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Climate tech investment grows at five times the venture capital market rate over seven years

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VC and corporate investment in startups developing technology enabled solutions to climate change, and the transformation to net zero emissions, grew at a faster rate than VC investment as a whole between 2013 – 2019. In that time, US$60 billion of early stage capital was invested globally into startups contributing to tackling the net zero challenge. 

As Climate Week in New York focuses attention on transforming business and economies to net zero emissions, the new research by PwC examines the global startup ecosystem critical to commercialising the innovation needed to make a net zero future a reality. The first-of-its-kind analysis defines the climate tech investment landscape, and examines global early-stage climate tech deals, volumes, trends, sectors and investors. Climate tech is defined as a broad umbrella of solutions to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions across energy, transport, the built environment, industrial processes, and food and land use; in addition to shifts towards less resource-incentive business models, or carbon removal technologies. 

While climate tech is a nascent sector overall in the VC market (approx 6% of total capital invested in 2019), climate tech VC investment increased from US$418 million per annum in 2013 to US$16.3 billion in 2019. That is approximately three times the growth rate of VC investment into Artificial Intelligence (AI) over the same period. 

Key factors influencing investment include capital efficiency to prove and scale solutions; and the potential for the solutions to provide cost effective carbon reduction or removal. 

Nearly half of all venture dollars ($60bn) went to US and Canadian climate tech startups (US$29 billion); China is second at US$20 billion. The European market attracted US$7 billion. Mobility and Transport solutions dominate US and China investment. 

“The analysis shows the urgency of the opportunity, and gap to close, to support and scale  innovative technologies and business models to address the climate crisis,” comments Celine Herweijer, global leader, Innovation & Sustainability, PwC UK. “Climate tech is a new frontier in venture investing for the 2020s.”

“Some of the technologies and solutions critical to enabling this transformation are proven and need rapid commercialisation, which is why venture capital is key. It will not need trillions invested in startups to make a difference. But for the trickier technologies and markets it will need targeted support, including from governments, to make it through research and development, and the early stages beyond which capital increasingly is lining up.”

Drivers for growth

Climate tech related to mobility & transport, heavy industry, and GHG capture and storage are the fastest growing segments in the analysis, followed by food, agriculture, land use, built environment, energy, and climate and Earth data generation. 

Investment in micro-mobility such as e-scooter and bike platforms and wider transport innovation has grown dramatically, recording a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 151%, and representing 63% (US$37.4 billion) of all climate tech funding over the past seven years. The scale of transport innovation has also driven bigger deals.

“The climate tech market is maturing. As a society we are seeing more entrepreneurs launch startups, more investors back them, and an increasing number of larger funding rounds for later-stage high-potential deals.”, said Azeem Azhar, Senior Advisor to PwC UK, founder of Exponential View, and co-author of the report. “But PwC’s analysis shows the ecosystem is still nascent, with key gaps in the depth and nature of funding available to founders and tricky structural hurdles for them to navigate as they scale their businesses.”

Investors 

Climate tech venture funding is coming from every corner of the market.  Investors range from more traditional VC firms and venture funds specialising in sustainability, to corporate investors including energy majors, global consumer goods companies and big tech, government backed investment firms, and private equity players getting exposure to deals earlier.  

The strategic role of corporate venture capital (CVC) in particular, is key to many climate tech startups. Particularly those typified by high capital costs, targeted at disrupting asset-heavy incumbent industries with high barriers to entry, such as in energy, heavy industry and transport. For Mobility & Transport, 30% of the climate tech deals include a CVC firm, and in Energy, 32% of capital deployed came from CVCs. Overall, nearly a quarter of climate tech deals (24%) included a corporate investor.

“The involvement of corporates will be key to the continued success of climate tech – both in terms of their net zero commitments driving demand for new solutions, and their investments into commercialising innovation. It’s not just the financial means they bring, but the commercial know-how, and industry knowledge to help startups navigate how to rapidly deploy and scale new innovations into the market,” comments Celine Herweijer. 

Investment Hubs

Analysis of the top investment centres in Europe, Asia and the Americas shows climate tech startup investment in the San Francisco Bay area (US$11.7 billion) is 56% higher than its nearest rival, Shanghai (US$7.5 billion). Compared with the other regions, Europe is more invested in energy, particularly developing the core technologies for renewable energy generation (predominantly photovoltaics (PV) cells) and energy storage (batteries), demonstrating the potential for regional specialist capabilities to develop in a second wave of development of the climate tech sector, following mobility and transport.

Outside of mobility and the dominant US and China markets, Berlin, London, Labege (France) and Bengaluru, India were amongst the top ten cities for climate tech startup investment, attracting US$1.3 billion mainly across energy, agriculture and food and land use. 

The COVID-19 pandemic  reinforces climate tech need and opportunity 

In the short term, while COVID-19 is likely to have caused a lull in VC market activity during 2020, long term investment and potential in the market appears resilient. Over the past year, close to 300 global companies have commited to achieve net zero emissions before 2050. Many of these commitments include substantial pledges to fund innovation.

“Every commitment represents a demand signal—a new customer—in the market for a solution that helps them achieve net zero,” comments Celine Herweijer. “More broadly the increased profile of Environmental, Social, and Corporate Governance (ESG), increasing government commitments to a ‘green recovery’, and continued rising consumer pressure to respond to the climate crisis is cementing demand for climate tech.”

“Despite significant and promising levels of growth, with just ten years to reduce by half global greenhouse gas emissions to limit global warming to 1.5C, climate tech needs a rapid injection of capital, talent and public-private support to match its potential to build and accelerate faster, bolder innovation,” adds Celine Herweijer. 

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Crypto Sustainability Coalition to Investigate Potential of Web3 Technologies in Fighting Climate Change

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The World Economic Forum launched the Crypto Sustainability Coalition, which will investigate how web3 and blockchain tools can be leveraged to achieve positive climate action.

Web3, which includes technologies like blockchains, cryptocurrencies, and NFTs, has become a catch-all term for the vision of a new, better internet. Members of the coalition will explore the potential positive impacts these technologies can bring to environmental and social agendas.

The coalition launch is timely as there is an urgent need to support the decarbonization of cryptocurrency and ensuring the industry is part of the climate solution. Furthermore, there needs to be regulatory clarity that promotes web3 innovation, protects consumers, and improves financial inclusion.

“I am excited about the work we are expecting from the Crypto Sustainability Coalition. An important and unique aspect of web3 is that it uses technology to support and reward direct community engagement and action. This means we can coordinate the work of many individuals directly with one another, enabling collective action without centralized control – a powerful accelerator for grass roots action,” said Brynly Llyr, Head of Blockchain and Digital Assets, World Economic Forum.

The Crypto Sustainability Coalition is a public-private initiative hosted by the World Economic Forum and comprises 30 partners. It is convening working groups to tackle three specific issues:

  • Energy usage – this working group will analyse the crypto industry’s consumption of energy and materials to build a clearer picture of its impacts on climate and nature.
  • Web3’s potential for climate action – this working group will investigate ways in which web3 innovations could tackle challenges facing the low-carbon transition at the pace required to hit the Paris Agreement’s targets. For example, the decentralized nature of crypto-mining and its ability to operate at off-peak times may provide a new business model for utilities and investors looking to develop renewable energy microgrids.
  • “On-chain” carbon credits – members of the coalition believe blockchain-based carbon credits could address current flaws in global carbon markets, including: the lack of transparency around carbon offsets for either providers or buyers; the failure of markets to remove carbon emissions at the scale and pace required; and the inability of millions of the world’s smallholder farmers, forest stewards and Indigenous communities to participate in or benefit from carbon credit markets.

The Crypto Sustainability Coalition will investigate, collate and highlight industry standards, best practices and examples of tangible action that attest to how web3 technologies can support communities most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. The coalition’s wider aim is to foster a broad education campaign on what web3’s potential and capacity look like, to better inform governments on how they regulate these technologies and incentivize investment and research into their development.

The coalition’s partners include Accenture, Avalanche, Avatree, CC Token, Circle, Climate Collective, Crypto Council for Innovation, Emerge, Energy Web Foundation, eToro, EY, Flowcarbon, Heifer International, KlimaDAO, Lukka, NEAR Foundation, Nori, PlanetWatch, Plastiks, Rainforest Partnership, Recykal, ReSeed, Ripple, Solana, Stellar Development Foundation, STEWARD, Sustainable Bitcoin Standard, The Global Brain, Toucan Protocol, University of Lisbon, and Zero Labs.

The new coalition is part of the Crypto Impact and Sustainability Accelerator (CISA), a grant-funded initiative launched by the Forum in January 2022 with a mission to encourage a greater understanding of the environmental, social and governance (ESG) impacts of crypto technologies.

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Quantum Technologies Can Help Tackle Climate, Hunger, Disease

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Quantum technologies offer huge potential for finding solutions to complex global challenges. But the focus on cybersecurity risks, which are solvable if decision-makers act now, is obscuring their application to the threats of climate, hunger and disease.

Moreover, demand for experts is outpacing available talent and companies are struggling to recruit people in this increasingly competitive and strategic industry. The World Economic Forum’s State of Quantum Computing report and Transitioning to a Quantum-Secure Economy white paper show how business and government leaders can take action.

The report and the white paper draw on insights from global experts and decision-makers among the Forum’s Quantum Economy Network. As investments in quantum technologies by businesses and governments worldwide totalled $35.5 billion by 2022, they show that while private investment is growing rapidly and shifting from venture capital to initial public offerings, companies and organizations are facing a serious shortage of talent.

The only people trained in quantum technologies are highly academic and businesses are struggling to upskill and find qualified individuals with experience in business or engineering. This skills gap means quantum computers, which are based on harnessing the properties of quantum states, will miss the promise of solving vastly complex problems exponentially faster than traditional machines.

Although the technology is nascent, the report and the white paper show how leaders can act now to secure their digital infrastructure from potential quantum computing attacks in the future. Three specific domains of research and industry, with significant economic, environmental and societal opportunities, are highlighted:

  • Atomic, sub-atomic and molecular simulation leading to possible breakthroughs in materials science and biology
  • Optimization and risk management in complex systems
  • Impacts on existing technology areas such as artificial intelligence, cybersecurity security and blockchain

Taken together, they show how businesses can assess quantum readiness and formulate a quantum strategy, build internal capabilities and align with top management and policy-makers on critical focus areas.

“Quantum computing is a fundamentally new way of computing and could dramatically recast our ability to tackle climate change, hunger and disease,” said Derek O’Halloran, Head of the Forum’s platform, Shaping the Future of Digital Economy and New Value Creation. “Its economic promise and potential to render common cryptographic technologies obsolete make it geopolitically strategic. But the knowledge gap and uncertainties that come with an emerging technology make it difficult for decision-makers to act. The report and the white paper aim to demystify quantum computing and give business executives and policy-makers worldwide informed opinion for fact-based decision-making.”

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New EU cybersecurity rules ensure more secure hardware and software products

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Commission has presented a proposal for a new Cyber Resilience Act to protect consumers and businesses from products with inadequate security features. A first ever EU-wide legislation of its kind, it introduces mandatory cybersecurity requirements for products with digital elements, throughout their whole lifecycle.

The Act, announced by President Ursula von der Leyen in September 2021 during her State of the European Union address, and building on the 2020 EU Cybersecurity Strategy and the 2020 EU Security Union Strategy, will ensure that digital products, such as wireless and wired products and software, are more secure for consumers across the EU: in addition to increasing the responsibility of manufacturers by obliging them to provide security support and software updates to address identified vulnerabilities, it will enable consumers to have sufficient information about the cybersecurity of the products they buy and use.

Margrethe Vestager, Executive Vice-President for a Europe Fit for the Digital Age, said: “We deserve to feel safe with the products we buy in the single market. Just as we can trust a toy or a fridge with a CE marking, the Cyber Resilience Act will ensure the connected objects and software we buy comply with strong cybersecurity safeguards. It will put the responsibility where it belongs, with those that place the products on the market.”

Margaritis Schinas, Vice-President for Promoting our European Way of Life, said: “The Cyber Resilience Act is our answer to modern security threats that are now omnipresent through our digital society. The EU has pioneered in creating a cybersecurity ecosystem through rules on critical infrastructure, cybersecurity preparedness and response, and the certification of cybersecurity products. Today, we are completing this ecosystem through an Act that brings security in everyone’s home, in all our businesses and in every product that is interconnected. Cybersecurity is a matter for society, no longer an industry affair.”

Thierry Breton, Commissioner for the Internal Market, said: “When it comes to cybersecurity, Europe is only as strong as its weakest link: be it a vulnerable Member State, or an unsafe product along the supply chain. Computers, phones, household appliances, virtual assistance devices, cars, toys… each and every one of these hundreds of million connected products is a potential entry point for a cyberattack. And yet, today most of the hardware and software products are not subject to any cyber security obligations. By introducing cybersecurity by design, the Cyber Resilience Act will help protect Europe’s economy and our collective security.

With ransomware attacks hitting an organisation every 11 seconds around the globe and the estimated global annual cost of cybercrime reaching €5.5 trillion in 2021 (Joint Research Centre report (2020): “Cybersecurity – Our Digital Anchor, a European perspective”), ensuring a high level of cybersecurity and reducing vulnerabilities in digital products – one of the main avenues for successful attacks – is more important than ever. With the growth in smart and connected products, a cybersecurity incident in one product can have an impact on the entire supply chain, possibly leading to severe disruption of economic and social activities across the internal market, undermining security or even becoming life-threatening.

The measures proposed today are based on the New Legislative Framework for EU product legislation and will lay down:

(a) rules for the placing on the market of products with digital elements to ensure their cybersecurity;

(b) essential requirements for the design, development and production of products with digital elements, and obligations for economic operators in relation to these products;

(c) essential requirements for the vulnerability handling processes put in place by manufacturers to ensure the cybersecurity of products with digital elements during the whole life cycle, and obligations for economic operators in relation to these processes. Manufacturers will also have to report actively exploited vulnerabilities and incidents;

(d) rules on market surveillance and enforcement.

The new rules will rebalance responsibility towards manufacturers, who must ensure conformity with security requirements of products with digital elements that are made available on the EU market. As a result, they will benefit consumers and citizens, as well as businesses using digital products, by enhancing the transparency of the security properties and promoting trust in products with digital elements, as well as by ensuring better protection of their fundamental rights, such as privacy and data protection.

While other jurisdictions around the world look into addressing these issues, the Cyber Resilience Act is likely to become an international point of reference, beyond the EU’s internal market. EU standards based on the Cyber Resilience Act will facilitate its implementation and will be an asset for the EU cybersecurity industry in global markets.

The proposed regulation will apply to all products that are connected either directly or indirectly to another device or network. There are some exceptions for products, for which cybersecurity requirements are already set out in existing EU rules, for example on medical devices, aviation or cars.

Next Steps

It is now for the European Parliament and the Council to examine the draft Cyber Resilience Act. Once adopted, economic operators and Member States will have two years to adapt to the new requirements. An exception to this rule is the reporting obligation on manufacturers for actively exploited vulnerabilities and incidents, which would apply already one year from the date of entry into force, since they require fewer organisational adjustments than the other new obligations. The Commission will regularly review the Cyber Resilience Act and report on its functioning.

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