The Tech Industry Must Take the Lead on Carbon Neutrality
By Dr. Hao Xu, Tencent's Vice President of Sustainable Social Value and Head of Tencent’s Carbon Neutrality Lab
Climate change is daunting. And the realities of what to expect are impossible to precisely predict. We do know that building a future where we and future generations continue to thrive depends on our science, our innovation, our creativity and, yes, our clear-headed optimism.
Technology is an integral part of it all. In fact, as a key driver of innovation, efficiency and productivity, the tech industry must lead in the push to adapt to a changing climate. Only if emerging climate tech innovates and scales up at a speed similar to or faster than what tech sector achieved in the last few decades, we are on track to tackle climate crisis that requires both speed and scale.
It’s why we at Tencent launched TanLIVE, a platform and set of tools designed to facilitate collaboration between the brightest and most dedicated professionals in every corner of the climate change fight, at COP28. TanLIVE hopes to mitigate climate change as a connector, catalyst, and a community.
Time Flies — 2030 and 2060 Are Around the Corner
For a long time, we were on a grim course, with estimates that by 2100, Earth would be an apocalyptic 4 degrees Celsius hotter. But we have made progress, a great deal of it. Policy changes, activism, advances in tech, and cheaper renewable energy have all made the Paris Agreement goal possible: Cap the level of warming by the year 2100 at 2C and aim for 1.5C.
New data steadily emerges about the viability of 1.5C. A team of climate scientists, in a brand-new article in the journal Nature Climate Change, said if we want a 50 percent shot of keeping warming to 1.5C, our remaining carbon budget, or RCB, is equal to roughly six years of current CO2 emissions. Chris Smith, a climate scientist at the University of Leeds who contributed to the calculations for the report, told Tencent: “Every tenth of a degree is important: The negative impacts of climate change progressively get worse at higher warming levels, and we don’t know precisely at what point we might trigger irreversible changes in the Earth system. For instance, the collapse of the West Antarctic ice sheet would contribute several meters to global sea level rise. It’s best never to find out, which is why we should aim for a peak warming as low a level as possible.”
Goals and dates differ. The state of California, long a self-declared climate-solutions leader, made a US$54 billion Climate Commitment to cut air pollution by 71 percent, reduce fossil fuel consumption to under a tenth of 2021 levels, and achieve carbon neutrality by no later than 2045. In cities, programs to decrease the carbon footprint can play a particularly visible and impactful role due to complex infrastructure that lends itself beautifully to cross-sectoral integration and major technology applications such as smart grids. In April 2022, the European Commission announced the Cities Mission, in which 100 member cities will become “climate neutral and smart” by 2030. The power of this mission is magnificent: Even though cities take up only 3 percent of the globe’s land, they’re responsible for 72 percent of its greenhouse gas emissions.
China has committed to carbon neutrality by 2060, at which point 80 percent of its energy will come from non-fossil-fuel sources. Germany and Sweden are targeting 2045; the EU, 2050. (We tip our hat to Bhutan and Suriname, the only two countries in the world that have already succeeded in carbon neutrality. In fact, both are carbon negative, i.e., removing more carbon than they emit.)
The tech industry plays a starring role in every one of these pledges, on the granular level and as leaders. We must continue to act with urgency and explore the synergies between digital and decarbonization to capture and maximize every potential that this encouraging and crucial abundance of carbon neutrality programs and commitments creates. At Tencent, we believe it is crucial to demonstrate ongoing progress this decade, to create striking and impactful markers on the climate-adaptation timeline. Tencent’s own goals are tied to 2030 — our company has pledged to achieve carbon neutrality in our operations and supply chain, and to use green power for 100 percent of all electricity consumed by 2030.
Tech and the Valley of Death
When it comes to the value chain of technological advancement, there is a well-known “valley of death” concept.
When a startup grows into a large, commercially successful enterprise, it will attract the attention of various investment organizations, from venture capitalists to private equity firms to different types of financiers. However, there is the in-between stage when a technology first moves out of the laboratory into the real-world after experiencing some success. Here, risks and uncertainties are at their highest, and correspondingly, available resources are at their lowest.
We want to use an innovative model to help more companies swiftly navigate out of the valley of death. Our approach is to earmark applications with social impact, such as glacier protection, and help projects in their early stages to better identify the problems in transitioning from the laboratory to industrial use. In the valley of death stage, our funding may help accelerate solutions for problems, enabling faster growth for the technology and the company. This is the aspiration and meaning behind our work.
We hope the projects themselves will create positive social value. At the same time, through the numerous projects we support, we hope to compile a set of best practices that can help more companies developing carbon-neutrality and other technologies to escape the valley of death. We see great significance and potential in this work.
The Technology Industry Must Collaborate in Community
I look at the carbon neutrality challenge this way: It requires major structural transformations in industry and economies, all over the world. Carbon neutrality can be achieved only through better business models and more innovative modes of operation. For me, I am especially proud and happy to be able to help explore these innovative business models through my work at Tencent. My biggest personal aspiration and goal are to drive progress in the carbon neutrality journey on the one hand, while finding opportunity for society’s growth on the other through facilitating close collaboration between a diversity of startups and a larger corporation like Tencent.
Designed to connect and empower organizations working toward carbon neutrality, the TanLIVE platform offers collaborative tools, including community networking, project listings, and an ecosystem of technological and financing solutions for entrepreneurs, investors, and research institutions in the climate sector. TanLIVE will work to strengthen climate tech ecosystems around the world, scale climate tech solutions across nations, and facilitate broader access to knowledge and training. We’ll foster a global community of green technology innovators and like-minded partners — we’ll work to keep 1.5C within reach.
From smart homes and buildings to future transportation system to citywide smart grids, the tech industry will bring innovation to life.
The clock is ticking. From intelligent homes and buildings to clean transportation and citywide smart grids, the tech industry is bringing innovation to life, contributing to a sustainable future and new opportunity for all.