Micro factories for e-waste, seaweed farms to sequester carbon, powering whole towns with food waste. There is no shortage of innovative climate solutions. In this transformational decade, it will be up to business, investors, consumers and leaders to support them to scale ─ but there is no one-size-fits-all approach, says ClimateWorks CEO Anna Skarbek.

Joining 2040 filmmaker Damon Gameau and UNSW Centre for Sustainable Materials Research and Technology (SMaRT) Director, Professor Veena Sahajwalla on ABC’s The Drum, ClimateWorks CEO Anna Skarbek highlighted the importance of a tailored and multi-channeled approach to scaling climate solutions.

“To make something really widespread, it’s a variety of motivators that work. Sometimes the price is most powerful, sometimes it can be a legislative mandate to have a minimum level of something, and sometimes it’s a combination of that and social pressure ─ which we’re seeing rising ─ and also financial pressure from financial regulators who are asking for more clarity about how we manage risk and getting much more focussed on what are the risks if we don’t do all this.”

Anna Skarbek

The panel was tasked with answering the question: What technologies are there to help us reduce our emissions – and how viable are they?

Solutions included recycling e-waste, using food waste to power vehicles, sequestering carbon using seaweed and creating green steel by recycling tyres.

Professor Veena Sahajwalla spoke to UNSW’s research and development of a micro factory as a pilot for eliminating e-waste. The technology has gone from research through to successful demonstration.

“You can actually create value added materials out of each material, and you can then say right, I can now divert all of these away from landfill and put them back into manufacturing yet again and if we can actually do that for our phones and more complex electronics, we can actually do that for many many different products.”

Professor Veena Sahajwalla

So how can we make this common practice?

“We’ve studied the barriers to implementation of all the great solutions that we know can address climate change, and we find that there’s really three dimensions of those barriers,” Skarbek explains. “The project attractiveness – does it make sense financially or strategically for you to do? Then there’s the capability of doing it – have you done something similar before, do you have the skills and the information? And then there’s the motivation to do it – do you care enough?” 

Extract from ClimateWorks’ Industrial Energy Efficiency report on the barriers to energy savings.

“Everyone’s busy, so what is it that will make you pay attention to doing this new thing? It could be your bonus depends on it, or in fact are you motivated to do something else. Is there a law that could make you do it? Or a risk that your consumers or your brand will be damaged if you don’t do it?” 

Anna Skarbek

There has also been innovation in the space of sequestering carbon – that is, reducing the amount of carbon already in the atmosphere – with seaweed farms showing promise to not improve the health of our oceans, but to draw down carbon from the atmosphere as well. The potential is demonstrated in Damon Gameau’s film 2040, a letter to his daughter on what the future could look like if we put into practice the best solutions available now.

“They just turbocharge pulling that carbon out of the atmosphere very quickly, plus they alkalize the water, they create a fish habitat so the fish can lay their eggs there so it creates this beautiful ecosystem.”

Damon Gameau

A system that can capture carbon could be propped up by mechanisms like a price on carbon, but Skarbek stressed it’s not the only solution. “A price on carbon is a great help for a lot of technologies, but it doesn’t do the whole job and actually each sector needs a solution that’s tailored to it,” she said. “What a price on carbon helps do is make sure that companies that are emitting are conscious of the cost of that, provided it is set at a reasonable price, for really emerging technologies, it often needs a combination of other support as well.”

Skarbek pointed out that where traditional finance models might not have moved quickly enough, momentum is building – and it’s good news for emerging technology.

“The finance sector is beginning to move, and when it moves it can move at scale. So encouragingly there’s a lot of coordinated work globally now. Very large investors are starting to pay attention.”

Anna Skarbek

“We’re heading in the right direction,” Skarbek said. “Now the big thing is for us to seize this moment and accelerate it this decade and go faster than we’ve ever gone before. Then we could have a lot to be optimistic about.”

Watch the full episode of the Drum on ABC.