‘Growing up’: COP26, clean technology and agriculture

Described by many as the ‘last chance’ to avoid catastrophic climate change, this week’s COP26 Conference continues to dominate the headlines and has already stimulated debate around some of the industries with the biggest role to play limiting global warming including agriculture, electricity and clean technology.

Climate change is one of the world’s most pressing issues and governments and corporations around the globe must act now in order to limit what could be potentially irreversible damage. This week’s COP26 conference is an opportunity for world leaders to gather and put concrete and internationally co-ordinated plans in place to limit the production of greenhouse gases.

Discussion so far has been centred primarily around industries such as energy, natural resources, financing for clean tech innovation and change at scale, but one of the world’s biggest polluters – and unsustainable markets is the agriculture sector. Agriculture and farming requires significant transformation if we are to secure the global future of food. The latest statistics from the US Environmental Protection Agency revealed that, alongside change of land use, the agriculture sector accounts for 25% of global greenhouse gas emissions. A significant proportion of this comes from the meat industry and specifically the growth of crops such as soya for animal feed rather than human consumption.

The future of the industry is at stake with challenges such as deforestation, food security and degradation of biodiversity all needing addressing. These issues are all united by the proclivity of unsustainable farming practices and in order to survive, the sector must evolve and adopt a more sustainable model.

Some initial positive steps have been taken at the conference with world leaders pledging to end deforestation by 2030 as well as signing a multi-lateral agreement called the Glasgow Breakthroughs. The agreement’s signatories span 70% of the world’s economies and have all now committed to encouraging widespread private sector investment in to clean technology across sectors such as steel, road transport, agriculture, hydrogen, and electricity.

The adoption of clean technology is one of the most significant opportunities for the agriculture sector to evolve and provides a vital lifeline that could enable farmers and retailers to limit their environmental impact and create a more equitable and sustainable future.

One of the areas in which technology has a significant role to play is in food production. The intensive farming methods currently used by the industry require immense amounts of land and water and often require food to be shipped from around the globe, contributing to the significant volumes of carbon and greenhouse gases produced through excessive air travel.

But what if there was a way of producing food locally, sustainably and all year round? While not a silver bullet to solve all the industry’s ills, vertical farming has emerged as one of the many methods that could be used to resolve some of the challenges facing the sector.

Vertical farming works by producing crops in multi-layered vertical towers in which producers can artificially manage the growing environment for their crops. Providing complete control over the environmental inputs contributing to each growth cycle, farmers can manage the light, water and nutrients used to grow crops. Managing this environment artificially not only provides 100% certainty of yield, it also reduces the physical footprint and volume of water needed to produce food. As demand for food globally continues to increase, innovative and alternative methods like these will become increasingly important to address concerns over food security created by unsustainable farming methods.

One business pioneering this technology is AgriTech innovators Intelligent Growth Solutions. Founded in 2013, the business is one of the leading players in this rapidly growing and potentially transformational sector. In 2018, the business launched Scotland’s first vertical farm and has developed and industry-leading platform helping farmers and retailers to diversify their food production methods.

IGS’ system is modular, consisting of pairs of Growth Towers which come in 6m, 9m and 12m high variants and can deliver 2-3x greater yields compared to an equivalent glasshouse environment. The firm’s photon optimisation technology also reduces power requirements by up to 50%.

The business’ technology requires no arable land so theoretically can be located almost anywhere, notably this week on the banks of the River Clyde! The firm is exhibiting at the COP26 conference and has installed its very own vertical farm on-site. Click here for a behind the scenes look at exactly what a vertical farm looks like.

With investment now expected to flood in to the clean technology sector, businesses operating within the space must be communicating proactively to educate key stakeholders about the transformative impact their technology can deliver. Media interest in the space is at an all-time high presenting a number of opportunities for firms to insert themselves in to this media narrative and promote the game-changing work they are delivering to help us meet Net Zero.

If you’d be interested in reading more about our work promoting businesses that are driving the sustainability sector forward click here to learn more about our experience.

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