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Climate tech is a smart investment for the environment – and the economy

Coldplay climate tech
Coldplay has partnered with organisations to halve the band's carbon emissions. Image credit: Brian Friedman / Shutterstock.com

Back in April, I talked about how UK tech could emerge stronger from the global economic downturn. Since then, one subsector in particular has led the tech industry’s recovery, attracting record investment and establishing itself as one of the most exciting areas for UK growth – climate tech.

Data from London & Partners released earlier this month found London ($3.5bn) to be the second largest region for climate tech investment, behind only Stockholm ($3.6bn). The historically world-leading Bay Area ($2.7bn) ranked third.

Across all areas of tech, London is well ahead of key European competitors for VC investment. The capital received more than double the total VC investment than second-placed Paris and nearly three times the amount of Berlin and Munich combined.

Furthermore, with 23% of foreign direct investment into London last year going to climate tech, it’s clear that the capital’s credentials for innovation in this area are not going unnoticed.

The case for UK-wide expansion

While London’s strong performance is welcome news, the opportunities climate tech presents must be felt elsewhere, too. Much has been made recently of the decline of the UK’s industrial heartlands – this past week for example, it was revealed that the UK is set to become the first major economy to lose the capacity to produce its own steel.

As Detroit once gave way to San Francisco in the US – my home country – there is no reason that regions outside the South East should not enjoy the economic advantages that the burgeoning climate tech subsector has the potential to provide.

According to the founders-focused website F6S, more than one-third of the UK’s 49 top climate tech startups and companies are headquartered outside London.

This is an encouraging foundation from which the next generation of businesses attempting to solve the greatest issue of our time can emerge, in the process redistributing economic opportunities across the country.

One example of this is the appointment of former chief of Arm Warren East as chair of the Leeds-based climate tech company C-Capture, evidence that the UK – and specifically, climate tech – can still be a home and host for global talent.

Lessons from Davos

Earlier this month I visited Davos for the annual World Economic Forum. Walking up the central promenade, I was reminded of the inroads the tech industry has made into the business world with ‘pavilions’ belonging to major international technology companies dominating much of the space for the summit.

Here too, climate change persisted as an area in the spotlight and a focus of the summit’s central theme: ‘rebuilding trust.’

Indeed, global warming – and the solutions to it the tech sector offers – have risen in importance on the Davos agenda recently, with a particularly impressive presence of exciting climate-focused tech startups this year.

With the rapid growth of Big Tech in the last decade, climate tech stands poised as the next subsector capable of harnessing the multi-billion dollar potential of this industry to drive wider economic growth.

A higher power

Another reason for my attendance was Global Tech Advocates’ (GTA) partnership with Hundo, an innovative skills and AI company which has recently partnered with our “Tech for Net Zero” campaign.

Both GTA and Hundo were confirmed as ‘associated organisations’ of Coldplay’s “Music of the Spheres” world tour, as part of the band’s efforts to halve its carbon emissions.

Coldplay’s objective is a great example of bridging the gap between actions and words when it comes to the climate. It is symbolic of the wider mission to deliver for the environment that the UK and all nations must collectively undertake for years to come.

Biodegradable confetti, installation of solar photovoltaic panels and next-generation pyrotechnics are just three initiatives that the band has embraced, demonstrating the sheer range of small and large-scale changes that can make a tangible difference in reducing carbon emissions.

A vital element of Coldplay’s commitment is showing Gen Z that green initiatives have the potential to make a real difference when like-minded organisations come together – Hundo is an example of how a new breed of startups is training the workforce of the future on the ‘green skills’ needed by many organisations.

A year of UK climate tech opportunity

 With general elections due in both the US and UK this year, political stories will undoubtedly be top of mind in the year ahead (and were very much on the minds of those in Davos). In 2024 though, decisions on climate tech in terms of investment and supporting cleantech businesses must go beyond the election cycles.

Last year was the hottest year on record – the planet is telling us that collective focus is critical.

The opportunity is there for the UK to build on its initial success in cultivating a vibrant climate-tech ecosystem, which can drive economic recovery across the country while also helping to save the planet.

Russ Shaw CBE is the founder of Tech London Advocates & Global Tech Advocates, and a regular UKTN columnist.