When The Guardian updated its style guide earlier this year, committing to stop using the term “climate change” and instead, call it what it really is – a climate emergency – it was an honest admission highlighting the reality of the dire landscape we’re facing today. In the words the remarkable global climate youth leader, 16-year-old Greta Thunberg, “we can’t solve a crisis without treating it as a crisis.”
Increasingly, political leaders and executives across sectors are more forcefully acknowledging that the clock is ticking to address this growing emergency. We have a short window of time – a decade – to rapidly reduce greenhouse gas emissions in line with science. As a result, we are seeing growing numbers of companies engage in bold climate actions. For instance, we see it from Anheuser-Busch InBev, a member of our RE100 initiative for companies committed to sourcing 100% renewable electricity and helping to shift market demand in favor of clean alternatives; from PepsiCo, which just days ago announced their plan to reduce their plastic use by 35 percent in the beverages portfolio; and Seventh Generation, which donated airtime to cover the Global Climate Strike on September 20th, in addition to cutting their own greenhouse gas emissions internally.
While big business is taking steps towards a more sustainable future, this in itself simply isn’t enough. Facing one of the largest environmental crises our planet has ever endured, we are in need of more voices, more tools, and more new solutions to help save the place we all call home. We need big, bold ideas and we need to invest in the people that are going to turn these ideas into reality now. But with a seemingly insurmountable crisis, where can we start? One key group that comes to mind when I think of the voices we need most are entrepreneurs.
Innovators and startups from around the world are using emerging technologies like AI and machine learning to develop innovative solutions that can save the planet, focusing on everything from emissions-free transportation to lower-footprint construction. From new heating and cooling tech to closed loop food systems, the list goes on. Unfettered by corporate red tape, the ability to launch new products quickly is infinite, and there is a new era of leaders and thinkers in every corner of the world who are moved to solve the multitude of climate-related issues.
Unfortunately, a great idea cannot survive on its own. Access to capital, industry experts, policy makers, and a human-centric design approach are paramount to transform a good idea into a successful company and a sustainable solution. That’s why programs like URBAN-X, the MINI-backed accelerator for startups reimagining city life, are crucial in the fight against climate change. By investing in the most promising entrepreneurs who are driven to confront the climate crisis, URBAN-X and similar entities around the world are shepherding in a new generation of leaders solving for emerging and unprecedented challenges.
What once could be seen as a niche industry -- the intersection of technology and cities -- has fortunately become a booming sector now dubbed “urban tech.” Between 2016 and 2018, investment in urban tech totaled more than $75 billion, equaling approximately 17 percent of all global venture-capital investment. While only a small fraction of the total investment we need to prevent catastrophe, this investment is promising for our cities and our climate as it means more creative thinkers developing bolder solutions faster, with new approaches to make our cities healthier, more sustainable, and more equitable to live.
Image credit: Markus Spiske/Unsplash
Amy Davidsen is The Climate Group's Executive Director of North America, leading the delivery of The Climate Group’s work and impact in North America to accelerate the transition to a clean energy future.