There’s no one silver bullet for the climate crisis – but there is hope in innovation

Nigel Topping
·4 min read
<p>Boris Johnson during the launch of the UK-hosted Cop26 UN climate summit</p> (Getty)

Boris Johnson during the launch of the UK-hosted Cop26 UN climate summit


The rollout of Covid-19 vaccines has brought a new sense of hope and relief to the world, as the light at the end of a long tunnel is finally in sight.

To have achieved such vaccines in such a short space of time since the pandemic was declared is a symbol of human ingenuity and innovation in the face of complex challenges to our way of life.

We still face tough months ahead. The need to wear masks is likely to persist, as will the need for intermittent lockdowns of varying degrees. We also need to continuously innovate so that life can carry on and communities can thrive in these difficult circumstances.

From robotics to online meeting platforms and apps that provide critical services previously delivered in-person, the scale and speed of technological innovation under Covid-19 has been astonishing.

But with the end of the pandemic on the horizon, we must gradually return our gaze to tackling climate change, our greatest challenge for generations to come. And as with the coronavirus, innovation must be at the centre of our strategy to tackle the climate crisis.

Ours must be the generation that stops passing the buck on climate action. As we start to build back better, we must realise that the key to economic renewal does not lie in business as usual, but instead in completely reimagining what can be achieved when we put our minds to it.

My first job was in the manufacturing industry in a career that spanned two decades, working with business partners from around the world and particularly in emerging markets. I have seen first-hand how quickly economies can grow and change direction when they are driven by a transformative vision.

In my role as the UK’s high-level climate champion, I am helping to catalyse international action on climate change ahead of the Cop26 summit in Glasgow this year, as the UK hosts the next chapter in the UN’s efforts to galvanise global climate action.

Five years on from the Paris climate agreement, “Global Britain” can help the world set a new agenda towards a resilient, net-zero future.

I was honoured to have convened the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC) Race to Zero Dialogues – bringing together more than 300 speakers from 65 countries – to demonstrate how we can reach net-zero carbon emission in key sectors such as health, transport, energy, finance, city planning and food and agriculture.

One of the dialogues I hosted with the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office and the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS), spelled out clear actions that could put our food systems on a more “climate-smart” path that resolves climate change as opposed to making it worse.

Our food systems are a vital piece of the climate puzzle, as the UK government's new farming strategy acknowledges. If we add up all the steps it takes to get food from farm to fork around the world, it accounts for a quarter of all global greenhouse gas emissions.

Even if we remove all emissions from all other major carbon-intensive sectors, our diets and agricultural production would keep the Paris Climate Agreement out of reach, as new research from Oxford University shows. This means we urgently need to address emissions in the food sector.We also need to prepare for how climate change will affect how we grow food.

To meet this challenge, the Global Commission on Adaptation estimated the world needs to invest $1.8 trillion in vital adaptation projects - including in more resilient food systems - which could in fact generate around $7 trillion in net returns. They called on governments and business to move faster on adaptation, making sure investments are delivered alongside reforms that enable researchers to work more closely with entrepreneurs to bring innovations to market.

I am an optimist. As the first woman vice president in US history takes office, we must do more to empower women around the world to carry the torch of innovations, so that new products, services and business models can take root and flourish.

Building back better from Covid-19 and taking serious climate action are not antithetical endeavours – they are two sides of the same coin. As we turn to a hopeful new chapter in this pandemic, let us also turn the page on a more optimistic and determined narrative about a net-zero carbon future.

Nigel Topping is the UK high level champion for the UN Cop26 summit

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