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Innovation as solution to climate change

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The climate change crisis is in our midst, with significant and growing negative impacts, particularly on rural livelihoods.

Millions of people are already experiencing the devastating effects of global warming.

The world is already about 1°C warmer than pre-industrial levels, and we are on track to living in a world that is 1.5°C warmer as soon as the 2030s.

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Business as usual places the world on a pathway to a 3-5°C increase by the end of 2100. Even if all current climate change commitments were fully delivered, there would still be a 2-3°C increase.

As frightening as they are, these global averages obscure severe regional variations. By 2050, areas that currently provide 70 percent of the total value of crop production in sub- Saharan Africa will come from areas with aridity and heat stress at “severe” or “extreme” levels.

These levels signal an inability to complete agricultural work or significant health risks in doing so. This means most agricultural production in sub-Saharan Africa including Malawi, will need to adapt to increasing temperatures and aridity.

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Unfortunately, the countries that will be hit hardest and fastest by projected temperature rises and other impacts of climate change are also the ones that lack the financial resources to build resilience ahead of time and that have contributed the fewest emissions towards the current crisis.

The economies of these countries are highly dependent on agriculture, which accounts for more than half of employment in sub-Saharan Africa.

The agricultural sector is at severe risk of being affected by heat, drought, floods, storms and sea level rise, potentially devastating the lives and livelihoods of hundreds of millions of people.

We are already seeing the impacts unfolding across the world, and we need rapid scaling up of proven adaptation solutions alongside major new investments in innovation to tackle the risks on the horizon.

Climate change mitigation efforts are concerned with the reduction of GHG emissions. Eco-innovation is a wider concept that includes any type of innovation (new products and processes) that reduces environmental impact or increases resource productivity.

Eco-innovation policies take into account not only short-term implications on economic growth but also the impact on sustainability over a longer time horizon. In this approach, the environmental impact of a product or service is considered through the various phases of its life, from production to consumption.

Empirical evidence suggests that most gains in efficiency can be obtained at the early stages of the life cycle of the product, i.e., when it is being designed or extracted. This implies that environmental concerns should be incorporated early on.

Technological breakthroughs in the area of climate change are most likely to have an international impact. It is therefore important to coordinate actions globally to create a consistent framework for investment and to avoid duplication of efforts in research and development.

Collaboration would allow covering gaps and dissemination of good practices while addressing barriers that at the international level prevent the development and transfer of technologies.

However, coordination initiatives must avoid the risk of excessive delays in crafting the necessary responses.

Technology transfer is an important dimension of climate change mitigation efforts, which underlines further the need for international cooperation in this area.

Low-carbon and energy-saving technologies should flow to the developing world, where energy efficiency is lower and carbon intensity is higher.

However, the adoption of technology and its diffusion through the economy, including in areas relevant to climate change mitigation and other environmental purposes, requires several supportive conditions.

Financing and technological availability are not a guarantee of successful and efficient outcomes. The absorptive capacity is determined by issues such as the existence of complementary infrastructure, the quality of human capital and the linkages between the various actors of the national innovation system or the type of governance.

Barriers to technology transfer may be related to intellectual property rights or trade systems and have to be addressed as part of the overall country development policies.

Initiatives to increase the absorptive capacity of an economy take time to deliver results and therefore should be undertaken early as part of climate change mitigation efforts.

This is why any efforts to tackle climate change must both deal with the future crisis and adapt to the present challenges.

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