More than 400 technologies have been mapped to illustrate innovation and technology’s potential to contribute to climate change mitigation. We conclude with some general observations and key messages.

The world is confronted by an ever-increasing and wide range of greenhouse gas emissions. But the good news is that there is an even wider range of technologies to mitigate them. By bringing to the forefront not only the technologies themselves but the systems in which they operate, this publication aims to inspire a broader conversation on technology and innovation’s role in a low-carbon future. The mapping of more than 400 climate mitigation technologies allows us to make the following observations.

Demand-side measures deserve more attention: Climate technologies are often applied as single-level interventions. This misses the potential for deeper and longer-term systemic decarbonization. There needs to be a broader assessment of climate technology needs that considers both demand- and supply-side measures essential for total carbon emissions reduction. For instance, technology can support demand-side measures by enabling better buildings design and operation to reduce the need for energy-intensive heating and cooling technologies. Technology – especially digital technologies – further enables the smart planning of a city’s infrastructure. This includes mapping waste collection routes and public transport networks in a manner that lowers dependency on privately-owned vehicles or the need to take long journeys. Technology and innovation also have a major role to play in developing novel types of material, advancing reuse and recycling methods and avoiding waste in the food supply chain. Meanwhile, plant and fungi-derived products can replace animal protein in food processing, thereby reducing demand for methane-emitting livestock. The climate mitigation potential of such technologies deserves to be fully recognized for a whole range of applications, from a country’s climate roadmap to city planning and policymaking.

No time to wait for breakthrough technologies: We already have most of the technologies needed to reach our global 2030 climate targets. There is a growing recognition of the risks inherent in relying too heavily on the commercialization and widespread adoption of breakthrough technologies, such as green hydrogen and carbon capture and storage, for a solution. Mainly, this could result in a missed opportunity to finance and scale existing solutions within the time-critical framework demanded by the climate crisis. That said, innovation is still crucial. Existing climate technologies are often unaffordable and difficult to access in many parts of the world. Creative adaptation of existing solutions to meet the unique challenges of various regions and sectors is needed in order to facilitate their widespread uptake.

Key climate technologies are ineffective without fossil fuel phase-out: Fossil fuel dependence reduces the efficiency of many climate technologies. Electric arc furnaces, electric vehicles, hydrogen and heat pumps are all considered essential for the decarbonization of various sectors. However, the climate mitigation potential of these technologies is subject to renewable energy being available to power the electricity grids that feed them. For instance, hydrogen as an alternative steelmaking fuel is receiving attention as a climate technology. Yet, its decarbonization potential is highly dependent on how the hydrogen is produced in the first place. Hydrogen made from natural gas (a fossil fuel) rather than renewable electricity has limited emission reduction potential. Countries with electric grid systems that rely primarily on fossil fuels face major barriers to a sustainable and cost-effective implementation of hydrogen and other electricity-dependent decarbonization measures. As such, fossil fuel phase-out is not only an enabler but a precondition for the success and efficiency of many climate technologies.  

Rapidly growing cities must be supported to avoid carbon lock-in: Globally, the climate technology landscape is dominated by a few countries with a strong national system of innovation, with developing countries having fewer opportunities to develop and access new technologies. All countries should be enabled, economically and technically, to harness climate technology opportunities. Collaborative innovation and technology transfer can make innovative solutions more accessible to developing nations. Rapidly growing cities are putting in place long-term infrastructure such as buildings, industrial assets and road networks. Slow adoption of climate technologies and their enabling opportunities increases the risk of stranded assets and carbon lock-in. At the same time, making careful technology choices is crucial if a dependence on suboptimal climate technologies is to be avoided. Examples of poor choices include cooling technologies with suboptimal refrigerants, downstream waste management technologies that impede recycling, and extending a blast furnace’s lifespan by relining instead of phasing it out for a better alternative.

Steel and cement are in particular need of R&D: In certain sectors, rapid technological advancements are vital to achieving long-term climate goals. Key technologies needed to reach net zero goals by 2050 are still emerging. Considered difficult-to-decarbonize, industrial sectors such as steel and cement are in particular need of further R&D of appropriate climate technologies. Innovation is most needed for technologies that enable electrification, fossil fuel phase-out and changes to production processes. However, at present, most patenting activity for low-emitting steel is focused on the processing and transport of iron ore rather than the more carbon-intensive stages of steelmaking and the current planned capacity for low-carbon steel and cement is not aligned with the emission reductions needed.

Agriculture and land use have a large mitigation potential:  Innovation and technology can help enable the changes necessary. Together they offer a great variety of already available solutions able to make a real difference. However, it is likely that the greatest mitigation effects will come from a change in agricultural practices. A change in the way we cultivate the land and herd animals, in avoided deforestation and in consumer behavior. Such changes can prevent large-scale emissions from soil carbon. They can also reduce emission-intensive inputs and fuel usage, lower livestock methane emissions and increase productivity – something which in itself mitigates against climate change. Technologies are available to support such changes in practice. Satellite images can provide data for monitoring crops and forecasting yields. Feed additives can lower livestock methane emissions. Weeding robots and spraying drones can aid better soil management and advanced, data-driven ag tech can increase productivity and decrease chemical usage. Some of the more advanced technologies are yet to become mainstreamed. Most farmers are unlikely to make dramatic changes, unless they come with limited risk and are economically sound. Innovative ways of making new advanced equipment accessible to farmers, such as leasing and through agricultural service companies, could accelerate the uptake of new solutions, which otherwise may seem out of reach to smaller farmers. But consumer demand, policy support, regulations and finance are all required for a new agricultural revolution in support of climate change mitigation to become a reality.