Promoting Low-Carbon Innovation at Rio+20

As Rio+20 negotiators rush to complete a consolidated text of outcomes before heads of state begin arriving tomorrow, participants at hundreds of side events are calling on business and government to take stronger action on clean energy, poverty elimination, food security, oceans, sustainable cities, green technology development, education, and more.

On Sunday at the U.S. Center pavilion, C2ES and the Global Environment Facility (GEF) convened a panel of companies, small-business innovators, and business representatives highlighting the critical roles played by each in promoting low-carbon innovation and sustainable development.

Clay Nesler from Johnson Controls described a technology partnership with Australian inventors leveraging their Shaw Method of Air conditioning (SMAC) with TwinCoil™ technology to deploy the energy-saving technology more broadly. The technology and innovative control algorithms allow the control of space temperature to be decoupled from humidity control, generating significant energy savings.

On a broader scale, Dawn Rittenhouse from DuPont described the global scope of DuPont’s science and technology investment. The company has more than 9,500 scientists and engineers working in over 150 R&D centers worldwide—including here in Brazil—and it invested $2 billion R&D in 2011. Eighty-six percent of that R&D spend was targeted at finding solutions to global challenges—food, energy, and environmental protection. Dawn emphasized that working with local customers is a critical part of DuPont's process for developing successful new solutions.

The need to support small and medium enterprises (SMEs) as key engines for job growth was emphasized by Pradeep Monga of UNIDO. Pradeed related the success of initiatives such as the South Africa Clean-Tech Competition that seek to adapt a "Silicon Valley" model to local needs and context.

Rex Northen from Cleantech Open stressed the steps and best practices that countries and business can take to find, foster, and support innovators and entrepreneurs and build innovation "ecosystems." And Roberto Alvarez of ABDI reported on Brazil's rapidly improving ecosystem for innovation, including $2 billion invested in more than 200 tech centers, education initiatives to grow engineering skills, and legal frameworks that encourage venture and private equity investment.

Within the formal negotiations, meanwhile, there appears to be strong support among developing countries for the UN's drive to expand access to energy, but less enthusiasm for ensuring that new energy sources are as clean and efficient as possible. That position may be understandable, given today's economic instability and the critical role of energy (clean or not) in economic development.

But evidence abounds that environmental protection and economic growth need not be a zero-sum game. And the initiatives highlighted at our side event and others here illustrate the many ways in which innovation can indeed contribute to sustainable growth.

Meg Crawford is Markets & Business Strategy Fellow at C2ES