As ourselves and nine other companies present at the Green Building Trade Mission in Thailand, Malaysia, and Vietnam, the importance of waking up to the issue of sustainability is serious. The fact is, the promise of net-zero is slipping further and further out of reach and the disastrous effects of climate change are no longer something that will happen in the distant future. Alok Sharma fighting back tears at the COP26 conference is a bitter metaphor of the false promises that are ingrained into the fight for climate change. And with the constantly shifting goalposts of the Paris agreement, we’re getting to the point of no return – so what are we going to do about it? Action is needed, and it’s needed now.
With $87.5 billion being invested in climate tech between just the second half of 2020 and the first half of 2021, it appears that major shifts in capital attitudes towards climate change are occurring. And that isn’t entirely untrue. Efforts are being made to curb the threat of excess carbon emissions. Take, for example, the Modern Electron Reserve, which reduces the usually burned natural gas into solid carbon and hydrogen gas, creating a heating system that greatly decreases carbon emissions. The solid carbon, now graphite, is then collected for reuse or disposal.
The Modern Electron Reserve is just one of the many climate projects around the globe. But the question at the back of everyone’s mind is: Is this enough?
This is where we run into a problem. Despite the growing numbers of capital investments within climate technologies, the allocation of these funds is anything but equal. The mobility and transport sectors were awarded the most funding during the second half of 2020 and the first half of 2021, receiving $58 billion, two-thirds of the entire amount. The push for electrifying transport systems is heavily pushed, not only within funding but within the public eye. From January to July 2021, 85,000 electric cars were sold in the U.K. alone, and an even higher 174,000 were sold in Germany.
The push towards electric cars is a lucrative and public-friendly endeavour, so it would surprise you that mobility and transport only accounts for 16.2% of all global carbon emissions. In comparison, industry and manufacturing, the biggest carbon culprit (at 29.4%) only received $6.9 billion, 9% of the funding sum (this is nearly four times the received amount the previous year).
It seems counterproductive that the sectors producing the most carbon emissions aren’t receiving the most funding, but unfortunately, it does signify a core issue within the movement towards carbon neutrality.
The Greenwashing Dilemma
Greenwashing, at its core, is a facade. It’s a technique built on false promises and flashy headlines of climate-positive targets, and plenty of organisations have been accused of it. From Nestle, to IKEA, to even conferences on the environmental impacts of construction, there seems to be a bigger pressure to appear like you’re paying attention than actually paying attention.
Even the foundational concepts of climate progress are called into question. The net-zero initiative, the aim to take away as much carbon as is produced, has faced greenwashing accusations, feeding to the public the idea that a carbon-free environment can be achieved with a net-zero strategy. In reality, for many companies, net-zero is yet another empty headline. Often relying heavily on assumptions of the future, new innovative technologies that can remove excess carbon dioxide from the atmosphere are presented as a magic wand of carbon erasure. Yet these companies continue to operate like they always have, pumping out millions upon millions of tonnes of carbon emissions, comfortable in the knowledge that the vague promise of pipe dream technologies is enough to let them off the hook.
Through loopholes, false promises, and empty cries to action, the current state of affairs for reducing the global carbon footprint seems grey. It’s clear things need to change. Immediate action is needed, but who’s going to step up to the plate?