Global investors have already closed more climate-technology related funds in 2021 than the previous five years combined, according to PitchBook data. But the latest scientific report from the U.N. has raised fears efforts to use tech to fix the planet may have come too late.
The climate crisis, which has been forewarned by scientists for decades, is now affecting our lives in very dangerous ways. There has been a staggering rise in climate-related disasters such as droughts, forest fires, and other flooding in recent times, drawing attention to the warming of our planet. The latest IPCC report stated global surface temperature was 1.09 degrees centigrade higher between 2011 and 2020 than between 1850-1900.
The immediacy of the crisis has caused governments across the globe to act, launching initiatives and new emission targets to attempt to curb the effects of climate change. In 2020, the E.U. announced nearly €550 billion (approximately $673 billion) would be plowed into green projects over the next seven years, the largest climate pledge ever made. The U.K. announced in May it would inject £166.5 million ($235.4 million) into green technologies, and the United States President Joe Biden is ramping up clean energy initiatives.
In response, money has flowed into companies tackling climate-related problems. In the first half of 2021, VC-backed climate tech startups raised more than $14.2 billion worldwide— already 88% of 2020’s total.
Some of that investment has gone to companies that focus on carbon capture, a previously elusive concept that would allow humans to remove carbon from the atmosphere and potentially reverse some elements of climate change. In 2020, VC-backed carbon capture startups pulled in $336.5 million, according to PitchBook. That modest number is not expected to be beaten this year, mostly because companies are struggling to prove removing carbon from the atmosphere could be profitable.
That hasn’t stopped some of the biggest names in technology getting involved. Elon Musk put $100 million of his own money towards an XPrize competition rewarding carbon capture startups, while Bill Gates has backed Carbon Engineering, a major player in the space.
But even if carbon capture efforts prove successful, the IPCC report suggests some effects of climate change are already irreversible. One of those is the melting of the glaciers and the rising of sea-levels. “Once you have melting under way, it’s very hard to rein it in, even if you go full-scale into reversal of global warming,” Kim Cobb, a climate scientist at Georgia Tech and a co-author of the report, told The Atlantic. The report stated that the rate of recent increases in sea-levels has nearly tripled compared with 1901-1971.
Climate change tech covers a broad spectrum, and technologies span the real estate, agriculture, transportation industries, among others. If the effects of this unprecedented crisis are to be halted or even reversed, it will take every bit of funding from both public and private sources to ensure we have the tools to ward off the imminent disaster.