Bringing Lessons in Low-carbon Innovation to Rio+20

Opportunities for low-carbon innovation are growing, driven by policy changes, market shifts, and continued growth in energy demand, particularly in developing countries. This Sunday in Rio de Janeiro, ahead of the UN’s “Rio+20” Conference on Sustainable Development, C2ES will have a chance to share what it’s learned about low-carbon innovation with partners from around the world.

With the Global Environment Facility (GEF), we will convene a panel of companies (Johnson Controls, DuPont), small-business innovators (from the Cleantech Open), and government and business representatives (from UNIDO and ABDI) to share stories and lessons from the front lines of clean-tech entrepreneurship. The event, to be held at the U.S. Center pavilion, will examine the keys to successful low-carbon innovation, and the benefits for climate mitigation and adaptation, energy security, resource efficiency, and job creation.

Although climate change is not a central focus of the formal Rio+20 proceedings, low-carbon innovation is critical to developing the “green economy” that the Rio+20 agenda calls for. Building on the institutions and goals established at the 1992 Earth Summit, Rio+20 will explore the role of the green economy in promoting sustainable development, and ways to strengthen the institutional framework set out two decades ago.

The conference will be taking place amid significant global challenges—ongoing national debt crises, rising unemployment and income inequality, more damaging extreme weather events, and a global population expected to rise to 8 billion over the next 20 years. While no grand outcomes are expected, Rio+20 is a critical opportunity for nations to take stock—to remind themselves that the challenges that motivated the first Earth Summit are now all the more urgent, and that in the search for solutions, environment and development must go hand in hand.

On the twin challenges of climate and energy, achieving change on the scale that’s needed will require new technologies and new approaches. Innovation—particularly in low-carbon technologies—is critical to delivering energy for all, while reducing greenhouse gas emissions and driving “green” economic growth.

With world energy consumption expected to grow by 40 percent in the next two decades, the demand for clean, safe, and reliable energy sources continues to grow. But innovation in the energy sector is in many ways more difficult, more complex, and takes longer than in other sectors. Entire systems of technologies and infrastructure have to be built or re-worked. 

Our report The Business of Innovating: Bringing Low-Carbon Solutions to Market culled lessons from detailed case studies of companies engaged in low-carbon innovation. One of the key lessons is that it’s critical to have the right industries and partners working together across the spectrum of innovation—from industry, to government, customers and others. We’re bringing some of those key players together in Rio, and I’m looking forward to hearing from our panel about their respective roles.

Meg Crawford is Markets & Business Strategy Fellow at C2ES.