For more than a quarter of a century, amid growing signs of the ravages of global warming, the U.N. has brought together representatives from almost every country on the planet to work together on solutions. While the private sector has generally had a presence at the annual meetings, known as COPs (for Conference of the Parties), their focus has been on government actors—the heads of state and diplomats who attend. But at the most recent one, something was different. Thousands of corporate executives and entrepreneurs flooded into Glasgow to be part of the event. For many, including myself, it was their first COP.
The meeting’s shifting makeup reflected a new paradigm in the climate fight. Until now, the general assumption has been that governments would be at the center of any path forward. This is “a war in which all nations must be allies,” TIME said in naming “Endangered Earth” as Planet of the Year for 1988, in lieu of a Person of the Year. Since then, despite progress in climate diplomacy, it has become all too clear that political will is far from where it needs to be.
All of which has put the private sector in the driver’s seat, a once unthinkable development that is the theme of this issue and a focus for us going forward at TIME. It is a moment of both opportunity and risk, giving businesses enormous power over what the energy transition looks like and whether it succeeds. Many companies—urged on by employees, customers, and investors—are seeking to reduce emissions and “offset” carbon footprints. But business as a whole is only just beginning to respond to the crisis. Untangling the options, and ensuring those commitments are real, is one of the great challenges we face.
One of the biggest opportunities lies in the massive private investment under way in climate tech—with a total of $87.5 billion invested over H2 2020 and H1 2021 (second half of 2020 and first half of 2021), per consulting group PwC’s report on the sector. But first we must face the challenge of deploying much more aggressively the technology we already have, such as renewable energy through solar and wind, which are in many cases now cheaper than traditional alternatives; electrification of anything that can be electrified; “cleaner” aluminum, cement, and steel; cookstoves that promote cleaner cooking; and reforestation and other nature-based approaches.
A second challenge is looking further ahead, to 2050, when we’ll need a lot of new technologies to have a shot at keeping global warming below 1.5°C. While science is clear that cutting emissions is the top priority, we’re already far behind the curve. Getting to net zero will also require removing some of the carbon that’s already in the atmosphere—an immensely complex process that is seeing hundreds of millions of dollars in investment but may well take decades to scale and become financially viable.
Potentially more transformative is what everyone can do—indeed must do—to make a difference. Climate is, after all, everything, as senior correspondent Justin Worland put it in a cover story a year ago. That’s also why we continue to step up our coverage in this area. When I started at TIME nine years ago, there was one designated climate journalist. Under the leadership of editorial director Elijah Wolfson, we’ve built a growing team that covers climate every day and in every issue. Today, nearly all of our journalists contribute in some way to that coverage, with about 1 in 4 doing so regularly.
We’re also increasing our focus on the role of the growing ranks of individuals, innovators, and businesses around the world who are stepping in—scaling technical and nature-based projects, developing new energy sources, supporting climate-vulnerable communities around the world. We call them “ecopreneurs,” environmentally focused entrepreneurs taking risks that—along with the critical work of fossil-fuel reduction and increased awareness—will be integral to the planet’s future. In the first in a new series, you’ll find in this issue senior correspondent Aryn Baker’s interview with one of those individuals, Impossible Mining’s Renee Grogan.
At TIME, we’re also now ecopreneurs ourselves. Since becoming an independent company in late 2018—nearly 100 years after our founding—we’ve launched several new businesses built on the authority of our brand, including TIME Studios, our TIME100 Events, and our web3 expansion. (We call ourselves a century-old startup for good reason.) Our newest division is called CO2, a climate-action platform whose aim is to help guide every sized business—including our own—in becoming net zero and nature-positive. “Our mission is to serve all those who want to have a climate impact but find it hard to know the right thing to do, and challenging to find the bandwidth to do it,” says Simon Mulcahy, who recently joined TIME as president of sustainability and will lead CO2.
TIME through its history has served as a guide to the future, and we are excited to take on a broader role in ensuring a sustainable one. We’ll keep you posted.
Correction, 2:13 pm
Due to a production error, the original version of this story misstated the volume of recent investment in climate tech. It is $87.5 billion over H2 2020-H1 2021, not $147 billion in the last three quarters.
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