Technology solutions are a cornerstone in our efforts to mitigate climate change effectively and to adapt to change. Steep learning curves in the technological development of photovoltaic and wind power have contributed to lowering the cost of renewable power and brought a climate-neutral electricity supply within our grasp.
The global megatrend of the digital transformation is currently driving developments in artificial intelligence (AI) and big data that are contributing decisively to the search for solutions to climate change in highly diverse fields. Statistical methods and machine learning are increasingly being deployed to extract patterns and derive insights from growing streams of geoinformation and climate data. But the dynamics of digital business could also boost demand from consumers, and this—like the high energy consumption of digital infrastructure—would not accord well with the goal of climate neutrality. At the same time, the digital revolution is also transforming production structures. These dynamics create new ecological, social, and economic opportunities while also posing new challenges. The digital transformation has the potential to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by generating efficiency savings in production and consumption, especially in relation to the provision of services. It also has the potential to create opportunities by enabling and supporting social innovation and an adequate lifestyle for more people. But efficiency gains and innovation induced by the digital transformation could in turn induce phenomena and economic growth with the potential to cancel out some of the savings made or even increase overall greenhouse gas emissions. Only by shaping policy actively will it be possible to ensure that technological opportunities are exploited to further a genuine transition toward greater sustainability.
In addition to the digital revolution, power technologies and innovative transport solutions represent two further technological sectors with an important role to play in climate protection. Electricity generation accounts for 60 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, a greater proportion than any other emissions source. The potential for emissions reductions in this sector is correspondingly high, and low-carbon power technologies are already making a decisive contribution to climate change mitigation. Over and above this, technologies need to come on stream that can be deployed for climate-relevant purposes such as integrating the power producing sector with energy consuming sectors (sector coupling) or managing decentral energy networks. The potential of decarbonization technologies must also be systematically exploited. They are already available for several sectors including electricity, mobility, and heating, but research usually treats them separately and an integrated view is lacking.
Transport is the most significant emitter of greenhouse gases after the energy sector. Effective climate change mitigation strategies therefore need to work toward rapid decarbonization in the transport sector. This will require a technological shift to electric powertrains in combination with a reduction in personal motorized transport and a shift to greater take-up of mass transit and active mobility options (with cycling playing a major role.) In the realm of urban mobility, active mobility has considerable potential that can be tapped by applying appropriate urban planning strategies. But climate-neutral mobility will also depend decisively on electricity generation technologies, as both battery-driven and hydrogen-powered vehicles depend on these core technologies. In the aviation and maritime sectors, other energy sources such as synthetic fuels will be necessary.