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Rethinking technology in the wake of COP26

Posted 30 Nov 2021

The UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) has shown that an unprecedented shift will be needed to enable the UK to reach the government’s Net Zero Strategy by 2050. 

These changes will not only impact upon manufacturing processes and production materials, but on business strategies, policies, regulations, and the use of technology. We previously discussed how Digital Catapult’s innovation activities are driving the net zero agenda following the publication of the UK’s Net Zero Strategy in the lead up to COP26. Post-COP26, read on for our analysis of the key outcomes and how Digital Catapult can help make more rapid progress towards achieving them.

Good COP, bad COP?

The UK hosted the 26th UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26) in Glasgow bringing together leaders from around the world to discuss the climate crisis and work towards achieving the goals of the Paris Agreement 2015 at a quicker pace.

COP26 was considered “the most important COP since Paris”. The Paris Agreement was a big deal. At 2015’s COP21, it saw every country agree to work together to limit global warming and keep it below two degrees. 

Importantly, the Agreement also stated that an increasingly ambitious action against climate change should be set out every five years by all involved. These goals are known as Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs). The UK NDCs were established prior to the conference and can be viewed here.

There was plenty to celebrate. But much more can be done, and technology will play a vital role.

Minimising Methane Emissions

The EU and the USA together pledged to cut methane usage by 2030. The Global Methane Pledge aims to limit methane emissions by 30% in comparison with the levels recorded in 2020. The countries involved in this pledge emit around half of all methane produced, largely as a result of industrial processes.

The pledge is a good one. If carried out effectively, it will make a huge difference. But methane is a cheap gas to produce. It’s only through better monitoring of industrial processes that companies will be able to reduce their gas use and, in turn, minimise manufacturing costs.

This is where advanced and emerging digital tech comes in.

Innovations in digital technology are integral to tackling these issues and forming the infrastructure needed to facilitate such meticulous close monitoring. One of the UK’s COP announcements involved reporting on progress towards net zero. Data driven approaches, using tools such as the Ecometer – developed by Digital Catapult and its partners as part of the DETI project – will enable companies to reduce their emissions, and record and quantify progress at the same time.

Tangible results will spur on further environmental action. 

Technology and Nature

In what Prime Minister Boris Johnson termed a “landmark” commitment, 110 world leaders promised to end and reverse deforestation by 2030. Among the signatories was Brazil, where severe deforestation has led to the Amazon rainforest being categorised as a critical tipping point in the fight against global warming. 

A mass agreement to end deforestation would improve biodiversity, lower the water table, end the dramatic decline in natural wildlife habitats, and decrease CO2 emissions. This agreement was a particular high point of COP26 for all of us here at Digital Catapult. Our team has been working tirelessly to support companies through our Tech to End Wildlife Crime Programme.

We have always remained certain that technological innovation – something often viewed in opposition to nature – will play a key part in monitoring habitats and creating safe spaces in which wildlife can thrive.

So, how do our agendas match up?

The publication of the UK’s Net Zero Strategy affirmed the need for many of the initiatives that Digital Catapult had been working towards for quite some time. We were pleased to see that COP26 was no different.

The new COP26 agreements on cleaner energy solutions align perfectly with the work we’re already undertaking with the National Grid (on gas and electricity) and Sellafield (on nuclear energy). Our projects with these partners respectively aim to provide digitally enabled, clean energy solutions across different sectors of energy production. Technology is also heavily relied upon in the UK’s hydrogen economy. We anticipate that digital innovation will continue to aid development in this area too.

The UK Net Zero Strategy is in place. The COP26 agreements have been made. Our new FutureScope framework is now live with an open call for scaleups and pre-scaleups focused on tackling industrial net zero challenges. This new support framework will enable innovators within the UK to strive to create a more sustainable future, using the latest advances in technology to aid the delivery of these important targets. Our environmental initiatives will continue to operate, as we try to anticipate the role that digital innovation will play in tackling climate change at next year’s COP27 in Egypt.


Dr David Pugh 

Head of Sustainability, Digital Catapult