WASHINGTON—Countries made commitments during the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) to keep the goal of limiting global average temperature increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius. Yet these promises will ring hollow unless nations act promptly to accelerate innovation that will make climate solutions feasible, affordable, and reliable in the coming decades—the global energy innovation system is currently in poor health, with weaknesses across most indicators, warns a new report from the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF), the leading think tank for science and technology policy.
“The world needs a healthy energy innovation system to realize future decarbonization commitments, but there has been little progress since the 2015 Paris Agreement, and things need to improve,” says Hoyu Chong, senior policy analyst at ITIF, who authored the report. “We need to look at every part of this system because they all must work together successfully for the system to thrive.”
According to the report that draws from ITIF’s 2021 Global Energy Innovation Index (GEII), the global energy innovation system stands in weak condition, as evidenced by key indicators of knowledge development and diffusion, entrepreneurial ecosystem, trade, market readiness and technology adoption, and national public policies. The entrepreneurial ecosystem is the only bright spot, as early-stage venture capital investments have made a roaring comeback, up 165 percent since 2015.
The paper finds public research, development, and demonstration (RD&D) investments have only risen modestly since 2015 (+29 percent), while the number of high-value patents has gone sideways (+0.2 percent). Trade and national policies performed even worse. Nominal clean energy technology exports (+8 percent) have trailed behind global GDP (+13 percent), while the vast majority of effective carbon rates are below the benchmark of EUR60.
Although clean energy consumption is increasing (+23.6 exajoules in the 2010s), fossil fuel consumption has risen even more quickly (+52.6 exajoules) with no sign of abatement in the near future.
“It is time for activists, non-governmental organizations, thought leaders, and policymakers to stop saying we already have all the technologies we need and only lack the will to force people and companies to use them—this is false,” said Chong. “We still need innovation to make clean energy accessible and affordable worldwide. If national governments, in collaboration with the private sector, fail to close the innovation gap by rejuvenating the global energy innovation system, climate goals that today are within reach will quickly slip away.”