‘Ambitious innovation’ needed to turn climate change into opportunity

EXCLUSIVE: Forget resilience - we need to innovate our way out of trouble. That was the message put forward forecasting expert James Woudhuysen in his keynote address at edie's Sustainability Live Conference earlier today (21 April).

Opening the Conference, Woudhuysen – a former professor of forecasting and innovation at De Montfort University – dismissed the accepted wisdom that business and governments should focus on resiliency, instead urging them to turn these into risks into opportunities.

“Is resiliency, simply surviving, the best we can do? By prototyping and experimenting we can turn unknown unknowns into quantifiable risks,” he said.

“We need more money for R&D, not because doubling the budgets will double innovations, but because spending one pound in every thousand on innovation, as we do now, is a recipe for disaster.”

Ambitious innovation

Woudhuysen pointed to carbon capture and storage (CCS) as an example of the type of innovation that should have been funded more generously. CCS essentially removes the carbon gas generated from large industrial processes and power generation, and pumps it underground.

“The Labour government spent £6m on CCS. Don’t tell this is ambitious innovation, don’t tell me that oil and gas are a write off, when we have never done anything about trying to fix the problem that they create.”

More recently, the coalition government has called CCS the “only credible technology to decarbonise some energy intensive industries such as steel and cement”, and has invested millions in feasibility studies.

Woudhuysen also highlighted early trials of ‘air-capture’ technology in the US, which literally sucks the carbon out of the sky, producing pure CO2 which can be used in industry.

“They’re testing that in New Mexico and Texas,” said Woudhuysen. “It might not work, but where are the ambitious programmes being put forward by the UK government?”

Resource revolution

Woudheuysen – the author of a book called Energise: A future for energy innovation – added that innovation was also the solution to ‘resource scarcity’.

“The only resources leaving the planet are the ones on the space shuttle. If we commit to large-scale recycling we can get nearly all resources back.”

“In the future, we will not need to sort our rubbish, because it will be taken from our buildings pneumatically, so I don’t think it’s preordained that we will face resource shortages.”

Sustainability Live 2015, incorporating NEMEX and Energy Recovery, is the UK’s leading exhibition for innovative energy and sustainability management professionals, taking place this week (21-23 April). Register here

Sustainability Live: Day One Highlights

Brad Allen

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