Yesterday, world leaders agreed a plan to ramp up the creation and roll-out of clean technologies at COP26. Called the Breakthrough Agenda, the first five breakthroughs focused on green energy and vehicles. As we turn to technological solutions, should we be bringing nature into the mix too? Director and chair of the Nature4Climate initiative Lucy Almond makes the case for ‘nature tech’ and explains why bridging the two worlds is so essential.
Whether it’s watching David Attenborough’s Perfect Planet films or using high-tech VR to experience the Amazon, many of us are familiar with experiencing the natural world through technology. We are, however, much less familiar with understanding the many emerging ways in which technology can and should help us protect, restore and more sustainably manage our natural resources.
At Nature4Climate (N4C), we are excited by the emergence of what we are calling ‘nature tech’ – a term that encompasses the application of modern technology to help enable, accelerate and scale-up nature’s ability to combat climate change and deliver a range of other benefits for people and the planet.
Left to its own devices, nature has been providing benefits to humankind since the beginning of time. Unfortunately, in far too many places, nature is under threat and we now know that proactive steps need to be taken to care for our natural ecosystems, and allow them to care for us.
These actions are known, collectively, as nature-based solutions (NbS), which are defined by IUCN as ‘actions to protect, sustainably manage, and restore natural or modified ecosystems, that address societal challenges providing human well-being and biodiversity benefits’. A sub-section of NbS are natural climate solutions which are focused specifically on climate mitigation and adaptation.
In the midst of a global health crisis, the collapse of biodiversity, and a warming climate, the need for NbS has never been greater. But despite their potential, NbS still face a number of barriers. They require government policies and incentives; they require community support and engagement; and they require private sector understanding and investment, both in the corporate and finance sectors.
These are all areas that N4C, and many others, are working on. But it is also clear that, like most things, NbS can be greatly aided by innovative technology. Many see nature and technology as polar opposites, and by extension believe that “natural” and “technological” solutions to global crises exist in conflict. We believe the opposite, and so are turning our attention to ‘nature tech’ – technology that can accelerate the deployment of NbS at scale.
What is nature tech?
The notion of ‘cleantech’ has existed for more than a decade, and is synonymous with eco-innovation, encompassing high-tech companies that create environmental added value.
In its 2020 report, the Cleantech Group estimated that more than $7.4 billion (€6.4 billion) had been raised by its top 100 companies from investors spanning 45 countries – and the whole sector has been estimated to be worth about $4 trillion (€3.5 trillion).
Cleantech is defined as ‘new technology and related business models that offer competitive returns for investors and customers while providing solutions to global challenges’.
To date, definitions of cleantech have mostly covered companies that focus on renewable energy, energy efficiency, recycling, supply chain efficiencies, etc., with emerging trends in what is known as ‘ag tech’.
We believe there is huge potential for the growth of companies that apply technology advances – whether that’s satellite monitoring, drone technology, …….