Europe Outpaces U.S., China in Clean Energy Innovation

With the 26th United Nations Climate Change Conference set to begin on Sunday, Oct. 31, in Glasgow, Scotland, world leaders are gearing up to address some of the most pressing challenges facing the environment and their progress on meeting the climate goals necessary to avert a dangerous rise in global temperatures.

However, while goals such cutting carbon emissions down by half by 2030 and reaching net-zero emissions by 2050 is necessary to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, a new report from the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF) shows a “lack of urgency” among national governments in meeting this goal.

Among the 34 countries assessed in the report, Finland, Denmark, Sweden and the United Kingdom proved to be the countries to follow when it comes to energy innovation, which the ITIF report argues is the “only way” to simultaneously meet the massive global demand for energy while also avoiding the most detrimental consequences of climate change.

“What we’re really interested in is energy innovation that reduces greenhouse gas emissions,” said David Hart, one of the co-authors of the report. “And it means either replacing dirtier fuels or energy sources with cleaner ones, or it means applying some kind of controls to clean up the emissions from dirtier energy sources.”

[MORE: Top 10 Countries for Technological Expertise, Ranked by Perception]

He pointed to the leading countries’ investments in laboratory science, projects that scale up new technologies, regulations and tax incentives that support clean energy as examples for other countries to follow to better support energy innovation.

“It’s a number of different policies that work together,” Hart said. “So both to push new technology out there from labs, and then also to pull it into the market and provide incentives for companies and to people to buy the new technologies.”

The 2015 Paris Agreement, whose progress and future will be a key topic of discussion at the upcoming U.N. conference, made energy innovation one of its top priorities. In this agreement, signatory governments promised to accelerate clean energy innovation and double their investment in clean energy over the course of the next five years. While European Union countries have made significant progress toward these goals in the past five years — reducing their carbon emissions by almost 22% compared to 1990, thus reaching their 2020 emission reduction target three years ahead of schedule — on a whole, national governments around the world have not made enough contributions to innovative, clean energy solutions to mitigate the impacts of climate change.

[MORE: 4 Key Issues to Watch at the World Climate Summit]

South Korea, Japan, the United States, Australia, the Czech Republic and Austria lag behind in their contributions to the push toward clean energy, according to the ITIF. Although Japan and South Korea rank in the top five of the countries surveyed for their contributions to climate-related knowledge development and diffusion, they fall behind in other areas.

The ITIF dubs China, the European Union and the U.S. as the “Big 3” for their collective influence to halt the effects of climate change, as all three lead the world in knowledge development and diffusion. For instance, the Big 3 have contributed nearly 76% of the $113 billion spent on energy innovation research and development and 90% of the $150 billion of venture capital invested in clean energy start-ups since 2015. But the EU still consistently outperforms China and the U.S. in the global energy innovation rankings — a concerning disparity, considering that both countries lead the world in greenhouse gas emissions.

The U.N. conference, called COP26, comes at a pressing time in the global fight against climate change, especially in light of COVID-19, which forced the conference to postpone last year. And while people worked from home, cut down travel and remained indoors during worldwide lockdowns, the U.N. reports that greenhouse gas levels still hit record highs during the pandemic.

“I hope to see the delegates [at the U.N. Climate Change Conference] make real commitments to continuing to invest in innovation and ramping that up in the coming years,” Hart said. “There’s been a lot of talk about deploying existing technologies in this decade — which we need to do, we need more solar plants, we need more wind plants — but we also need to be developing the next generation of solutions so that when we get to 2030 and we get to 2040, those solutions are ready to be deployed on a global scale.”

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Europe Outpaces U.S., China in Clean Energy Innovation originally appeared on usnews.com

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