A Guide to Climate Tech Finance

The news in 2021 has highlighted climate change like never before. Storms and hurricanes wreaked havoc across the US as far north as New York. Floods in Germany and temperature records across the globe were smashed. Public opinion has shifted towards a demand for more action.

In Germany the Green Party looks set to play a key role in government following the recent election. The US administration passed a flawed US$ 1 trillion infrastructure bill which promised funds for electric charging points, climate resilience and support for decarbonisation.

At the same time governments, businesses and entrepreneurs are realising that there is huge potential in zero or low products and services. Climate tech is cross sector cutting. Nearly every facet of life needs to be decarbonised rapidly if the world is to avoid a climate crisis. This is attracting serious money from venture capital to multilateral banks to giant corporate investors.

BlackRock Chief Executive Officer Larry Fink described climate investing: “I look at this as one of the greatest investment opportunities over our lifetimes.”

Choosing to decarbonise early is a competitive advantage. Carbon emissions will become more costly and less socially and legally acceptable.

Climate tech promises to harness technology to accelerate the transition to a low carbon world. Renewable energy firms are the most visible climate tech champions. But there are many other ways to reduce carbon, through artificial meat, green chemical companies, and low carbon construction firms.

Recent Global Shifts Include:

Election of US President Biden who has acknowledged climate change as the critical burning issue of the day.

China, US, Japan, EU, UK and Korea have all recently promised carbon neutrality in the next 30 years. Of course, political promises can be reneged or ignored, but the political momentum is clear.

The pandemic changed perceptions about the environment, cut carbon emissions (at least temporarily) and showed the world that rapid social and economic shifts were possible and for some desirable. It is much harder for companies and governments to make the excuse that change is too difficult, or that reforms must be slow.

Many companies have followed up on their Paris Alignment pledges and committed to go carbon neutral, car companies saw the writing on the wall and the shift to electric cars became real. Many governments have set targets and dates to achieve zero carbon economies.

Financing Climate Technologies

Money is gushing into Climate tech right now.

Below I look at how climate technology is financed and how this could change in the future. Funding for climate tech is as varied as the sector itself which is largely defined by its goal. Angel investors, venture capital and government funds are heavily backing zero-carbon technologies.

A recent PWC report identified around 2700 investors backing around 1200 start-ups. The industry went from around US$ 418 million funding in 2013 to around US$264 billion last year. This might seem a lot. But the reality is that this number needs to be much higher for technologies to make a dent in reducing carbon emissions.

The scale of change required is awe inspiring. Entire sectors such as transport, infrastructure and energy require complete transformation and billions of dollars to make it a reality.

Petrol driving cars need to be replaced, energy systems shifted from fossil fuels to clean energy. Sectors such as construction which many do not even associate with carbon emissions will have to shift to using low carbon materials and processes.

The scale of this transformation means that the clean tech sector has the potential to grow and grow. Its rise will emulate that of social media in the last decade and its impact will exceed it.

Capital Needed

But for this to happen the entrepreneurs and businesses need funding to match their dreams. Like all new sectors climate tech is risky.

Many new innovations will not work as planned, some will find it hard to scale and of course many start ups will be picked off by rivals or larger competitors.

Climate technologies are also often capital hungry, developing and promoting new technologies can be extremely expensive.

Financing the first deep sea shipping lane powered by methanol or green ammonia will cost US$ 700 million in up front capital investment.

Venture Capital

Venture capital is now heavily backing the climate tech start up scene. According to one survey start-ups raised US$ 16 billion across 250 deals across the first half of 2021. This also represented a 50 percent increase on last year’s figures.

Venture capital firms are of course a fixture in the tech scene and the lure of climate focused start ups has grabbed their attention.

Well known funds such as Sequoia Capital which backed many of Silicon Valley’s biggest most successful stories are now backing climate focused ventures. Other VC firms like Clean Energy Ventures specialise in just climate tech.

Others like The Engine a MIT backed fund take a different approach providing long term capital to ventures trying to solve the world’s toughest problems. Climate change among them.

Start-ups are the most exciting and innovative creators of climate solutions. But established companies have the size and reach to really push decarbonisation.

There are many net-zero levers: alternative proteins, renewable energy or green construction. Climate tech is cross sector cutting which means that it will attract money from a variety of different sources, not just funds with an energy focus.

Corporate Venture Capital

Corporate Venture Capital is another rapidly growing source of finance for Climate Tech.

The funds have been created by major corporations who wish to back a fast-growing sector for financial and strategic reasons. The big tech firms like Amazon, Google and Microsoft have all seen the value of net-zero and backing their own climate tech finance divisions.

This could be to gain market share in emerging technologies or to counteract the fact that major companies are traditionally poor innovators.

Firms that have created climate tech funds include Chevron, Maersk, Microsoft and Unilever. These funds are backing firms which are pushing zero-carbon solutions such as Afresh which uses AI to unify logistics arrangement in delivery and transportation to increase efficiency and reduce waste. Chevron have backed Eavor a Geothermal technology company which hopes to drill deep underground to tap geothermal energy.

The king of the climate tech capital pile is Breakthrough Energy Ventures. Founded by Bill Gates over 5 years ago it has raised over US$ 2 billion for climate technology start-ups.

Emerging Markets and Traditional Banks

In emerging markets, multilateral banks such as the Asian and African Development Banks, the World Bank and European Investment Bank are major backers of climate finance.

In 2020 Multilaterals backed US$ 38 billion in investment into the climate sector. Much of this will be backing the renewable energy sector, energy efficiency and green infrastructure projects. Multilateral banks are also backing climate adaptation and resilience projects.

In a similar fashion Temasek the Singaporean sovereign wealth fund in conjunction with giant investment firm Blackrock are also getting in on the act. The two investment giants created a venture called Decarbonisation Partners which is placing US$ 300 million into a seed fund for climate tech.  

While traditional Banks are clearly a major source of finance they typically back well established renewable companies rather than innovative tech firms.

The emergence of the Taskforce on Climate Related Financial Disclosures (TFCD) has forced firms to disclose their strategy in adapting to a changing climate (with the recognition of climate risks), but this has also made firms think about how they can take advantage of the transition to a zero carbon.

This has seen mainstream banks measuring how climate risk will impact their balance sheets. Spelling out financial risk in this way will push banks to back climate friendly projects and companies

The green bond market has exploded in size over the last few years. US$269 billion was raised in green bonds in 2020. The market is led by the US, Germany and France, most of money raised will go towards green mortgages, renewable energy and transport (such as railway companies).

The green bond market tends to be focused on financing established climate technologies. However, funds that are backing green mortgages, low carbon buildings and other green projects and fall under the green bond taxonomy can directly spark demand for new climate technologies.  

Looking to the Future

Financing climate tech does not have the luxury of time. The sector needs to see a rapid increase in financing levels, this means that other sources of finance need to be tapped. Firstly, governments need to ensure that policy shifts on decarbonisation are matched by action.

For example, passing laws that encourage green construction, taxes on carbon or even meat. These measures will spark demand for climate friendly technologies.The private sector should be following the lead of venture capital and corporate VCs and backing more innovative climate tech firms as well as established technologies.

In the news

Climate Opportunities

Green growth offers opportunities for South Africans. The shift to renewables and a net-zero world creates new industries with often highly skilled positions much needed in South Africa and elsewehere.

Green economy growth is a silver lining for the planet and job-hungry South Africans (iol.co.za)

The Singapore Exchange makes climate related financial related disclosures reporting mandatory. As TCFD reporting becomes the norm the opportunities for climate risk reporting will grow. The sector will thrive and mature as reporting becomes more widespread.

Singapore Exchange proposes mandatory climate reporting in key sectors from 2023 | S&P Global Platts (spglobal.com)

Chevron plans to spend US$ 10 billion on renewable energy and reducing its carbon footprint. But is this just greenwashing and a reaction to recent actions by activist investors?

Chevron to spend $10bn on clean energy push | Financial Times (ft.com)

Climate Risks

A new threat from climate change. As ice melts it could set off huge tsunamis by reducing the weight on the crust below and unleashing intense seismic activity.

Chevron: Despite the company backing climate solutions with one hand it remains very much a traditional fossil fuel company. The oil and gas sector is increasingly fighting off activist investors that are challenging plans and pushing these giant companies to decarbonise.

Chevron prepares to head off challenges at investor presentation – Institute for Energy Economics & Financial Analysis (ieefa.org)

Could restoring Woolly Mammoths via gene editing be a way of restoring lost biodiversity caused by climate change. It does not stop the root problem but open up ways of restoring lost species once habits are restored or rewilded.

How Colossal sold investors on a quest to resurrect a woolly mammoth | TechCrunch

All talk of economic costs in addressing climate change tend to ignore the long-term costs of doing nothing. Climate risks in India, extreme heat, flooding and drought make a mockery of any attempts to protect the economy today, particularly if climate changes further disrupts the all important monsoon.

Economic impact of climate change on India | LinkedIn

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