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World needs climate tech ‘Genius Bar’

Climate tech startups face funding gaps, greater challenges in scaling hardware and a lack of good mentors

Customers getting help at an Apple Genius Bar - climate tech needs a similar team of dedicated problem-solvers Shutterstock/EQRoy
Customers getting help at an Apple Genius Bar - climate tech needs a similar team of dedicated problem-solvers

Zach Faizal, founder of Dubai-born Peec Mobility, has come up with an ingenious method to “upcycle” petrol cars by retrofitting them with electric engines. 

Approximately half the emissions of producing an electric vehicle come from manufacturing the body and chassis, according to the International Council on Clean Transportation, so converting existing bodywork would be a huge contributor to decarbonising transportation.  

However, Peec’s path to implementation was delayed because no global licensing solution for “reimagined” vehicles exists. These cross-sector, multi-stakeholder challenges are difficult for startups to solve alone. 

At Cop28 this past fortnight we have heard a lot about big ideas for tackling climate change: from coordinating universal energy transition to reimagining the global food supply. 

Such huge solutions necessitate global diplomacy, intergovernmental negotiations and trillions of dollars of financing, and they could take years or even decades to implement. 

Macro-solutions are, of course, vital to achieving a sustainable, low-carbon future. But we must act now to accelerate short and medium-term progress while systemic transformation takes its slower course.

I encounter countless promising innovations in my work. Yet many get tangled in knots, facing a whole host of roadblocks with no obvious path around them. 

Some challenges are common to all startups, such as securing the right talent or regulatory and legal complexities. But an HSBC report last year found that many such problems are amplified for climate tech startups specifically, which face persistent funding gaps, greater challenges in scaling hardware and a lack of good mentors.

This is why a new breed of organisation is essential for the green economy. 

Green problem solving 

We need organisations that identify the overlooked, misunderstood or seemingly impossible challenges of climate-friendly technologies and implement practical problem-solving approaches to addressing them, quickly.

We need agile entities that bring expertise and creative insights from different sectors, that can connect diverse stakeholders to facilitate collaboration, break traditional boundaries and troubleshoot hurdles. 

What we need is the equivalent of a Genius Bar, Apple’s customer support service for climate tech – a team of people dedicated solely to problem-solving for climate entrepreneurs.

This is in part what we’re trying to provide at UICCA. Our ethos is to look for opportunities to facilitate innovation and address hurdles to emerging tech adoption by collaborating with startups.

One method we use is the “policy hack”, which convenes relevant public and private stakeholders to untangle issues associated with the development of green mobility or carbon markets. 

We did that with Peec and now we’re on the cusp of securing approval for a retrofitted taxi to take to the streets of Dubai with regulatory approval and a testing licence. 

Building the ecosystem

In a rainforest every plant, tree, animal and insect plays a vital role in maintaining the balance of the ecosystem, no matter how small they seem. Whether they cross-pollinate flowers, produce oxygen or recycle nutrients, each organism contributes to a complex and biodiverse macroenvironment. 

We need to harness this same power to create an ecosystem of ideas and solutions that represent the sustainable economy of the future. To get there, we need effective problem solvers that can bring our planet back into balance.

The UICCA was established to inform, advise and, ultimately, accelerate this transformation.

Sheikha Shamma bint Sultan Al Nahyan is president and chief executive officer of UAE Independent Climate Change Accelerators. UICCA is an independent, non-partisan entity that strives to address climate change challenges, provide innovation-led solutions, bridge gaps, and serve as a platform for engagement between the UAE government, private sector, NGOs and other stakeholders

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