This blog post was published under the 2015 to 2024 Conservative government

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Mikael Allan Mikaelsson

PhD, Science and Innovation Policy Advisor, Europe Lead on Net-Zero Innovation & Climate Change

1st November 2021 Stockholm, Sweden

The Global Innovation Needs Assessments

Accelerating innovation in low-carbon technologies is essential to achieve our net-zero targets and to stave off the worst impacts of climate change. While both mature and novel low carbon technologies are already transforming the global economy, speeding up their deployment can reduce the cost of decarbonization, saving $2.7 trillion annually by 2050, and lower food prices by 21%. Furthermore, innovation helps support $3.4 trillion worth of low carbon supply chains and create wider biodiversity and other co-benefits. Greater investment in commercializing low carbon innovation would help hone the business models and rapidly deploy technically ready-to-go technologies, while rolling-out infrastructure for the long-haul (for technologies like floating offshore wind farms). Further investment in RD&D would also advance disruptive technologies and solutions (such as low carbon hydrogen), as highlighted in a report by the Delivery Net-Zero initiative. However, while investment into low-carbon technologies can deliver significant benefits, innovation spending often remains difficult to justify for both governments and businesses, given inherent risk and misunderstood benefits. To date, no assessment has quantified the payoffs, public benefits or business case for low carbon innovation at a global level. Highly valuable low carbon innovation investments thus remain underfunded by public and private sector actors, moving our net-zero targets further from our grasp.

The importance of quantifying the benefits and the cost

With this in mind, over the last year the UK Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office (via its Science & Innovation Network) and the ClimateWorks Foundation have been supporting the development of the Global Innovation Needs Assessments (GINAs), a first of a kind platform for assessing the case for low carbon innovation. Analysis was conducted by Vivid Economics, in consultation by Department of Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy and the Mission Innovation Secretariat. The GINAs take a system wide perspective, explicitly modelling the impact of innovations across the global economy. Uniquely, the analysis quantifies the economic benefits of low carbon innovation and identifies the public investment levels—from research and development to commercialization—needed to unlock these benefits. Phase 1 of the GINAs focuses on global energy and land use, and consists of 16 reports across 13 technology areas. A further Phase 2 and 3 would expand the analysis to industry, followed by regional and national deep dives. Building on this evidence base ahead of UN COP26 conference in Glasgow in November is imperative.

The Global Innovation Needs Assessments

The GINAs find that the development and commercialisation of key technologies necessary for rapid decarbonisation could deliver $2.7 trillion of climate benefits just in 2050 by reducing decarbonisation costs by 28%. Innovation could add jobs and growth in new low carbon value chains worth $3.4 trillion and supporting 37 million direct jobs, while safeguarding nature and health. Unlocking these benefits would require roaring commercialisation of low carbon technologies in the 2020s, increasing public spending 8 times, and tripling RD&D spending to $35 billion a year. To support net zero innovation rapidly moving through mass market deployment, this public spending should be accompanied by a wider set of policies that create new and stronger market demand.

Innovation in the energy and land-use system can reduce the cost of decarbonization by 28% up to 2050

Innovation can scale high value low carbon supply chains worth GVA $3.4 trillion

RD&D and commercialization need to increase by 3 and 8 times respectively

The initial findings from the first phase of the GINAs were inaugurated at ‘The Benefits and Need for Global Energy Innovation’ event on the 12th of October (recording available). Nick Bridge, the UK’s Foreign Secretary’s Special Representative for Climate Change, gave opening remarks, and was followed by other leaders in the field of energy decarbonization and technological innovation.

International innovation collaboration is essential

It is also important to bear in mind that innovation is inherently unpredictable, as an iterative learning process that brings improvements of existing solutions and creation of new ones. As the world races against the clock to avert the most dire consequences of climate change, the need for pace and efficiency is unquestionable As such, international collaboration will be essential to pool (and thus leverage larger) resources, increasing knowledge-base and skillsets, while sharing both the cost and risks of innovation. In this respect, the Second Phase of the Mission Innovation initiative (Mission Innovation 2.0) will play a paramount role in establishing and supporting these collaborations. In parallel, the UK Science & Innovation Network will continue to work across the globe to develop bilateral and multilateral collaborations on net-zero innovation between researchers and innovators around common challenges and complementary expertise, to accelerate the green industrial revolution.

This article is the second in the blog series: The Road To COP26: The Role of  Science & Innovation

About Mikael Allan Mikaelsson

Europe Lead of Net-Zero Innovation and Climate Change for the UK Government's international science and innovation division, under the auspice the UK Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) and Dept.…

Europe Lead of Net-Zero Innovation and Climate Change for the UK Government's international science and innovation division, under the auspice the UK Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) and Dept. for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS).

As part of my work, I have regional oversight and coordination of the work carried out by FCDO/BEIS’ science and innovation division on international collaboration on research, technology and innovation for climate mitigation and adaptation/resilience in Europe.

Our work informs the UK Government’s international strategy on evidence-based climate policy, net-zero-transition across the energy, transport and industry sectors, and climate adaption and resilience, through strategic and targeted policy exchange, innovation-needs assessments, technology-transfer and strengthened international research and innovation partnerships.