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For innovative companies offering solutions to the climate emergency, the moment is now

By Zach Johnstone  |   Posted 26th September 2022

The world’s largest diplomatic convention is taking place in New York this week, with the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) taking place in-person for the first time since the start of the pandemic. The agenda includes the ongoing impact of COVID-19, the Russian invasion of Ukraine, threats to the global economy, and the worsening climate crisis. 

In the countries in which GIF invests, finding solutions to extreme weather conditions and events is one of the greatest challenges people face. Six of the ten countries most affected by the climate emergency are in Africa. The recent floods in Pakistan have affected over 30 million people over a third of the country is under water – an area equivalent to the size of the UK. Humanitarian aid will not be enough: long-term, adaptive solutions are needed and the best mechanism to activate these is through funding the smartest enterprises that are emerging in low-income countries.


Challenge, innovation, impact

At the Global Innovation Fund (GIF), we are working to find and funding evidence-based innovation focused on improving climate adaptation and resilience in developing countries.  Our approach is simple. First: recognise the challenge. We understand the urgency and magnitude of the climate crisis, which has the potential to wipe out decades of progress in improving the lives and livelihoods of the world’s poorest people. Its effects are already being felt, and the need for investment in climate adaptation and resilience solutions is vital. 

Developed nations need to boost finance for adaptation investment from the current, inadequate level. The Climate Policy Initiative reports an average of $46 billion per year in adaptation finance, of which only $1 billion is from private investment. This, against annual needs, is roughly estimated at $140 billion to $300 billion by 2030. 

So, second: innovation. GIF have the resources to source the most innovative ideas with the most potential, assess these, and then give them a chance to flourish. At this crucial early stage for a start-up, it is not always possible for government bodies to do this. At GIF, we can take smart risks on exciting prospects. We look to apply our world-class impact metric to innovations with the potential to scale and support the world’s poorest to build resilience and adaptation. 

And third, impact. We are evidence-led. When we decide to support a company, we have a good idea of how it will perform because we have developed a methodology called Practical Impact which allows us to forecast, track, and aggregate impact and ensure we are directing our resources towards those innovations where the evidence points towards outsized impact. 

Practical Impact looks at depth, breadth, and likelihood of success for each investment, allowing us to compare very different opportunities on a single leader board. It lets us compare riskier investments that have higher potential impact with more certain investments that have a more limited impact. If we as funders commit ourselves to placing practical approaches to evidence at the core of our approach to impact investment, we know we will make steady progress. 

At the heart of GIF’s approach is our Innovating for Climate Resilience Fund, launched at COP26 with support from the UK’s Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) and in partnership with the Adaptation Research Alliance and the Global Resilience Partnership. Through both grants and risk capital, in early-stage innovations that aim to support people living on less than $5 per day to build resilience to the ongoing and unavoidable changes in climate.

Both Agritask and PLACE – GIF’s first two investments via the Innovating for Climate Resilience Fund – use globally applicable technologies to address the fundamentally local challenges of adapting to climate change. By providing accurate data on local conditions, they empower local actors to make decisions that boost their resilience and productivity.

GIF has invested $3 million in Agritask (read more here), which unlocks the design of insurance products that can protect smallholder farmers upon the occurrence of extreme weather events, allowing them to undertake more productive activities through the uptake of new technology. The software platform registers and maps small farms, obtains field and high-resolution weather data, and correlates it with plot-level productivity. This empowers agricultural companies to dynamically assess risks, design targeted insurance products, and provide agronomic advice to suppliers.

PLACE (read more here) provides mapping data for urban and coastal areas, strengthening governments and stakeholders’ climate adaptation and resilience efforts. Essential to planning and implementing climate resilience and adaptation for urban areas are ultra-detailed up-to-date digital maps. Topographic maps accurate to centimetres, rather than metres, that show the current condition of roads and drainage, as well as dwelling density and conditions down to the house level, will be a critical contribution to urban resilience amidst the vast urban expansion already underway.

The evidence and information generated through innovations like Agritask and PLACE has far-reaching benefits at national and regional scale, and will support critical decisions around climate resilience and adaptation.


A moment of peril

At the beginning of UNGA on 20 September, the UN called out the “great peril” the world is in. Secretary-General António Guterres said: “it’s high time to put fossil fuel producers, investors and enablers on notice. Polluters must pay. Developed countries must tax the windfall profits of fossil fuel companies.” He then called for the subsequent funds to be redirected towards countries most affected by the climate emergency. 

It matters where in these countries the funds are directed. Aid alone won’t build long-term resilience or bring lasting adaptation. The scale and nature of the climate crisis necessitates innovative and locally-led solutions. The way to protect millions of lives from being destroyed due to the climate crisis is to put serious investment into innovators who bring innovative approaches to this major development challenge – innovators like Agritask and PLACE. 

Are you an early-stage start-up focused on improving climate adaptation and resilience in low-income countries? Please have a look at our funding application page.

Zach Johnstone is Chief of Staff and Director of Policy at the Global Innovation Fund.