Climate change startup ideas: Problems that need solutions

Looking for a big problem to solve?

Interested in discovering business ideas that can help fight climate change? Me too.

Over the past few months, I’ve been reading about the Paris Climate Change Agreement and what it really means in terms of actual strategies that the participating governments are focusing on in the next 50 years.

And by focus, I mean they will be putting policies and capital investment that support these strategies.

If you’ve not heard of the Paris Agreement, here’s the gist from Wikipedia.

The Paris Agreement is an agreement within the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) dealing with greenhouse gasses emissions mitigation, adaptation, and finance starting in the year 2020. The language of the agreement was negotiated by representatives of 195 countries at the 21st Conference of the Parties of the UNFCCC in Paris and adopted by consensus on 12 December 2015. It was opened for signature on 22 April 2016 (Earth Day) at a ceremony in New York. As of December 2016, 194 UNFCCC members have signed the treaty, 120 of which have ratified it. After the several European Union states ratified the agreement in October 2016, there were enough countries that had ratified the agreement that produces enough of the world’s greenhouse gasses for the agreement to enter into force. The agreement went into effect on 4 November 2016.

Why does this matter?

The government believes that addressing climate change proactively will pave the way towards innovation and jobs in the clean energy and technology sectors. Canada and other countries are planning on investing in a cleaner future by working to create the right conditions to create good jobs in a modern, clean global economy.

As part of signing the Paris Agreement, all countries are working to formulate a long-term low greenhouse gas emission development strategies. To date, only the US, Germany, Canada, Mexico, and France have submitted long-term climate strategy documents.

I spent most of my time reviewing the Canadian climate strategy and added the summary from the document below. My thinking is that if governments are working on building long term strategies, as an entrepreneur is could provide great insight into the growth of specific industries and possible business ideas.

The key points from Canada’s Long Term climate strategy.

The reason I add these is to highlight the problems that are in desperate need of solutions. The points below are taken from the summary doc and I’ve added some commentary on each one where I see opportunities for startups and entrepreneurs.

This strategy identifies key objectives and building blocks that frame the foundation of Canada’s long-term climate change mitigation strategy:

1) Electrification

Strategy Statement: Electrification has been identified as an essential step in all deep GHG mitigation analyses. The electrification of end use applications that are currently using fossil fuels is fundamental, for example, using electricity to power certain cars, trucks, building appliances and heating systems, and energy requirements for some industries.

My comments: The electrification of everything movement is already underway but really just getting started. There are electric cars & motorcyclesgarbage trucks, skateboards, bikes and scooters, hybrid hot water heatersheat exchangers, electric induction cooktops, battery-powered boats, electric long-haul trucking and even airplanes. There is still many problems that need solving in this area and all you have to do is look at an existing technology that is reliant on fossil fuels and figure out how to shift it to electric power.

2) Decarbonization

Strategy Statement: Concurrent trends towards decarbonisation of the electricity generating sector are needed. Electricity generation in Canada is already more than 80% non-emitting, with a trend towards non-emitting generation expected to continue, including through increased government action.

My comments: Large utilities and governments generally are the ones that can reduce this number but industry and consumers can help in many ways. This is where decentralization of electricity generation can have a big impact. Solar & wind-powered self-sustaining homes can actually use only what they need and sell power pack to the grid becoming not only consumers but distributed generators contributing to the countries renewable generation efforts.

Same goes for businesses. If businesses are incentivised to use alternative energy, it could ignite some serious change here.

3) Electricity demand

Strategy Statement: The significant increase in electricity demand resulting from electrification policies (e.g., doubling or more by 2050), and electricity exports, should be satisfied through low-carbon sources.

Some sectors such as heavy industries, marine transportation, some heavy freight transportation, and aviation could move to lower or low-carbon fuels such as second generation biofuels or hydrogen. Alternatively, new and emerging technologies in synthetic hydrocarbons or energy storage would be needed.

My comments: Policy and Investment will flow into low carbon energy sources. There are a range of promising low-carbon technologies and systems around today including;

  • Renewables – Derived from sustainable natural processes, including solar, wind and tidal.
  • Hydrogen – Hydrogen fuels cells
  • Nuclear Power has been a key source of electricity generation since the 70s and can still be used to help reduce carbon output. Nuclear energy comes with its own challenges and opportunities.
  • Bioenergy is a form of renewable energy and refers to solid, liquid or gas fuels made from biomass (plant material and animal waste)
  • Geothermal electricity is electricity generated from geothermal energy. Technologies in use include dry steam power plants, flash steam power plants and binary cycle power plants.
  • Hydroelectric power is electricity produced by hydropower. There are several significant social and environmental disadvantages of large-scale hydroelectric power systems but there ae also micro hydro systems that are much less destructive to the environment. One very interesting innovation I’ve seen in this area is a company that is putting mini hydro generators in urban water pipes to generate power from gravity-fed pipes. 

4) Interprovincial & Intercontinental cooperation

Strategy Statement: Canada, and North America’s, electricity future will be shaped by interprovincial and intercontinental cooperation. Enhanced inter-jurisdictional electricity transmission interties could allow areas with hydropower, or other forms of non-emitting generation, to sell electricity to other provinces or the U.S. States that rely on fossil fuels.

My comments: This basically comes down to politics. As consumers and businesses, we can only really vote for the right people and support this strategy.

5) Energy efficiency & demand side management

Strategy Statement: Energy efficiency and demand side management are key to achieving deep GHG reductions. For example, the International Energy Agency (IEA) estimates that 38% of the required global emissions reductions associated with a 2°C pathway could be met through energy efficiency improvements. Efficiency gains are also key enablers of electrification technologies and consumer savings.

My comments: Energy efficiency improvements is an already huge industry but much more needs to be done here. From retrofitting new home and businesses with better insulation and too smart home management devices that regulate energy consumption based on actual use. There are hundreds of ways to increase efficiency in energy usage. It all comes down the application you choose.

Areas for opportunity

  • Energy storage – batteries
  • Energy conservation – better windows, doors, seals & insulation
  • Energy usage –  AC to DC home conversions for lighting, cleaning & electronics
  • Home automation for efficient energy use

6) Reductions of existing pollutants

Strategy Statement: Abatement of non-carbon dioxide greenhouse gasses, such as methane and hydrofluorocarbons, is a priority given their high global warming potentials. Reductions of these pollutants can often help slow the rate of near-term warming and contribute to the achievement of the global temperature goal. Although black carbon is not classified as a greenhouse gas, it has strong global warming effects that must also be addressed.

My comments: It’s not singled out here but the agriculture industry contributes more methane than the oil and gas industries do. It;’s a huge problem that gets ignored by politicians because of the impacts of disrupting the AG industry. It may sound strange but changing behaviors to eating a more plant-based diet can have huge impacts on helping reverse climate change and it’s already happening.

The plant-based food market is currently booming. From companies replacing your mayonnaise to egg, fish and meat substitutes, this industry is disrupting and will continue to for some time. The meat substitutes market alone will be worth $5.96 Billion USD by 2022. Lots of opportunities to reinvent food and nutrition for the billions of people on our planet all while reducing methane by avoiding meat.

here are new products being developed all the time and there is still so much more opportunity here from

7) Behavioral changes

Strategy Statement: Behavioral changes will also contribute to a low-GHG economy. For example, innovative approaches to moving people and freight are likely to become more widely adopted over the next 35 years, as well as changes in the way people live, work, and consume.

My comments: Behavior changes in the way we live work and consume present endless opportunities for innovation in so many industries.Fundamentally every disrupting challenge and subsequent opportunity will come with its own set of behavior changes.

It may look daunting because getting people to change can be hard but just look at the behavioral changes that were made when the smartphone went mainstream.

8) Reducing carbon dioxide emissions in Cities

Strategy Statement: Cities are home to 70% of the world’s energy-related carbon dioxide emissions. Canadian cities host 80% of the national population, compared to 62% sixty years ago. With a continuing trend in urbanization for the upcoming decades, cities across Canada cannot afford to wait to increase climate change mitigation and adaptation efforts.

My comments: This strategy tells me that pressure will be put on cities to figure out ways to solve this challenge. They will be looking for innovative solutions, some of the ones already mentioned above to be brought forward by industry to help them solve it.

9) Forests and Lands

Strategy Statement: Canada’s forests and lands will continue to play an important role in sequestering substantial amounts of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. This sequestration can be augmented through policies and measures that better manage our forests and forest products. Without consideration of the global land sector, the 1.5 to 2°C temperature goal will be very hard to achieve.

My comments: This will be achieved through policy and protection of our existing forests and lands so they can continue to play a central role in carbon dioxide sequestering.

I see an opportunity for innovation in land reclamation after oil drilling, oil spills, natural disasters & deforestation. The faster we turn land back into efficient carbon capture systems the better off we are.

10) Innovation & Carbon Pricing

Strategy Statement: Innovation will also be crucial. A sustainable energy transition is possible with currently deployed or near-commercial technologies, but the long-term transition will be eased with the near-term accelerated deployment of clean energy options, or the development of more innovative technologies. The private sector has an important role to play in this respect including spurring investment and innovation towards low GHG alternatives. Carbon pricing will be an important element to achieving this objective.

My comments: Carbon pricing will help spur investment in many of the above-described ideas. Businesses that align their vision with the strategies mention in here have a better chance of gaining access to the capital that carbon taxes generate.

11) Global & Local Collaboration

Strategy Statement: Collaboration with provinces and territories, Indigenous peoples, municipalities, business and other stakeholders will be essential to Canada’s long-term success in enabling clean growth, reducing emissions and seizing the opportunities of the low-carbon global economy.

My comments: None of this will happen without collaboration and that is probably the most difficult part of all of this.

In Summary

Canada’s long-term climate strategy document seems to provide some insight for businesses and entrepreneurs looking for big problems to solve.

If we focused more of our political energy, financial capital, and entrepreneurial spirit in the challenges mentioned above, we would be on our way to developing new industries and new jobs for a more sustainable global economy.

I’d love to hear your thoughts and ideas. If you can add to one of these sections, please comment below or find me on Twitter.

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