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Tech must lead on carbon neutrality

Sponsored: The tech industry is far from the biggest polluter, but it’ll be a key leader in solving the most pressing issue of our time: saving our planet.

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A depiction of a sustainable city where innovation meets eco-friendly living. Image courtesy of Tencent.

This article is sponsored by Tencent.

Climate change is daunting, and the realities of what to expect are impossible to predict. But we know that building a future where we and future generations continue to thrive depends on our science, innovation, creativity and clear-headed optimism. 

As a key driver of innovation, efficiency and productivity, the tech industry must take a leading role in the fight against climate change. The successful navigation of the climate crisis necessitates the rapid and expansive development of emerging climate technologies, matching or surpassing the pace set by the tech sector in recent decades. Only through such accelerated progress can we hope to effectively address the urgent and extensive challenges posed by the climate crisis.

That’s why we at Tencent launched TanLIVE, a digital platform and set of tools designed to facilitate collaboration between the brightest and most dedicated professionals in every corner of the climate fight. TanLIVE hopes to mitigate climate change as a connector, catalyst and a community of people and organizations committed to achieving the world’s climate objectives.

Time flies — 2030 and 2060 are around the corner

For a long time, we were on a grim course, with estimates that by 2100, Earth would be an apocalyptic 4 degrees Celsius hotter. But we have made a great deal of progress. Policy changes, activism, advances in tech, and cheaper renewable energy have all made achieving the Paris Agreement goal possible: Cap the level of warming by the year 2100 at 2 degrees Celsius and aim for 1.5 degrees. 

New data steadily emerges about the viability of 1.5 degrees. A team of climate scientists, in a recent article in the journal Nature Climate Change, said if we want a 50 percent shot of keeping warming to 1.5C, our remaining carbon budget, or RCB, is equal to roughly six years of current carbon emissions. Chris Smith, a climate scientist at the University of Leeds who contributed to the calculations for the report, told Tencent: "Every tenth of a degree is important. The negative impacts of climate change progressively get worse at higher warming levels, and we don’t know precisely at what point we might trigger irreversible changes in the Earth’s system. For instance, the collapse of the West Antarctic ice sheet would contribute several meters to global sea level rise. It’s best never to find out, which is why we should aim for a peak warming at as low a level as possible."

Goals and dates differ. The state of California, long a self-declared climate-solutions leader, made a $54 billion climate commitment to cut air pollution by 71 percent, reduce fossil fuel consumption to under a tenth of 2021 levels and achieve carbon neutrality by no later than 2045. In cities, programs to decrease the carbon footprint can play a particularly visible and impactful role due to complex infrastructure that lends itself beautifully to cross-sectoral integration and major technology applications such as smart grids. In April 2022, the European Commission announced the Cities Mission, in which 100 member cities will become "climate neutral and smart" by 2030. The power of this mission is magnificent: Even though cities take up only 3 percent of the globe’s land, they’re responsible for 72 percent of its greenhouse gas emissions. 

China has committed to carbon neutrality by 2060, at which point 80 percent of its energy will come from non-fossil-fuel sources. Germany and Sweden are targeting 2045; the EU, 2050. We tip our hat to Bhutan and Suriname, the only two countries in the world that have already succeeded in carbon neutrality. In fact, both are carbon negative, removing more carbon than they emit.

The tech industry plays a starring role in every one of these pledges, on the granular level and as leaders in the net-zero transition. We must continue to act with urgency and explore the synergies between digital advancements and decarbonization. This is crucial to harness and optimize the full potential presented by the encouraging and pivotal array of carbon-neutrality programs and commitments. 

At Tencent, we know it’s important to show continuous progress within this decade toward prominent and impactful climate milestones. Indeed, we have pledged to achieve carbon neutrality across our operations and supply chain, and to source 100 percent of our electricity from green power by 2030.

Tech and the valley of death

When it comes to the arc of technological advancement, there is a well-known concept: the valley of death. A new technology typically starts with a theoretical breakthrough, leading to subsequent research and experiments conducted in laboratories or academic institutions. Initial success may be witnessed through practical applications and pilot projects conducted outside the confines of the lab. In this phase, scientists and educational institutions often have no shortage of funding and resources to support both basic and applied research. As a tech startup matures into a viable commercial enterprise, it attracts attention from investors, including venture capitalists, private equity firms and diverse financiers. 

However, there is a pivotal in-between stage, when a new technology moves from laboratory success to real-world application. At this juncture, risks and uncertainties are at their highest, and correspondingly, available resources are at their lowest. Technologies that fail to bridge this gap are in danger of withering on the vine. This valley of death is particularly daunting for climate tech, which takes longer than consumer tech to mature and scale.

Technology industry must collaborate in community

Tencent recognized this challenge as an opportunity for digital tech to help climate tech put roots down in the market. The carbon challenge requires major structural transformations all over the world; achieving carbon neutrality hinges on the adoption of improved business models and more innovative operational approaches. Our primary goal is to advance progress toward carbon neutrality while identifying the potential for positive social impact and societal growth. This involves fostering close collaboration across the ecosystem, including startups, investors, enterprises, governments, NGOs and more.

Tencent’s TanLIVE platform is specifcially designed to do this. TanLIVE connects and empowers organizations dedicated to achieving carbon neutrality through collaborative tools, including community networking, project listings and an ecosystem of vetted technological and financing solutions for entrepreneurs, investors and research institutions in the climate sector. TanLIVE works to strengthen climate tech ecosystems, scale solutions across nations and facilitate broader access to knowledge and training. It aims to foster a global community of green technology innovators and like-minded partners committed to accelerating the adoption of best practices, solutions and green technologies essential for keeping 1.5C within reach. 

The clock is ticking. From intelligent homes and buildings to clean transportation and citywide smart grids, the tech industry is bringing innovation to life, contributing to a sustainable future and new opportunity for all.

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