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On Solutions Day, urgency and opportunity in a time of crisis

Editor’s note: At Google Cloud we’re working with global organizations to help them use technology to build a more sustainable future. During the 2022 United Nations Climate Change Conference, or COP27, representatives from countries and organizations around the world — including Google Cloud — gathered in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt from November 7 – 18, 2022 for the latest round of climate talks. Check here for perspectives from onsite, thoughts from Google experts and customers, curated content and announcements. Or catch the event for yourself on Youtube.

Economic disruption, natural disasters and extreme weather, and inflation are at the top of the list of today’s global challenges. To solve them, we must reset the way we address these issues. 

Energy is one thing they all have in common, and our continued prosperity ultimately depends on deep structural changes towards sustainability. This should be addressed from the positive perspective of utilizing resources, innovation, and, yes, urgency. We have many reasons to expect positive results. Here are three:

1. Improving productivity 

Over the past several years, the world has invested more in better energy production, methods, and materials. This hardly utilizes all of the scientific, managerial, and computational advances we’ve made during the same time.

Some increased spending on renewables in the U.S., Europe, and Asia follows a longer trend. Some is due to the conflict in Ukraine, which underscored the hazard of fossil fuel dependence. Either way, there are opportunities to learn even more about sustainability and productivity, in areas like home improvement, retooling the manufacture of automobiles and other goods, and better power distribution. New technological insight and productivity are possible by things like machine learning and augmented reality.

2. New Business Models, New Growth

New business models are already evolving towards high productivity and lower carbon usage. In retail, there are e-commerce platforms like Nuuly, Urban Outfitter’s clothing rental and resale business. Financial services companies are specializing in computer-assisted climate finance & ESG portfolio management. There are innovations in the power sector, like portfolio rotation, carbon intelligence, and carbon removal. In transportation, innovation is moving beyond electric vehicles to data-rich fleet optimization at companies like Geotab. Even as legacy companies are transforming, new businesses are evolving.

3. Resilience, Regulation, and Risk

This summer the Rhine River ran so low that Germany’s manufacturing industry was threatened with shortages of essential feedstock. Climate disasters like fires, floods, and soil erosion that take agricultural land, driving food scarcity and causing mass migrations. Companies must understand such new climate risks, then act to build resilience. Google Cloud has partnered with Climate Engine to bring visibility to these acute risks and help operational leads make effective decisions about risks 3-6 months ahead of time.

In addition, we are seeing increasing regulation of carbon emissions, and insufficient action by companies focused on the short term. Last year Accenture estimated that just 5% of companies in Europe were on track to meet the commitments of the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement to be zero carbon by 2050. Leaders need to opt in now to track, measure, and report key metrics and milestones. Climate is a data challenge, and once organizations tap into technology solutions that can help them garner insights from their data, they’ll be able to make more meaningful progress. 

Good work is rarely easy. The IMF states that fighting climate change will require massive global investments. In my quarter-century of working on sustainable energy programs, however, from citywide energy efficiency, to alternative transport fuels, and improving utilities, I’ve found that perspective and commitment are most critical to success. Leaders who succeed will take personal responsibility for these commitments. They will see better performance, better employee satisfaction, and better regard from partners and customers.

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