Following the last round of climate negotiations in Madrid in 2019, the word from the ground was that the tech sector was notable by their absence. That certainly can’t be true for Glasgow. Principal partners include Microsoft, Hitachi and Sky. Other named partners include Google and Cisco. Recently, in our recent survey of sustainability experts, both Microsoft and Google featured in the top 10 corporate climate leaders.
A number of events focused on the tech sector are planned over the next few days. A techUK reception saw the launch of a report with essays from innovators highlighting how they think digital technologies will be applied to the global net zero transition. The UK’s environment department hosted Tech for Climate, a series of events aimed at the tech sector with sessions on the environment, scope 3, and culminating with a CEO panel on Friday.
The uptick in the tech sector’s presence reflects the growing list of ambitious commitments that they have made to curb their footprint. The Information and communication technology (ICT) and telco sectors are two of 15 sectors that have met their UNFCCC breakthrough challenge, with over 40% and 33% by revenue of the sector respectively committed now to the Race to Zero. It comes as the sector faces unprecedented scrutiny of their impacts, no doubt fuelled in part by the switch to digital working during the pandemic.
Yet as we reach the end of week one here at COP, the mood music among tech firms remains upbeat - fuelled in part by the Glasgow Breakthroughs, a series of voluntary commitments being negotiated via the UNFCCC’s climate champions to deliver clean and affordable technology everywhere. Over 40 world leaders—including the Unite States, India, Europe and China—have signed up to the Breakthrough Agenda that will see countries and businesses coordinate and strengthen climate action each year. The objective is to dramatically scale and speed up the development and deployment of clean technologies by 2030, and in turn hopefully drive down costs.
Key initiatives include making clean power the most affordable and reliable option for all, zero emission vehicles to become the new normal, near zero emission steel to be the preferred choice in global markets, for hydrogen to be globally available, and for climate-smart, sustainable agriculture to be the most attractive and widely adopted option for farmers, everywhere.
While some observers have pointed to the voluntary nature of this agreement and others are concerned about relying on technology that has not yet scaled, tech firms are supportive, pointing to the need to rapidly scale collaboration and innovation to deliver the systems-level transformations that are key to reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Sustainability experts say a universally accepted methodology for setting net zero targets and requirements to set short-term targets to track progress are the top ways net zero commitments can be made more effective, and tech firms see themselves playing a huge role across sectors by helping to provide data, insights, modelling and simulation tools.
So while the negotiators continue to work hard, the multilateral commitments that are emerging—bringing both state and non-state actors together—are helping to provide a spirit of cooperation, progress and optimism that still more can be achieved in the days to come.