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Can Technology Solve Climate Change?

29/12/2016 15:54
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tech for good

It is fair to say that for people who care passionately about tackling climate change, they feel a lot more positive about achieving that goal than they did, let's say, ten years ago.

Climate optimism due to technological advances

Most of that optimism is due to the advance in clean energy and clean technologies and solutions. To name just a few, solar power whose efficiency increases year by year; and the technological advances in battery technology which, combined with technological advances in electric vehicles, have propelled them to such a level deemed unimaginable ten years ago. And in the near future energy storage, electrification of aeroplanes and new innovative transport technologies, such as the Hyperloop One, are critically important for us to be able to combat the climate crisis.

And it is undoubtedly the advance of those technologies that prompted the world to sign the Paris Agreement last year. Due to technological advances countries across the world, world leaders now feel confident in committing themselves to serious CO2 reduction pledges. The Danish MP and former UN General Assembly President, Mogens Lykketoft, told me as much when I interviewed him in Lisbon as he was about to speak at the world's largest technology gathering, the Web Summit, where over 50,000 technology entrepreneurs met to discuss all areas of technological innovations.

Technology alone can't solve the climate crisis

However, having said all that it is also important to emphasise that we shouldn't have a false sense of security and be complacent that technology alone will solve the climate crisis. There are serious issues we need to overcome but where we lack technological solutions; and we must not simply hope and expect that a future technological breakthrough will find a solution. We can't escape the fact that to overcome the climate crisis we need much more than just technology. We have to accept that individuals as well as companies have a responsibility to act, and it is no longer a problem we can blame on others. 'Not us but them' was, of course, a phrase that for many years was used by western leaders to delay climate action: 'We are not going to act before China does'. It was a dangerous narrative that delayed action and was caused by ignorance about what was actually happening in China. But in fact, they had mobilised clean energy investment on a scale never seen before. This means that China has now overtaken every other country on earth, and is now the world's premier clean energy powerhouse. But back to the main point, we as individuals have a responsibility to look at ourselves and ask how are we personally contributing to this problem? And how can we change? and more importantly at an individual level how can each one of us change the way in which we live our lives? The crisis we are in warrants and requires that.

Does the technology sector take the climate crisis seriously?

But even within the technology sector, there are serious questions to be asked about whether the climate challenge is prioritised as much as it should be. During the Web Summit you could, of course, find isolated events related to climate change and energy, and those tech solutions we need to be discussing if we are to overcome the climate challenge. But it was very much dominated by more trendsetting topics, such as automation, including driverless vehicles, disruptive technologies, artificial intelligence (AI), virtual reality (VR) and so on. But one could very reasonably argue that the climate challenge should have its own stage at such events. Then at least we would know that the technology sector takes the challenge seriously. It is a challenge in which this sector should be playing a key role. Despite the lack of focus in this area, many I met at the event agreed that it should play a much bigger role, and many were equally frustrated that it did not. Many of those were young people, who have entered the technology sector or were planning to enter because they are so deeply concerned about the climate crisis.

Shaping the technology sector in the right direction

To summarise, and with a plea to the sector for, as with many other sectors, profit for the sake of profit is a key driver. But a huge number of people are involved in the technology sector because of their desire to change the world for the better. Recent studies have found that the age group caring most about the climate crisis are millennials. Millennials are already involved and are set to be the largest age group to join the technology sector, and will play a key role in shaping it. In the technology sector, there are two groups battling for dominance: technology for profit, and technology for good. We have to make sure the latter wins and the sector become the driving force for action on climate change. We're only just now beginning to see the potential for the technology sector to address the single biggest issue facing the world, and we must continue driving it in the correct direction.

First published on A greener life, a greener world.

HuffPost UK Tech is running a two-week focus on our Tech For Good campaign, which aims to highlight the technology that is driving social change and making a positive, long-lasting difference to our world. If you'd like to blog on our platform around this topic, email ukblogteam@huffingtonpost.com with a summary of who you are and what you'd like to blog about.

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