22 July 2020 | 4 minutes.

Going beyond investments in single-point solutions

Kirsten Dunlop
Chief Executive Officer of EIT Climate-KIC

Kirsten Dunlop, Chief Executive Officer of EIT Climate-KIC

We are working to accelerate the transition to a zero-carbon economy by using systems innovation to effect change in whole places and value chains.

Climate change is not a distant possibility. The capacity of the Earth’s system to absorb greenhouse gas emissions is already exhausted. The IPCC Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5°C estimates that human activities have already caused approximately 1.0°C of global warming above pre-industrial levels.

Changes in temperature, precipitation, sea level, and the frequency and severity of extreme weather events are already affecting how much energy is produced, delivered, and consumed around the world. A global crisis such as the COVID-19 pandemic, aggravated by climate change, impacts the energy world: in the U.S., the price of an oil barrel went negative on 20 March 2020 for the first time ever.

The energy world needs to think in systems

In the last 15 to 20 years, innovation in the energy sector was focused on single-point solutions and commercial scale-up. The traditional paradigm of innovation policy was about supporting research and development and engineering projects, and there was a certain confidence that the world was going to be able to innovate itself out of the climate crisis and eventually find a way to decouple economic growth from environmental impacts.

Today, the energy sector accounts for approximately 2/3 of global CO2 emissions. Business- and innovation-as-usual are not delivering a 1.5°C world. Technology advances alone will not solve the climate crisis: the two decades of technology-focused innovation policy need to be followed by a different innovation paradigm. Innovation support in the energy sector must of course continue, and it will, as it lies at the heart of the European Green Deal. However, it needs to be coupled with social, political, economic, financial and institutional innovations as well.

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