Climate change remains the greatest unresolved challenge, but the efforts made possible by new technologies can become game-changers. It is therefore no surprise that both digitalisation and climate have become the two decisive driving forces of our time. Using new technologies to protect the environment, reduce CO2 and achieve climate neutrality is crucial.

In the early hours of Wednesday morning, this very topic took centre stage at digitalswitzerland’s WEF Breakfast event, which was held on 22 January during the WEF 2020. We hosted a session on “Tech for Climate” in cooperation with UBS. Renowned experts shared how technology is leading us to new climate change solutions. Guests began arriving at the UBS branch in Davos well before 7 a.m. and the room quickly filled up.

Federal Councillor Ueli Maurer advocates a pragmatic way forward

The event was kicked-off with opening speeches by Sergio P. Ermotti, Group CEO of UBS Group AG and Marc Walder, founder of digitalswitzerland.

“Technological solutions and advances offer great opportunities to combat climate change. They also offer major investment opportunities”, Ermotti stated.

In the opening statement of Federal Councilor Ueli Maurer, he called for more facts, more innovations and a pragmatic legislator. He acknowledged that climate change will demand long-term efforts, the question is how the challenges of climate change can be tackled. In his view, Switzerland has everything it takes to be successful and to make a valuable contribution. “Ultimately, we must see ourselves as a team – as Team Switzerland”. 

“Tech for climate” was discussed by a high-ranking panel consisting of a pioneer, a startup, corporates and an investor, who had a lot to share:

  • Sabine Keller-Busse, UBS Global COO & President EMEA, member of the Group Executive Board
  • Cedrik Neike, Member of the Managing Board of Siemens AG and CEO Smart Infrastructure
  • Bertrand Piccard, Initiator and visionary behind “Solar Impulse”
  • Gina Domanig, Managing Partner of Emerald Technology Ventures 
  • Jan Wurzbacher, CEO and Founder of Climeworks 

Going beyond awareness and using existing solutions to protect our environment

“Clean technologies exist to protect the environment. The good news is: they have become profitable. It is not science fiction. It is not the future – it is the present. If a company was run today the way the world is run, the CEO would be in prison. In the fields of water, energy, agriculture and industry we already have everything we need to halve CO2 emissions without any additional innovations”, the visionary and global pioneer Bertrand Piccard declared. Solutions must be pulled to the market and not just pushed forward. This requires the support of the government. Regulations are needed for the threats we face. His strong concluding remarks were: “Today, in most parts of the world and in most sectors, it is more profitable to protect the environment than to destroy it. The people who do not understand this are either ignorant, so we have to inform them, or selfish, and we have to oblige them.”

Investing in clean tech can make a difference

According to Sabine Keller-Busse from UBS, climate change is more than just a trend. Banks and financial institutions can play an important role. Where the money flows, innovation can be turned into reality. “At UBS, we are already actively using technology to positively impact climate action, and I expect exponential opportunities in the future for tech in this field“, Keller-Busse added.

More than just mitigation and elimination

“Science has concluded that even if we do everything we can to reduce emissions, there are still about 15 billion tonnes of C02 that we need to remove from the air every year by mid century if we want to be able to restore global warming to 2 degrees or even 1.5 degrees. We have already gone too far, so we need more than just mitigation and elimination”, Jan Wurzbacher, CEO and Founder of Climeworks stressed. Despite the alarming words of the entrepreneur, he concluded his address on a positive note: “I am fascinated to see how quickly the technology can be scaled and be part of the solution to this challenge we are facing”.

Not without economic pressure

Gina Domanig has been investing in “Tech for Climate” for many years as Managing Partner of Emerald Technology Ventures. These technologies have been around for over 20 years. The problem is the market. “Today we are experiencing a shift that either regulations are being introduced or being threatened because many large companies are not quite so altruistic. They will not shift their core business to cleaner technologies to save the world – they have to be under economic pressure to do so.

Together we are stronger

Cedrik Neike, Member of the Managing Board of Siemens AG and CEO Smart Infrastructure summed up that the fight against climate change is essential, it is crucial: “We need to work together with startups, with investors and with financial institutions. In other words, we have to create an ecosystem to address the problem. No one can do it alone. Switzerland has a huge opportunity to contribute to this.”

Stop talking, start acting

At the end of the event, Ivo Furrer, President of digitalswitzerland, echoed the main message of the panel discussion and summarised that we must not only talk about these environmental issues, but also take action.
While WEF 2020 is still ongoing, we are already looking forward to the next edition of our WEF breakfast with inspirational contributors.