Green Government Research is there already. Let’s start taking it seriously.

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Published 28th November 23

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

There should no longer be any debate over whether climate change is affecting the globe or not. It’s quite evident. From the summer last year where we hit 40 Celsius in the UK to the summer this year where rain ruled the roost – the climate is behaving incredibly differently to what it was doing even five years ago.

This is a problem. And it is one that is affecting people more than you may well realise.

While green technology is being researched at a rate of knots, whether it’s battery technology at Northvolt, or sustainable aviation fuel to help make our desire for holidays and trade more eco-friendly, or even heat retention energy technology through sand batteries at Polar Night Energy, the problems that need to be solved needed to be worked on 15 to 20 years ago. Better yet, they needed to be taken far more seriously 15 to 20 years ago to be having the impact they need now.

Unfortunately, the sheer amount of venture capital that has gone into business has gone into areas that give quick and high-rates of return. This isn’t something that anyone can be blamed for, it’s exactly what investors want, and it is what business is about – profit. But the shift in recent years to sustainable and positively impactful capital is a good one to be involved with. Funds like Tribe Impact Capital have at their core a directive to “run portfolios for positive, sustainable impact.”

Whilst it may be, perhaps, perceived anathema for a fund manager like this to explore defence research as an investment route – the surprise may be that there is already a tonne of green, climate science, and sustainability research going on at defence research facilities – driven by the Ministry of Defence. The UK’s Net Zero legislation has helped this along, but questions of power sovereignty and how to ensure more sustainable operations have long been on the minds of those building strategy for the UK’s Defence ecosystem.

With COP28 imminent, it’s time to realise that there is more than the private sector for investment when it comes to green and sustainable technology; and net-zero cannot be achieved by the effort of one sector only. To scale up these technologies and deploy them in a cost-effective manner will require collaborations across a wide range of organisations and by adopting a system of system approach – and in parallel the harmonisation of national climate policies across the globe. This will be key. One way to achieve this harmonisation can be through the right carbon pricing instruments, which can accelerate the development and adoption of these technologies.

It’s high time that COP28 and future such summits focus on the harmonisation of national climate policies, along with instruments such as carbon pricing – rather than relying on voluntary national targets on sustainability and emissions. There is tremendous opportunity for the impact investment community to get involved in not only investment, but also to work with innovators, spinouts and industry; educating policy makers of the benefits of policy harmonisation and how this will help in mass deployment of sustainable technologies.

Imagine being there at the beginning when Raytheon’s research into microwaves was made dual use into an appliance that is pretty much everywhere from your kitchen to a Michelin-starred restaurant. Imagine being there when an innovation that enables far more potent and efficient carbon capture is rolled out worldwide. Or perhaps it’s going to be simply better prediction tools that take in data points in their millions and direct when something potentially dangerous is going to happen.

These technologies have a real chance to help areas of the world where weather/climate related disaster is having a devastating impact on lives. Ploughshare is uniquely placed to act as a bridge between private investment and government, and really knows the value of that type of relationship. It’s what we do here – identify amazing research and explore how dual-use it can be. Everything has potential for positive impact everywhere, it’s simply a matter of being open and willing to go on that journey.

Ultimately defence will benefit as climate change, not unlike defence itself, is global. It can work with local and international industry, alongside accessing technologies with certain standards. Some of these technologies that the UK Government through Dstl develops can easily be shared with defence forces of friendly nations, too. It’s a win/win for not only research into the climate, but UK soft power as well.

It might take a bit of imagination on our parts to get involved for the long run, but it isn’t imagination that climate related weather emergencies have displaced more than 43.1 million children in the past six years. It’s very real for them, and imminently it will also be very real for us.