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Target maximum global temperature rise
Predicted warming based on COP26 pledges
Increase in decarbonisation rate required to meet UK pledges
Carbon intensity reductions needed every year from now to 2050
As climate change challenges grow ever more urgent, climate tech innovations are helping reduce emissions and accelerate decarbonisation. PwC has analysed the UK’s rapidly growing climate tech sector and identified 50 innovative start-ups with the potential to make a significant difference in the battle against climate change.
With policy-backed pledges from COP26, the UN Climate Change Conference UK 2021, still leaving us confronting up to 2.4 degrees of warming, climate tech is emerging as a critical tool to accelerate decarbonisation worldwide. The UK government has made binding and internationally leading commitments to decarbonise the economy by 78% against 1990 baseline levels, by 2035, and breakthrough technologies are now emerging at speed and scale across sectors that are critical to meeting emissions reductions targets.
Venture Capital is now also starting to provide, at greater scale, the early stage financing that start-ups need to grow. The UK has become one of the leading global hubs for this sector, ranking top in Europe for total climate tech Venture Capital funding between 2013 and H1 2021 and third globally as a climate tech investment hub behind only the USA and China.
The UK also recently saw record VC investment levels, in excess of £2.0bn, between the second half of 2020 and the first half of 2021 and has more climate tech start-ups that have received funding than any other country in Europe from 2013 to H1 2021.
The climate tech momentum is building. Globally, the first half of 2021 saw record climate tech investment levels in excess of £48bn. That’s a 300% increase over the previous six months and nearly 10 times more than the equivalent period for global investment just five years prior. But while all sectors are underfunded, global investment in climate tech goes disproportionately to some areas: Mobility and Transport, for example, has attracted 45.7% of UK investment despite the sector’s potential UK greenhouse gas (GHG) impact being only 26.9%. The Built Environment, by contrast, represents an estimated 17.0% of emissions, but received only 5.1% of financing.
The PwC UK Future50 looks at up-and-coming UK companies across the climate tech landscape, covering six priority sectors: Built Environment; Energy; Financial services; Food, Agriculture and Land Use (FALU); Industry, Manufacturing and Resource Management; and Mobility and Transport.
It also covers two cross-cutting themes: Climate Change Management and Reporting, and GHG Capture, Removal and Storage.
The sector accounts for 45.7% of total UK cleantech investment (H2 ‘20 - H1 ‘21) and has received significantly more investment than is proportionate to its share of emissions. Despite this relative over-allocation of investment, the sector remains underfunded in absolute terms and will need to continue to attract additional consistent investment in the coming years in order to meet decarbonisation targets, particularly within the areas of low GHG shipping and aviation.
The sector accounts for 26.1% of total UK cleantech investment (H2 ‘20 - H1 ‘21).
A 100% renewable energy mix by 2035 comprises a significant part of the UK Governments 2050 Net Zero strategy. As the costs of renewable generation projects tumble, attention should be diverted to underfunded subsectors. Emerging solutions range from grid-scale storage systems to fusion reactors.
The sector accounts for 10.8% of total UK cleantech investment (H2 ‘20 - H1 ‘21).
FALU was the biggest global growth area in terms of investment received in 2020, nearly doubling in investment since 2019. Although food waste, livestock and land conversion represent significant Net Zero barriers, growth areas such as precision agriculture and vertical farming present significant growth opportunities.
The sector accounts for 4.7% of total UK cleantech investment (H2 ‘20 - H1 ‘21). This sector is relatively underfunded in some critical areas, for instance the UK has none of the 23 green steel foundries in Europe. Emerging areas for climate tech innovation include carbon-negative aggregate and low-carbon packaging.
Though it creates an estimated 21% of global emissions, the Built Environment sector is also significantly underfunded, accounting for only 5.1% of total UK cleantech investment (H2 ‘20 - H1 ‘21).
Climate tech investment around the Built Environment has trailed the global climate tech growth rate, with payback periods perceived to be long, and old infrastructure hard to retrofit. A number of technological innovations, from advanced materials to artificial intelligence, are now emerging with the potential to catalyse accelerated investment.
The sector accounts for 3.7% of total UK cleantech investment (H2 ‘20 - H1 ‘21).
Accelerated by TCFD and the scale of the Net Zero finance transformation opportunity, Financial Services are emerging as a key player around decarbonisation-with innovations ranging from climate risk assessment tools for lending portfolios to mainstreaming of ESG criteria into asset management practices.
While the sector currently accounts for only 1.3% of total UK tech investment (H2 ‘20 - H1 ‘21), there is growing momentum around carbon negative technologies from Direct Air Capture to soil sequestration that help capture, remove or store GHGs and get us back on track for 1.5 degrees. The UK Government has also signalled that it intends to lead globally on CCUS, GHG Capture, Removal and Storage.
The sector accounts for 2.5% of total UK cleantech investment (H2 ‘20 - H1 ‘21).
Demand for robust and transparent GHG reporting and management services is mounting as businesses face pressure to track and reduce GHG emissions. As of April 2022, as an additional driver, the UK government is enshrining TCFD-aligned requirements for large companies to report on climate-related risks and opportunities.
The PwC Net Zero Future50 companies were selected from our Climate Tech Investment Index, a database of over 3,000 climate tech start-ups. We focused on 50 for this publication, analysing for each innovator, the size of the prize in terms of environmental and commercial impact, their maturity and their potential to scale to achieve breakthrough results.
The Net Zero Future50 is a selection of companies that illustrates the opportunity to decarbonise across all sectors, but is neither exclusive nor exhaustive. It is also not to be considered as a ranking and does not constitute professional or investment advice.
Technology is not the panacea, it is the amplifier of intent, and delivering on the carbon challenge will require a series of new collaborations between business, government and civil society. But if there is a carbon chasm to cross, the UK’s Net Zero Future50, and their climate tech counterparts around the world, may prove a vital accelerator of climate progress.
For our part, PwC, with a mission to solve important problems, is committed to trying to help support these game-changing new approaches. Whether you are a start-up wanting to open up access to key markets, a VC looking for the next generation of high impact companies, or an industry giant looking to future-proof your business, please get in touch to see how we could help.