Better defence investment climates could well mean better global climates


Published 12th September 23

By Kalyan Sarma, VP Commercialisation – Climate, Environment and Sustainability at Ploughshare

There is no doubt that technology that focuses on climate and sustainability is about to have its big day. With rising temperatures, rising sea levels, and absolute changes in weather patterns, it would take a sizeable sandpit to put your head in and say everything is continuing as normal. If we’re looking at investment figures alone, green technology and energy is continuing to increase its value. However, investing in green infrastructure is all well and fine, but it is all going to be underpinned, just like most business is now, by data.

But we need to make sure that when it comes to the data, collaboration and sharing is the way that we go forwards. This battle, and it is a battle, will be won with teamwork and worldwide collaboration. It will affect every single person on the planet, not to mention the flora and fauna that we all rely on to keep us fed, watered, clothed, and sheltered. Green technology, driven by data, is crucial for us all, and we would all do well to remember that – especially given that we will only most likely see the benefits in the next generation or two.

Defence, although people may not realise it, have a unique opportunity, and indeed are in a unique position, to help with the challenge of sustainability and the march towards net-zero. It’s a march we’re all on, and one that we are all legally obligated to be on, with Net Zero targets being enshrined in law. It’s a battle that we are on the back foot with, but one that we can very quickly get underway.

Firstly, we can look at the sheer number of sensors that the Ministry of Defence, as well as various defence contractors, have across the globe, across multiple climate types. The data collected from these is crucial in the analysis and predictions that we use on a day-to-day basis. Think of the weather forecast – it’s a similar process. However, with the presence of these sensors comes the question: how can we share this to ensure that multiple nations can benefit?

It isn’t only this that needs to be considered. Defence and the wider defence ecosystem have an opportunity, and even an obligation to use the data that it collects across the globe to help other nations in their own fight against climate change. Some areas are threatened by rising sea levels – for example Jakarta –, or water security in the Golan Heights, and shifting weather patterns as we are seeing across North America. The question of climate doesn’t care whether you are in a developed or developing economy – it doesn’t discriminate. Governments would do well to realise that societies have far more in common than they do the opposite – and cooperation based on climate is an excellent opportunity to explore this further.

And so how do we go about this? The answer itself is relatively simple, but the process will take time. The answer is investment in ground-breaking and innovative research that comes out of labs that know how to use this data. AI and Machine Learning will undoubtedly have their place in developing the best analytical tools, but right now it is the people that will make the ultimate difference.

Dstl, for example, has the people and the talent that are just waiting for the support to look at how this high quality and constantly updated data can be used to better predict weather patterns and climate emergencies. Our colleagues across the pond undoubtedly have the same problem as will other nations that perhaps we are not as close to. This is where private investment will make its mark – going beyond short-term gain, and thinking about the benefit for generations to come. By supplementing government investment, private investors and VCs have the opportunity to be there at the beginning of the next technologies that can benefit the entire human race – an opportunity that no one should lightly pass up. I know I wouldn’t.

For too long, defence has had an image problem of being about lethality, with people forgetting that these research labs develop technology and ways of thinking that benefit society at large – think GPS, memory foam mattresses, even the microwave in your kitchen. The door is there for defence and defence research to help change this – all it is going to take is looking beyond immediate or short-term gain, and having a collaborative, cooperative, and multi-generational outlook on the research that is being conducted. Private investment has its part to play here.

There is a proverb that says, and I’m paraphrasing here, that society and those within it will have reached a peak when people plant trees for the shade that they will never experience, but their children and their children’s children will. Green technology is the tree planting of our time, but we will only plant enough of them if we all work together to cover that ground.