If the environment is to be protected, if carbon targets are to be met, then green technology will play an essential role in meeting those aims.
Technology holds the key to protecting our land and air and water, to preserving resources, and holding down global warming to the Paris Agreement range of 1.5 to 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.

The alternative is to persuade and coerce people into changing the way they live - whether cycling rather than driving, saving energy in the home, recycling household waste, using paper straws instead of plastic, or going vegan - or forcing change through taxes and other government measures that will be bound to meet resistance from consumers and businesses alike.

But, through technology, other ways can be found to protect the environment that are attractive to consumers, are profitable to business, and get better results.

Millennial consumers in particular are a driving force behind the green market, but are more likely to expect technology to make the changes that are needed rather than agree to pay higher prices because of government measures such as carbon taxes. This forces businesses to invest in the technology that can meet this demand.

Green economy and fossil fuels sector now on level pegging
A United Nations report issued last year showed that low-carbon technologies could reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 25 billion tonnes and particulates by 17 million tonnes each year. A report produced this year by FTSE Russell showed that the green economy is now on level pegging with a shrinking fossil fuels sector, which each now account for around 6 percent of the global economy. This report also found that the green economy is outperforming much of the rest of the economy, making green technology an increasingly attractive investment prospect.

One stand-out example of the transformational impact of green technology is the Smart Grid, a revolution in electricity generation, transmission and consumer use which is encouraging countless small start-ups to contribute their own innovations in energy efficiency. Other examples of green technology include electric vehicles, bioplastics, carbon capture and storage, green computers, green packaging, smart fabrics, vertical farming, and even biodegradable coffins.

For some, however, green technology may be advancing fast, but not nearly fast enough. They point out that we may have been attuned by the incredible changes we have witnessed in the past half century to believe that technology is capable of anything, but that simply isn’t true.

Although much has been achieved, future achievements in green technology are too uncertain to be relied on to save the planet, and some hoped-for breakthroughs such as in battery efficiency for electric vehicles may be a long way off.

Even where green technology is having an impact, the UN noted in its report, the magnitude of that impact can vary widely between technologies and geographies, even in some cases to the extent of actually increasing greenhouse gas emissions. The UN concluded that a more selective approach to green technology would maximize its benefits.

For others, however, a never-never land approach to future technology needs to be sidestepped in favour of more urgent, political action. This inevitably entails a more coercive approach in the form of punitive taxes.

Taxes not the solution
But a purely political solution may turn out to be no solution at all. For sure, the political will and international agreements and frameworks are necessary, but an endless succession of new taxes – carbon taxes, vehicle emissions taxes, fuel taxes – is economically deadening, politically polarising, and does little to encourage new solutions.

Put simply, the green revolution can only succeed if it can turn a profit, and it can do so at scale. If green technology is to advance efficient, practical and cost-effective solutions to the many threats we present to our own environment, it will need to be profitable if it is to attract the necessary investment and talent.

This is the view of ‘environmental capitalists’ such as Jason Drew, founder of AgriProtein, a sustainable fish and chicken feed producer in South Africa. Drew has said that “the only physical structures with any money are companies. As soon as they begin to deploy that money in a sensible direction, the world will change.”

To be sure, the government still has a role to play, as it does in any capitalist system, but this is more one of guidance than of sticks and carrots. If there are limits to current renewable solutions to the energy supply, for example, such as the fact that so many wind and solar resources are too far from large population centres, then it makes more sense to encourage research into improved smart grid technology that can attract more researchers and operators than by forcing end consumers to pay through the nose for their power.

It may be true that green technology isn’t able to change everything, but through a mixture of government help and profit-based investment, it could certainly change a lot.

The World Green Economy Summit (WGES) brings together world-class experts in critical sectors from around the world to directly focus on advancing the global green economy and sustainability agenda, achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goals and implementing the recommendations of COP21 & 22. Organised by the Dubai Electricity & Water Authority and World Green Economy Organisation, the event is strategically supported by Thomson Reuters.

Any opinions expressed here are the author’s own.

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