The PM’s Ten point Climate Action plan sets out a coherent vision for a net-zero future – but it’s missing one vital piece: a commitment to working with the most innovative companies vital to achieving it. As London celebrates Climate Action Week, and the UK gets ready to host the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) next year, here’s why we think CleanTech can have a positive impact on both the economy, upskilling and Green Job creation, and cementing the UK’s position as the leading global innovator for tackling climate challenges.
The Prime Minister’s climate action plan is a well thought out vision for a net-zero economy that should be welcomed – it contains clear commitments to investment in green energy and sustainability across different sectors of the economy, it’s ambitious in its goals and sets out a roadmap from where we are now to where we need to be. However – the net-zero challenge is one which will require a radical shift in Government’s approach to working with the private sector.
As the PM’s plan currently stands, there is limited detail about the role of new, emerging technologies in tackling climate change and their vital role in achieving the ten point plan – nor any commitment to working with the entrepreneurs working in this space. While many big infrastructure players are working on green issues, the ambitious net-zero goal will require the most innovative and disruptive approaches to realise it. As has been the case in health, education and other public services, these solutions are most likely to be found in the startup world.
Since the Government announced its commitment to NetZero by 2050, investment in CleanTech startups has risen sharply since 2017; this year, UK NetZero companies raised £336 million in VC investment. Research from TechUK released this year also shows that these CleanTech startups already in the field could deliver a 15% increase in UK carbon emissions abatement by 2030 whilst adding over £13bn Gross Value Added to the UK. These digital solutions have the ability both to support large infrastructural change and encourage individual and organisational behaviour change, whilst contributing to Green Jobs and economic growth.
Environmental action is a combined effort across organisations and throughout society. Many startups have been born out of the idea of nudging citizens and organisations to change their behaviour through digital solutions. London based startup Pavegen uses kinetic technology to transform footsteps into energy. By stepping on Pavegen’s kinetic tech floor tiles, citizens are offered the opportunity to interact physically with sustainability and are reminded of their own responsibility to help save the planet. Another great example of this type of technology is HumanForest – a mobility startup which offers Londoners 20 minutes of free e-bike use in an endeavour to reduce the use of Co2 producing cars or busses. Other examples of similar behavioural change startups include tree planting web-browser Ecosia and ride-sharing app Skoot which offers to replant a tree every three rides.
Utilising disruptive technologies will be a key part of reaching climate targets at a regional level. Startups have a unique ability to work with local councils on the ground to introduce sustainable solutions. Solar analysis startup Energeo is working with local governments in London and across the UK to help transition to net zero by 2050. Energeo is working with Lambeth Council, using geospatial data to analyse the built environment across the area to enable the council to prioritise its investments in solar panels.
The services that have already been undergoing transformation during COVID, such as health and education, have done so thanks to the use of new technologies developed by startups and their subsequent investment and procurement by the public sector. To achieve the incredibly ambitious net-zero targets set out by the government, similar levels of adoption and investment will need to be achieved in GreenTech, CleanTech and EnergyTech. In order to realise this, Government should set out a strategy for how it intends to work with startups and entrepreneurs already making huge leaps toward a net-zero future. At a minimum this could include:
- Setting up a dedicated fund for green-tech startups – similar to the £500m promised for GreenTech in 2019, but with a minimum spend focused on helping the most promising green tech startups to scale
- Commit to increased spend in R&D in this area to support research-led green-tech companies and universities in bringing their innovations to market.
- Establish a challenge programme centred (similar to the GovTech Catalyst, but more focused) around the key points in the action plan, to help identify the most promising innovative solutions to meet the goals in the PM’s ten point plan.
- Work with local authorities and other local and regional public bodies to establish a consistent and united approach to procuring green technologies across their services.
- Foster collaboration and bring climate actors together. Organise events and create institutions which gather innovators and public sector officials to engender collaboration and showcase digital solutions.
Whilst technology is not a silver bullet for climate action, adoption and investment in CleanTech startups should be a crucial part of the government’s plan to reboot the economy, reach NetZero targets and take a leading role on the international stage for tackling climate challenges. PUBLIC is always keen to hear from startups and innovators with solutions to tackle climate change, don’t hesitate to get in touch.