How tech can help to tackle climate change

There's no denying that climate change is one of the biggest threats to our way of living. Can technology help to save the world?

Climate change is one of the most serious issues we face today. According to the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), we've experienced the 20 warmest years over the past two decades. The effects are tremendous, including rising oceans, melting polar ice caps, famine and extreme weather. But these organisations believe that they can solve climate change using technology.

Tackling food waste

If there's one issue having a significant impact on the environment, it's food waste. Research shows that one third of food is wasted every year, weighing 1.3 billion tonnes and worth $1 trillion in retail value. This is despite the fact that over 820 million people across the globe are starving.

Jamie Crummie, co-founder at food waste app Too Good To Go UK, says: "Worldwide, a third of food produced gets wasted. When food goes to landfill, it creates methane - a greenhouse gas 27 times more potent than carbon dioxide. And that's not the only thing; it takes about five brimming bathtubs of water to produce a carton of six eggs."

"We need to learn to cherish food, realising that - just like the land that was set aside to grow it, or the water that was used to sustain it - it's far too precious to waste. The data and insights we get from technology let us tackle the issue with a level of nuance - and on a scale - that was unprecedented until now."

Looking to solve this issue, Too Good To Go has developed a platform for buying unsold food from restaurants, cafes, shops and bakeries before it's thrown out. Since launching in 2016, the app has been downloaded by over 22 million users and helped to save 35 million meals globally.

Crummie adds: "Not only do apps like Too Good To Go enable people to stop perfectly edible food from being wasted, but they're a way of putting the topic of food waste at the forefront of people's minds. By harnessing technology and tackling the issue at all levels of the supply chain, we can drive the food waste movement forward, challenging societal behaviours as we go."

Earth Rewards is another startup using technology to boost sustainability in our everyday lives. It aims to help people make more "environmentally-conscious purchasing and lifestyle decisions" through a blockchain rewards platform.

Pavlos Polianidis, Chief Technology Officer of Earth Rewards, says: "Climate change is a key concern for many people, but it needs collective actions to make a meaningful impact.  By empowering people on this issue and putting positive climate actions directly into someone's hands via an app, digital rewards program or other tech-based solution [it] gives people the opportunity to act in a convenient and simple way."

Polianidis explains that the app lets people measure, understand and reduce their carbon impacts. He says: "Earth Rewards points can be earned and spent towards balancing impacts from their lifestyle choices (each point carries a carbon offset value) and are delivered in a secure and immutable blockchain-based wallet. The Earth Rewards digital loyalty program will give consumers the chance to earn Earth Rewards points through retail and brand partners."

The power of big data

Cities are a major contributing factor to climate change, producing over 70% of the world's CO2 emissions. With two thirds of people set to live in cities and urban areas by 2050, it's likely that emissions will continue to grow unless significant action is taken.

Rachel Huxley, director of knowledge learning at C40 Cities, says: "Cities have faced historic difficulties in tackling the climate crisis, thanks to sprawl and low-density layouts designed to deal with burgeoning urban populations and overworked infrastructure. The key challenge for city officials is demonstrating that climate action does not compete with, but rather complements, other political and economic goals.

She says that quantifiable and actionable insights are needed if cities are to enact effective change. "Being able to show why climate action is not just necessary but beneficial, is vital. This is why we launched the C40 Knowledge Hub, which includes data and research to clearly demonstrate the impact of climate action for policymakers. Importantly, it also offers policy briefs and technical guidance to show them how to do it."

The organisation has also partnered with data strategy firm Qlik to build dashboards to help cities reduce their carbon footprint. Huxley explains, "These aim to arm city officials with insights into topics ranging from air quality and waste, to transport and urban planning - giving cities the opportunity to see how they are getting on with certain targets, and then benchmark themselves against peers."

Asheesh Mehra, CEO and co-founder of AntWorks, agrees that technology can provide powerful insights to aid the fight against climate change. He says: "AI can play a critical role in combating detrimental changes in our climates by giving us access to actionable environmental data that wasn't previously available. AI can also improve the prediction of extreme weather events, create more energy-efficient buildings and optimise energy production."

Acting now

There's also increasing pressure on technology manufacturers to do more to tackle climate change, with 84% of consumers saying "a poor environmental track record would or might cause them to stop buying from a brand" in a CSR study.

Paolo Pescatore, a technology analyst, believes that climate change is a big strategic focus for the tech world. He says: "Let's not forget that the tech sector is power hungry with the move to more software, cloud, AI data centres requiring more energy than ever.

"These companies and others have already made pledges to run on renewable energy and adopted other moves towards lowering the impact on the environment. The grander, [more] ambitious [the] targets the better. Some, like Apple, should be applauded for taking a bold approach, working with suppliers and others to address this important topic. Undoubtedly, Microsoft stands out from the crowd with its ambition of ‘net zero'. While Amazon has similar aspirations, it plans to do so 10 years later than Microsoft."

He urges every business to take similar steps. Pescatore adds: "In essence, all companies should be addressing the sustainability problem and not only limited to energy. This includes packaging, cables and much more."

Dr Andrew Rogoyski, Innovation Director at Roke Manor Research, says it's important that technology companies lead the way and embrace really ambitious targets to cut emissions. He tells IDG Connect: "Most of the major players have now done this. Interestingly, this has been accompanied by investment banks and venture capital starting to publicly prioritise investment in businesses that have a strong sustainability strategy.

"While becoming carbon neutral within the next 10 years is becoming the stated norm, it's also interesting to see changes in more tangible supply chain and logistics behaviours. For example, Apple has taken their first shipment of carbon free aluminium for laptop production, produced by Alcoa Corp and Rio Tinto, while promising major purchasing of electric delivery vehicles."

It couldn't be clearer that the stakes are high when it comes to climate change. This is an issue that affects us all and will no doubt continue to worsen over the coming years. However, it's promising to see technology being used to create a more sustainable world for future generations.