Climate change is one of the most profound challenges we face today. We need to reduce emissions urgently and our progress was too slow – even before the election of President Trump. I’m part of creating a Gigatonne Lab, the brilliant idea of the brilliant Zaid Hassan, because I think it would accelerate our shift to a low-carbon world. Here’s the why, what, how of the Gigatonne Lab – and an invitation to help.
Climate change is widely acknowledged to be one of the most profound challenges we face today.
- The Paris Agreement sets a welcome, and hugely stretching, target: “holding the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2 °C above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 °C above pre-industrial levels.”
- What is needed now is implementation. To even get close to the ambitions of the Paris Agreement we need emission reductions urgently, and we need all society to play their part.
But too little is happening.
- Even if countries deliver on their Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs, the emission reductions they volunteered in the run-up to Paris), then it is estimated we will see ~3.7C warming.
- We risk living in a world of run-away climate change, with devastating consequences for many parts of the world, especially the Gulf nations and countries in tropic regions.
There are a host of brilliant initiatives…
Here are just a few:
- Accelerating research and development:
- Missions Innovation aims “to accelerate the pace of clean energy innovation to achieve performance breakthroughs and cost reductions to provide widely affordable and reliable clean energy solutions that will revolutionize energy systems throughout the world over the next two decades and beyond.”
- Breakthrough Energy, which has $1b from Bill Gates, “is committed to investing in new technologies to find better, more efficient and cheaper energy sources.”
- Addressing systemic barriers in US electricity sector:
- eLab “focusses on collaborative innovation to address critical institutional, regulatory, business, economic, and technical barriers to the economic deployment of distributed resources in the U.S. electricity sector.” through three annual working group meetings, coupled with on-going project work.
…but there is still a gap on implementing rapid decarbonisation.
- We believe that there are too few efforts at deploying existing solutions across many sectors that will have an immediate impact on global emissions.
- This is a particular need right now, as the Trump Administration acts against addressing climate change.
Now is the time to make rapid decarbonisation happen.
- We believe there is a needed for a new vehicle that:
- tests and then invests in solutions that can make a significant difference now.
- attracts attention through its ambition and impacts
- provides lessons on what does and doesn’t work.
- that demonstrates to others that they can reduce carbon emission where they are.
Enter the Gigatonne Lab.
An international collaboration to identify and launch a portfolio of initiatives to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions (CO2e) by one gigatonne within a two-year timeframe.
- Goal. Ignite emission reductions at the scale and urgency required to hold the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2 °C above pre-industrial levels by demonstrating how to take 1GT out of the global economy in a short-time frame.
- A portfolio of solutions which cumulatively reduce global greenhouse gas emissions (CO2e) by one gigatonne (a billion tonnes) within a two-year timeframe.
- A database on insights into technologies, solutions and efforts to diffuse them, so that others can apply what does work and avoid ones that don’t.
- Many people inspired and equipped to pursue emission reductions at scale and with urgency, because of the high-profile example of the Lab and the specific insights it has generated.
What the Gigatonne Lab would do
There are many possible configurations, and the specifics would vary depending on who gets involved. The current design can be summarized as:
- Five teams. Each multi-disciplinary team of approximately 35 people would have a focus, either regional (e.g. US) or sectorial (e.g. shipping). They would be tasked with abating 200 MT in 2 years in that domain.
- An open innovation pipeline. Each team would have a database of the most viable solutions for their area of focus. There would be an open invitation for others to suggest additions.
- Fast stress-testing. The team would select the best remaining solution, and stress test it. What would need to be true for this solution to make a good-enough contribution? Are those conditions met? After a solution has passed or failed a stress-test, the team would move on to the next one.
- Swift move to investment. If the solution passes the stress-test then a sub-team would move to implementing.
- The Lab Fund. The Lab would have a fund of suitable size available to invest.
- Wide pool of participating organisations. The solutions would be implemented within the wide pool of participants, who would be big corporations, cities, and other public bodies. These organisations would benefit from the finance to address climate change, and the lower risk profile of stress-tested solutions.
- The secretariat. The five teams would be supported by a secretariat, who make sure guide the teams, make sure that lessons are being learnt and acted on, communicate and engage with the wider world as well as connect with the funders and other key stakeholders.
How can we get started?
Over the last few years, Zaid has spoken with tens of possible partners around the world. The typical reaction is: ‘wow, too ambitious; if it happens we’d love to join in’.
Now, a couple of things have shifted since those conversations.
- The science is telling us more bad news about climate change.
- The Paris Agreement has committed the world to a more aggressive reductions trajectory.
- The Trump Presidency threatens to suck momentum out of action across the world.
I sincerely believe that the Gigatonne Lab will be much more challenging to start than to run. Once we have a big enough fund then the struggle will be dealing will the applications from people wanting investment. No, getting to that momentum will be tougher.
So, the key question is: how can we get to that position? My answer is to make a simple first step:
- A global investigation. We believe we could run a series of workshops in different parts of the world which would aim to get the ball rolling.
- Test our key hypotheses:
- There are solutions that are can be unblocked through the vehicle of the Gigatonne Lab.
- There are sources of funding which want to accelerate decarbonisation (and take the wind out of Trump’s sails).
- Identify the best 5 segments (sectors, regions or technologies) to the GTCO2e.
- Create the starting database of possible solutions.
- Identify team members and participating organisations who bring the required expertise and attitude.
- Create excitement and anticipation.
- Estimate the size of investment Fund and operating costs required.
- Test our key hypotheses:
How can you help?
There are several ways you can join in:
- Funding. So, we need cash. Obviously. There are small and large versions of what global investigation could be. The first dollop can bring in the next.
- Brand. Credibility attracts others. Your brand could help us bring in other partners or more money.
- Expertise. Our expertise is in running innovation processes that have systemic effects – not cliamte change solutions. We will need partners and people who can help us choose the right 5 foci, and then discover, test and scale the best solutions.
- Insight. You can help us improve by giving us feedback. You can show that it is not needed (rather than needed but difficult). Or you can have suggestions on how to go forward from here.
How would you benefit?
Well, the long-term benefit is reducing the risk of runaway, civilisation-undermining climate change. In the short-term how about:
- Early access to the innovation pipeline. You would know about which solutions are ready (and which not) before others, giving you a possible first-mover advantage.
- Proof of high-ambition climate action. Many companies have made bold promises but struggle to make the internal investments to fulfil those promises. Supporting the Gigatonne Lab would demonstrate that you are a leader on climate action.
- Financial eturns on climate solutions. We anticipate the fund will be run to give investment returns. You could make money on this deal.
Personally, I know that the Gigatonne Lab is a risky venture. But what is the point of working on climate change if you are not going to take risk? And, realistically, will we be able to address climate change without a range of highly-ambitious, individually-risky efforts? This is one of my high-risk, high-return projects in my portfolio. It could never get started, but with incredibly interesting insights along the way.