Grantham Institute co-director Professor Martin Siegert on the inspiring role for innovation and entrepreneurship, and a new public exhibition of practical solutions for a climate change world, showing in central Paris for the UN Climate Change Conference (COP21).
Reaching an international agreement about the future of carbon emissions is the central aim of around 1,000 officials meeting behind closed doors at COP21. Amongst the aims of more than 40,000 other accredited people visiting Paris are a number that might be regarded as ‘spin offs’ from the main event, but nonetheless important.
Regional representatives and NGOs are showcasing the progress they are making to address climate change; businesses and entrepreneurs are showcasing practical innovations that can help us live a low-carbon life; and everyone is looking for more ways to engage the public with what can be, and is being, done.
Solutions COP21 is one place in central Paris that meets these ancillary aims. An independent climate change exhibition, officially linked to COP21, it is taking place in and around the wonderful museum complex of the Grand Palais, between the Champs-Élysées and the north bank of the Seine. It includes a business exposition, an art exhibition, a cinema, education programmes and a life-size hollow model of a blue whale.
Given its scope and location, and the fact that it is free to enter, Solutions COP21 is an important venue for meetings, discourse and learning. It is also very popular. For the public, the experience could be what sticks longest in their memories; they will be entertained, educated and enlightened. After it closes to the public at six o’clock each evening, the Grand Palais becomes the reserve of high-profile, invitation-only events for many of the lucky 40,000.
Solutions COP21 began last night, at almost the halfway point of the main negotiations. The first event took place immediately afterwards: the Celebrating Climate Champions reception, hosted by the Climate Knowledge and Innovation Community (Climate-KIC) – an organisation that the Grantham Institute at Imperial helped form. At the reception, we celebrated achievements by entrepreneurs who are starting up new companies to deliver us low-carbon solutions.
Innovation and entrepreneurship are often mentioned as being necessary to deliver the low-carbon economy. The key to ensuring that good ideas blossom into technical and business solutions is to nurture and develop them at the critical early phase of development. Starting a business can feel lonely and precarious. Climate-KIC helps people with grand plans, to guide them through the process from pre-incubation, to proof of concept and eventual financing to upscale and launch a business.
As entrepreneurship is directed more to green technologies, it is important that they share with each other the lessons and experiences of their business development. At the reception we saw some fruits of this labour, like electric-powered helicopters and low-energy carbon capture.
Today’s innovators and entrepreneurs require a special mix of technical ability, vision, energy, determination and practicality. Such combinations of skills are rare, and we must recognise and celebrate the key role they must play now and in the decades that follow. Make no mistake: these people are a requisite to the formation of our future low-carbon world, and it is our duty to support them wherever we can.
Solutions COP21 is a place away from the intensity of the negotiations. If and when the negotiations become stuck, or those involved start to lose faith, they should head over to the Grand Palais to meet the innovators and entrepreneurs and see for themselves the reasons for why they must persevere.
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Read about Imperial at COP21