickly as possible.

To limit global temperatures to 1.5֯C, we need to reduce emissions by 43% by 2030.  An initial assessment of pledges undertaken by the Energy Transition Commission suggests that even if COP28 pledges were supported by all countries and implemented in full, with strong policies behind them, we would not keep temperatures well below 2֯C.

While the focus for many has been on reducing greenhouse gas emissions, attention must also turn to water.

Not only have we missed the climate target to limit the global temperature increase to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels, but the rapid heating of the world’s oceans is a huge cause for concern. Sea temperatures hit a new record earlier this year, and there is a very real concern that this rise, coupled with other weather events, could take the world’s temperature to concerning heights by the end of 2024. If the current trend continues, by 2050, some nations including The Maldives, Fiji and Samoa, will be largely uninhabitable due to sinking communities, destroyed farmland and masses of land completely submerged by water.

The COP28 declaration features very few commitments, and no accountability. It is now up to businesses to shift their focus from short-term economic gains to long-term sustainability action. The time for talk is over. We now must move to accountability and delivery of effective emission-reduction progress.

The climate change targets set in the Paris Agreement at COP21 in 2015 have not been met, largely because countries have not delivered emissions reduction by phasing out fossil fuels. Whereas the development of technology and artificial intelligence to address emission reductions has accelerated during this time.

Artificial intelligence and the Internet of Things are integral to tackling some of the challenges associated with carbon and energy management. It is imperative to make the management and monitoring of emission reductions more efficient, transparent and effective. For example, the use of technology for transparent measurement and reporting, and the use of intelligent automation for the purposes of abatement management. In 2024, we absolutely must focus on leveraging tech solutions for climate change, now.

As the world’s first Smart City Tsar, I have evidenced that reducing GHGs from infrastructure and buildings would address 60% of emissions. 90% of emissions are created during manufacture which means a focus on reduction, reuse and recycling of products should also be a focus.  Every business sector can make a meaningful and lasting difference to GHG emissions reduction.

The clean energy and environmental industries must also continue to innovate better and create more effective solutions if we are to accelerate progress on reducing GHG emissions to a level where we can really make an impact. Inevitably this will require investment to ensure new technology is effectively developed at pace, commercialised and deployed.

We need to create investment funds that are specifically designed to support portfolios that will help tackle the most urgent needs and help avert the irreversible effects of climate change. By repositioning funding and investment to solve not just Scope 1 and Scope 2 emissions, but also reducing Scope 3 emissions. Scope 3 is undoubtedly more complex, but will also has the biggest impact as they account for between 40% and 80% of GHG.

Institutional and private investments are crucial to building a sustainable future. While well-established renewable energy sources such as solar, wind and hydro offer long-term and sustainable solutions to the world’s growing energy needs, and unlike finite fossil fuels, offer an inexhaustible, stable source of energy, we must prioritise these renewable technologies. The COP28 declaration recognised the need to accelerate the transition to clean energy. From an investment point of view, there is recognition that early investment funds can benefit from the renewable industry’s expansion.

As well as stimulating economic growth, it will of course also reduce dependence on fossil fuels, fostering energy independence and stability by further diversifying the energy mix.

Renewable technology aligns with environmental, economic, and social objectives, providing long-term benefits to both investors and the broader community, with many consumers and businesses making decisions based on sustainability. Funds that support renewable technologies are demonstrating corporate responsibility and environmental priorities are being welcomed.

The next steps are businesses and investors already planning to drive environmental stewardship forward, with businesses and communities working together to tackle climate change, despite the outcome of COP28.

By Dr Jacqui Taylor, Clean Tech Advisor at 350PPM