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Climate Change - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 4:25 pm on 6th February 2020.

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Photo of Baroness Lane-Fox of Soho Baroness Lane-Fox of Soho Crossbench 4:25 pm, 6th February 2020

My Lords, as global emissions from ICT have now overtaken those from air travel, you can imagine that, as someone who started an online travel agency, I am feeling pretty fantastic. I want therefore to focus today on how I perceive technologies to be at play over the next decade, while taking on board this interesting report’s view that technology will not save us. I am certainly not a techno utopian—I believe that technology could do a lot of harm if not deployed correctly, if investment is not deployed correctly and if information distributed online cannot be deployed correctly—but I think that there is much to gain by putting the digital world at the heart of the debate over the next few years.

First, I am constantly flabbergasted at the level of investment, both venture capital generally and tech-specific venture capital, going into climate-based solutions. It is shockingly small. In Europe alone, I think I am right in saying that £9 billion went into financial technology start-ups over the last year, whereas only £1 billion went into anything that we could loosely determine as environmental-based start-ups. What are we doing? What are we investing in? We do not need more financial-based start-ups. I have instigated a hashtag when I speak called “#NoMoreCRMSoftware”. We do not need any more enterprise software to help businesses grow and run; we need to focus on the biggest challenge in front of us.

In the US, the picture is not much better. Some individual corporates are doing a slightly better job. Microsoft recently announced a $1 billion climate-specific innovation fund, but, overall, the lack of investment in the things that will help us through the next decade and the derisory amount focused specifically on some of the suggestions made in the report by UK FIRES make me very alarmed. I read yesterday of another start-up that has been funded which does your shopping, brings it to your front door, comes into your home with a smart key, unpacks the shopping into your fridge, leaves you a bunch of flowers and then leaves. This, my friends, is why we are in the pickle we are in: more software developers pitching for more businesses that will help them directly build more software. We have to rebalance the investment cycle to focus on the things that really matter.

Secondly, we need to scale the innovations that are already proven and work. While I acknowledge the important point made by the noble Lord, Lord Browne, that it will take time to scale those technologies, there are technologies that are working now. I point to Impossible Foods, which has invented a plant-based way of replacing meat and other proteins. Its products are now used in manufacture across many fast-food restaurants but could still go further. There are many other inventions as well, particularly around the food and waste sectors. We need to back them and help them continue to scale.

Finally, and perhaps most crucially—I say this declaring my interest as a director of Twitter—we need to make sure that misinformation about the climate is taken as seriously as other forms of misinformation and exploitation online. I do not for one minute suggest that the work around terrorism, child exploitation, paedophilia and so on that many platforms have undertaken has been not been valuable—of course, it has—but, to my mind, making sure that the climate-based information that we see on the internet is accurate is as important as some of those other axes. I do not believe that companies and platforms are yet homing in specifically on these issues.

What can the UK do in this? This is where I ask the Minister to respond. As a small country, post Brexit—I am not making a political point, but we are now less connected than we were previously—I believe that there is an opportunity to make sure that the UK leads in how we deploy technology well, how we show what good information looks like and how government, corporates and the civil sector come together to make sure that we build the most sustainable future using the tools of the modern age.