The focus for day 9 of COP26  was on how science and innovation can deliver solutions to tackle the climate crisis and accelerate ambition. In efforts to “keep 1.5⁰C alive”, panel discussions conveyed how science has a huge role to play in not only diagnosing climate issues, but also in treating them through innovative technological solutions that enable urgent greenhouse gas reductions in line with the Paris Agreement.

New cleantech initiatives and projects backed by global coalitions of nations, corporations and climate organisations were announced. However, according to the new Climate Action Tracker (CAT) analysis that was also released on Tuesday,  this may “too little, too late”, stating that the latest round of COP26 climate pledges are likely to result in 2.4⁰C of warming.

Mission Innovation Initiative (MII)

What is it?

The UK, US, EU, China and India are among the 23 nations that announced new ‘innovation missions’ for cleantech investment, under the ‘Mission Innovation’ initiative. The participating nations look to accelerate the development of low-carbon cities, scaling up of renewable fuels and carbon removal, decarbonising heavy industry and chemical sectors, and producing renewable materials.

Who does this affect?

The participating nations of the MII collectively accounted for around 90% of global public investment in cleantech, research and development last year. This high level of coverage is very positive, as it reinforces the necessity and urgency of promoting to low-carbon energy innovations that will facilitate urban transitions to net zero emissions.

Adaptation Research Alliance (ARA)

What is it?

A network of over 90 organisations was launched, to assist the collaboration between governments, research institutions and groups to increase the resilience of vulnerable communities on the frontline of climate change. Their first programme, jointly funded by the UK and Canada, is known as Climate Adaptation and Resilience research programme (CLARE), looks to support the development of actionable solutions in communities most vulnerable to climate change and extreme weather events.

Who does this affect?

The CLARE programme aims to benefit at least five million vulnerable people, predominantly in Africa. Similar funds like the Least Developed Countries fund have been promoted today by other nations such as the US, Netherlands, Sweden etc., which should jointly provide almost $2bn to support climate adaptation – a very positive move.

Green Hydrogen Coalition

Combined efforts from business coalitions and private players are pushing for low carbon technologies. Science and Innovation Day saw the launch of a new business coalition of 28 global companies that pledged to grow the demand and supply of green hydrogen, to reduce the proportion of fossil-fuelled hydrogen production.

This paves the way for positive change from a business-led perspective, to decarbonise heavy industry through a significant acceleration of large-scale green hydrogen projects which will support national net zero transitions. In the UK for example, following the coalition announcements, hydrogen specialist ITM announced the creation of a hydrogen gigafactory in Sheffield, which will support the UK’s ‘green industrial revolution’ aiming for 5GW of low carbon hydrogen production capacity by 2030 for use across the economy.

Technology use to combat climate change

Multiple actions centring on how science and technological innovations can deliver climate solutions to meet and accelerate increased national ambition were unveiled;

  • The Global Partnership on Artificial Intelligence, which comprises 18 national governments and the EU, published a report today on how governments can utilise artificial intelligence for the delivery of their net-zero transitions.
  • The UK Space Agency announced a new £7m fund to support a series of satellite technology projects for tracking emissions, forest cover and building efficiency from space.

These showcase how vital technology is for safeguarding our ecosystems and leading the transition to a green future; as well as how science should be made more readily available to decision makers.

Is this enough? COP26 pledges still fall short

Despite all the science and innovation-related announcements, much of the attention yesterday was on the summit negotiations themselves, which had been looking worryingly deadlocked on multiple fronts. The COP26 President Alok Sharma admitted that there is “a mountain to climb” if an ambitious agreement is to be reached in Glasgow this week.

To make matters worse, the Climate Action Tracker (CAT) group published a report analysing the COP26 commitments to-date, which suggested that contrary to more optimistic projections last week, the latest round of climate pledges should put the world on track for 2.4⁰C of warming.

The current commitments are nowhere near ambitious enough to produce the necessary emission reductions needed to put the world towards a 1.5⁰C pathway. We need to see more short-term actions, as current 2030 net zero targets are unfortunately inadequate and lack credible delivery plans.

The silver lining is that the draft COP26 report, published by the President in the early hours of Wednesday, urge nations to strengthen their 2030 goals, calling on them to increase their short-term commitments in 2022. However, the report refers to limiting global temperatures to 2⁰C rather than 1.5⁰C, which will leave many arguing that this is still not enough.

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