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Mitigating Climate Change

Eliminating greenhouse gas emissions in time

CATHY WITHERS-CLARKE / SHUTTERSTOCK.com
Status: Defining a portfolio of breakthrough systems innovation programs

Eliminating greenhouse gas emissions requires broad shifts in electricity, transportation, buildings, industrial production, land use, and agriculture. We're not on track to make it in time to prevent extreme consequences as our climate changes. Despite important advances in technology and policy, there is no playbook to fully transform so many varied and immense physical infrastructures on such a short time scale. This is a challenge that demands a different kind of innovation, one specifically aimed at achieving mass-scale infrastructure change—fast.

That's what we're building at Actuate Climate: systems innovation that breaks through technical and institutional roadblocks to accelerate mass emissions reductions.

“Company scale” is an important starting point, but it is well short of “climate scale.” Renewables are a good example. Over the past decade or so, wind and solar electricity have scaled more rapidly than most had predicted: renewables are currently mitigating about 5% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions and continuing to grow rapidly. This is what the start of climate scale looks like, and it’s a big success story that we need to repeat many times—but much, much faster. To get to this point took many decades from the first lab results, the first products, and the first successful companies, and much more time is still needed to completely decarbonize electricity. Companies can attract investment and make money long before they achieve GHG reduction on the gigaton scale. Getting from company scale to climate scale fast enough requires more than today’s approaches, because we don’t have 50-100 years to fully decarbonize.

Scoring real points on the board for GHG mitigation only happens when the whole system works: products, finance, markets, policy, and communities. But our innovation ecosystem has few actors explicitly geared to solve problems at the systems level. At Actuate, we are taking this on. Using a “right to left” approach, we ask what it will take to eliminate GHG emissions quickly in each sector. Next, we dig into the technical and institutional barriers that slow progress, and we explore how we could mobilize the actors who can break through those barriers to unleash GHG reductions at scale. We consider testbeds and demonstrations that can reduce adoption risk and accelerate the transition to real-world operations. We learn how communities can experiment and implement solutions that work for the problems they understand best. We explore how new financing mechanisms can more rapidly draw investment and lower the cost of capital. We evaluate efforts that tackle soft costs to see if their lessons can open faster pathways for other technologies and regions. This is the work that shapes hypotheses as we develop a portfolio of experimental programs.

Our method is to craft each program to demonstrate a big shift in increasing GHG mitigation in a particular sector, then to execute the program by funding and mobilizing companies, universities, nonprofits, and communities to achieve that bold goal. Our programs will generate new tools, techniques, and evidence—demonstrations of radically better approaches that can change minds, initiate structural shifts, and accelerate emissions reductions at mass scale.

Incite.org, Schmidt Futures, the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, and Additional Ventures have generously supported this effort.

Actuate lead: Lara Pierpoint, Director of Climate

For more information

Actuate Climate overview presentation

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