The world is behind schedule when it comes to climate action – reaching the goals of the Paris Agreement calls for bold new approaches. This encompasses not only game-changing new technologies but also innovative approaches to policy, finance, and every other aspect of climate action.
Speaking at a session on innovative climate solutions at the ISO Annual Meeting in Abu Dhabi, representatives from all around the world agreed that this calls for everyone to work together: different types of organizations, different disciplines and industries, and different countries. Standards, they said, would help lay common ground for collaborative innovation.
New technologies are recognized as powerful instruments of climate action. For instance, while carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology remains at an early stage, the latest UN IPCC report acknowledged that it must be deployed on a massive scale to offset hard-to-abate emissions in order to meet the aims of the Paris Agreement. CCS is just one area in which rapid innovation is required to meet climate goals – others include grid-scale energy storage, green hydrogen production, and electrification of aircraft and ships.
As these technologies emerge, standards have a vital role to play in ensuring that all parties – from manufacturers and governments to regulators and consumers – share common definitions and terminologies. Standards ensure technologies are fit for purpose. Particularly in this context – in which every year counts – standards enable rapid investment, development and deployment of new technologies without compromising on safety.
In Canada, for example, the government is showing leadership in the procurement of low‑carbon building materials, including cement and concrete products. Based in Nova Scotia, CarbonCure Technologies Inc. is on a mission to decarbonize concrete and reduce emissions associated with building materials. Its patented technology permanently sequesters or “locks in” carbon dioxide by injecting it into concrete as it is mixed. This makes for a concrete product that meets or exceeds the benchmarks for quality and strength, while decreasing greenhouse gas emissions and lowering manufacturing costs. What’s more, the standard allowing for the use of injected carbon dioxide in cement is referenced in the National Model Construction Codes as well as in provincial and territorial adoptions of the Codes.
New technologies are recognized as powerful instruments of climate action.
For all the promise of technology, the climate effort requires more than just technological innovation. In fact, as many of these technologies – from direct air capture to green hydrogen – have no existing demand, innovative policies are required to finance their development.
“When you talk about innovation, it’s mainly technology,” said Massamba Thioye, who represented the UNFCCC Global Innovation Hub at the ISO Annual Meeting. “But the climate and sustainability challenges are so important that innovative technology alone will not be sufficient to address the challenge. You need to have an integrated approach where innovative technology is combined with innovative policy, innovative business models, innovative financial models, innovative collaborative approaches. You need to have social innovation and leverage it, because that’s about changing behaviour.”
Innovative thinking must be applied to all these areas and more to find new and better ways to enable climate action. For instance, at the meeting, it was argued that cities should be empowered to act as climate “solution providers” rather than simply as emitters – ISO is working with the city of Goyang in South Korea on an innovative approach to carbon accounting which helps inform its decarbonization planning progress.
Standards ensure technologies are fit for purpose.
Foundations for change
Over the coming decades, climate innovation will transform how we live and work. When stepping into the unknown with these experimental approaches, ISO standards – which cover the breadth of climate-related efforts, from energy management systems to measurement of greenhouse gas emissions – can provide a solid foundation, ensuring best practice.
This is particularly crucial considering the importance of collaboration in climate action. International Standards lay common foundations, for instance through a standardized definition of “net zero” and guidance for accountability mechanisms and consistent reporting, which will be presented at COP27 later this year.
Climate action is easier to pledge than to enact, especially when there is so much disagreement about how to proceed. By providing a vast ecosystem of expert guidance crossing disciplinary and national borders, ISO standards will provide a foundation to build meaningful multi-sector partnerships and help make progress in the right direction.