Greenpeace activists hang a "not for sale" sign on a globe displayed above a conference hall at Glasgow climate talks as people take pictures.
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What tech expects from next week’s COP27 climate conference

Protocol Climate

Hi, and welcome to Protocol Climate. We’re transporting you to Egypt today. Virtually, that is. (Sorry, should’ve been clearer.) We chatted with leaders in tech to see what their goals and hopes are going into climate talks that are kicking off in Sharm el-Sheikh next week. Plus, we’re taking a dive into the climate skills gap.

What tech wants from COP27

The world is set to meet in Egypt next week to talk about how to save the climate. (No big deal.) This is the 27th iteration of what’s known as the Conference of the Parties, or COP27 in U.N. speak.

A lot has changed since the first meeting was held in 1995. Carbon emissions reached new highs, and tech has taken over the world. When negotiators first met, Google didn’t even exist. Now, it and other tech companies bring in annual revenue on par with some European countries’ GDP. The technologies they’ve created and invested in are reshaping the world in fundamental ways, including how it addresses the climate crisis.

Big Tech now has a seat at the climate negotiating table. While companies don’t get an official vote, they still wield plenty of influence over the shapes agreements between countries take. Tech companies are also key players in crafting side deals. Last year, for example, major tech companies and governments around the world started the First Movers Coalition at climate talks in Glasgow in order to get nascent climate tech industries off the ground.

With that in mind, we asked major players in and adjacent to the tech industry what their goals are going into COP27.

Responses have been lightly edited for clarity.

Brad Smith, vice chair and president of Microsoft

I think COP27 is an opportunity to show that we’re consistent and committed, that technology has a vital role to play, and that we need to focus on the needs of the Global South. That’s definitely one of the messages that I want to bring on behalf of Microsoft. We need to put the power of data and the power of people through new skills to work. We’ll have some announcements at COP about that, so I’m excited about that. They will be building on the sustainability skills report we put out yesterday and highlight the importance of technology innovation.

Kate Brandt, chief sustainability officer at Google

COP27 is taking place against a backdrop of intersecting crises in the global economy including economic uncertainty, an energy crisis in Europe, and climate change impacts globally, but we cannot slow our progress. This is why collaboration, implementation, and innovation will be essential over the next decade, and the discussions and outcomes over the next two weeks will be key in driving progress.

One of the most powerful things Google can do is drive technology innovation that allows us, our partners, and individuals around the world to take more meaningful action. Our aim is to share ideas, forge new partnerships, and inspire individual action to help the world achieve 1.5 degrees Celsius.

Suzanne DiBianca, EVP and chief impact officer at Salesforce

A key goal for Salesforce is to raise business ambition and inspire others to accelerate climate action. We want this message to come across loud and clear to global leaders, companies, customers, and all stakeholders: Don't wait to take action on climate, the time to get started is now. This is a crucial moment to show progress on our climate commitments. Salesforce is committed to advancing climate policy and climate justice; enabling customers and community partners to participate in and mobilize the climate action movement; and demonstrating the importance of digital transformation to help address climate change and reach net zero — with an ultimate goal of a 1.5-degree-Celsius future. Everyone has a role to play in building a sustainable future because the climate crisis demands action from every angle.

Jamie Beck Alexander, director at Drawdown Labs

What do I think this moment requires of the biggest and most innovative companies in the world, in the wealthiest economy in the world? Despite big promises and good intentions, we’re still going in the wrong direction. Our efforts have been only playing at the edges of the much deeper change that’s required.

The tech sector exists to see around the bend. Given this foresight, industry leaders know that we will all one day soon wake up and realize that we have to make impossibly hard changes in our economy on impossible time horizons. That certain sectors of our economy and certain parts of our businesses are simply incompatible with thriving life on our planet and must be phased out, while others — like equitable climate solutions — need massive investment and rapid deployment of labor. Ultimately, our ability to see around the bend shows us that growth for growth’s sake is unsustainable. I’d like to see tech leaders offer an invitation to the business community at large to have a serious conversation about growth.

Christian Kroll, venture partner at World Fund, founder and CEO of Ecosia

One of the main sponsors of COP27 is Coca-Cola. I’m afraid that these big corporations are hijacking the agenda and making it less ambitious. I’ve seen that happen over the last year, and it’s painful to see big companies that could be doing so much more getting away with unambitious sustainability targets, like going carbon neutral by 2050, when it’s way too late. Companies also put a lot of pressure on politicians to set their targets too low as well.

I hope that rich countries are not just responsible for reaching net zero, but also for helping other countries get to net zero. There isn’t a clear mechanism for that yet. But for rich countries like Germany where I come from, our goal should go way beyond being carbon neutral. Our goal should be doing the maximum that Germany can do to solve this crisis, looking further than our own national borders.

Brian Kahn and Michelle Ma

Help (urgently) wanted: Green workers

Green jobs and corporate climate pledges are everywhere these days. What’s missing, though, are enough skilled sustainability professionals. A new report from Microsoft and the Boston Consulting Group shows where ”the sustainability skills gap” is — and how to fill it.

There’s a dearth of climate-trained tech workers despite the growing need. The tech industry is a leader when it comes to creating climate plans. But turning those pledges into action is a challenge due to the relatively small and inexperienced sustainability workforce.

  • The report found that 57% of sustainability professionals lacked a sustainability-related degree.
  • Not only that: More than 40% had no more than three years of sustainability experience.
  • More than two-thirds of sustainability leaders were internal hires. Of the 10 most commonly held jobs prior to becoming sustainability managers, the report found four were completely unrelated to sustainability.
  • For major tech companies trying to measure and cut Scope 1, 2, and 3 emissions, invest in nascent tech like carbon removal, and more, that’s a bit of an issue.

The green jobs field is expanding at a rapid clip. It’s not just the tech industry trying to implement its climate plans. Climate workers are needed to install heat pumps, maintain wind turbines, and assess climate risks.

  • Green jobs grew 8% per year between 2016 and 2021, according to the LinkedIn Green Jobs report.
  • But the talent pool lagged, only growing at 6% over that period.

There could be reinforcements on the way, though. Scientists are leaving academia and engineers are leaving Big Tech in order to work on climate tech. That alone might not be enough to fill the widening gap. But the Microsoft report has some recommendations, including upskilling workers already on the sustainability beat and ensuring that schools are training the next generation to be ready to hit the ground running.

Get the whole story here.

— Allison Levitsky

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Make it rain

Lithium-ion battery recycling company Ascend Elements raised $200 million in series C financing, led by Fifth Wall Climate.

Solugen is a startup creating synthetic versions of petrochemicals in order to clean up that industry. It’s raking in cash to do so, closing a $200 million series D round, co-led by Kennivik, Lowercarbon Capital, and Refactor Capital.

German startup Volocopter is developing vertical takeoff and landing vehicles and is in the testing phase for its air taxi. In its latest funding round, the startup raised $182 million, led by Neom.

AMP Robotics uses artificial intelligence and robotics to techify waste and recycling. The startup raised $91 million in its series C funding round, co-led by Congruent Ventures and Wellington Management.

Australian plastic recycling startup Samsara Ecoraised $34.7 million in its series A funding round, with investment from Breakthrough Victoria, Temasek, Assembly Climate Capital, DCVC, and INP Capital.

Starfire Energy, a startup that creates technologies needed to produce carbon-free ammonia, raised $24 million in series B funding, led by Samsung Ventures.

Aro Homes is aiming to build carbon-negative homes, and the startup launched with a $21 million series A round after its incubation with Innovation Endeavors.

More recycling news: Protein Evolution created a process to break down waste and make it cheaper and easier to recycle both textiles and mixed plastics. The company emerged from stealth this week with $20 million in funding, led by Collaborative Fund.

Cruz Foam takes a different approach to reducing plastic use: replacing foam packaging materials with a compostable alternative made of chitin (i.e., the stuff that crustacean shells are made of). The company raked in $18 million in series A funding, led by Helena.

The startup Boston Materials is developing materials using reclaimed carbon, and raised $12 million in its series A2 round, led by Good Growth Capital.

AiDash, which provides disaster management systems powered by artificial intelligence, received a $10 million strategic investment from SE Ventures (Schneider Electric’s corporate venture arm).

Hot links

Wanna ensure your company's emissions data is for real? There’s an app for that. (OK, it’s a platform, but close enough.)

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Big Oil is gaming Google’s ad policy. A new report shows that fossil fuel companies are spending millions to snap up ads to tout their dubious sustainability claims.

Offshore wind is getting pricier. Several utilities are considering pulling plans for major projects that may not be economically viable as costs jump and supply chains remain tangled.

Joe Biden: oil president? Republicans are trying to paint Biden as a radical environmentalist, but his administration has approved more new oil and gas wells than his predecessor. He also wants to raise taxes on Big Oil, so let’s just say: Politics, it’s complicated!

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