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Video transcript: What can business learn from space?

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13:46

What can business learn from space?

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Angellica Bell:

Hello and welcome. Now every single one of us has a responsibility to tackle the climate emergency. Businesses and governments have a significant role to play in driving the positive change we need. And as they look to make that change happen, they may find answers in some unexpected places. We're talking today about what businesses can learn from space, and why the space race may provide important lessons for the race to net zero. Joining me to discuss this are Zubin Randeria, ESG Leader at PwC UK; Tanya Sinclair, Policy Director UK and Ireland at ChargePoint; and Libby Jackson, human exploration programme manager at the UK Space Agency. It's great to have you all here today. I wanted to ask you about the 1960s with the space race, and how it relates to us today in tackling climate change, and also the race to net zero, let's start off with you, Libby.

Libby Jackson:

When you look back, the space race, the late 1950s and 1960s were an amazing time in space exploration. The world went from having never put anything into space in the late 1950s, the first satellite flew in 1957, the first human in space in 1961. Less than a decade later, we've gone from that very first human spaceflight to landing humans on the moon. And in order to do that, we had to develop an entire industry. We had to work out how to take computers from the size of rooms and shrink them into shoe boxes. We had to work out how you could communicate with people in space, how you could keep them alive in space. And all of that was done in a background of two countries competing to prove that they were better than the other. It was the United States and the Soviet Union, but that race has led to an industry that we all rely on every single day today. We have seen innovations come into our everyday lives in the form of materials and in applications. We have loads and loads of things that come from the space industry, and today it's an industry of collaboration.

Tanya Sinclair:

Yeah, certainly in my industry in electric car charging, the parallels are really clear actually, even though there are decades between the space race and what we are doing today. Talking about starting an industry from scratch 15 years ago, there weren't really electric cars, and there was no electric car charging industry. And now there are dozens of companies, so many of them here in the UK who are scale ups and really are growing very quickly, all with the ambition to provide enough charging infrastructure, so that people feel ready to get into electric cars. And why is that so important? Because we have a net zero target to meet, and a huge part of that is the decarbonisation of transport. So it's really important that we take those lessons, and we understand how to do things quickly, innovate, go from design to commercialisation really, really quickly because we don't have the luxury of time when it comes to dealing with net zero.

Zubin Randeria:

We talk about a challenge and the space race was a phenomenal challenge, wasn't it, in 10 years what was achieved. But when we think about Net Zero, we've got 10 years to halve global emissions, to reduce global warming by 1.5 degrees, otherwise the scientists tell us there will be pretty bad implications for the planet. And therefore, whilst the space race was a race between two superpowers, for national prestige, this is a challenge of a completely different order. This is a planetary challenge. This isn’t one that can be restricted to individual companies, organisations, countries, this is one where the planet needs to solve it together.

Angellica:

Libby, you talked about America at the time of the Space race, President Kennedy, he said he wanted to put a man on the moon, and he publicly stated that. Do you think that was what made it happen and is that where we're going with net zero?

Libby:

I think when you look back in history what happened, there were various things, there was that challenge. And when Kennedy said that you have to remember the Americans had one human, Alan Shepard, who had been in space for 15 minutes, it was crazy to think that that could be done.

Tanya:

Yeah, the question of political will is a really interesting one, because suddenly in my field in the mobility and decarbonisation of transport, you have a lot of politicians all over the world making really big commitments that they want to see the end of petrol and diesel vehicles. Here in the UK, the date is 2030, after which you won't be able to buy a new petrol or diesel car or van. However, there are really noble intentions that politicians set those targets for, but it almost takes us off the hook in a way, because like you were saying, there is a lot of individual responsibility when it comes to achieving net zero. We all have our role to play. And so politicians can set targets, but we all have to be collectively part of the effort to meet them.

Zubin:

The key thing is to follow through and execute on those commitments. Not all of the solutions are there, there needs to be further innovations for example, to deliver on what needs to happen, which we don't know today, a bit like when Kennedy made that statement.

Libby:

Necessity is the mother of invention, we saw it then, we've seen it now, and we will see it, with a race to net zero if everybody comes together.

Angellica:

Innovation is a key word here, because the space race was a breakthrough for innovation. Do you think it should be a key word for net zero?

Tanya:

Yes absolutely, although innovation needs skills, it needs the pipeline of people and ideas going into it in order to develop that innovation, especially here in the UK. The good thing about ideas is that they can be global, but here we have a real opportunity for kids who are in school now to be able to be inspired by the challenge of net zero and really go into careers that can practically deliver that innovation, so we're there by 2050.

Zubin:

There has been a phenomenal amount of innovation. If we only look back, seven or eight years, 2013, there's about half a billion dollars of investment in climate tech from the venture capital industry, wind forward six years, and there is $16 billion. Now that's a rate of growth three times as much as it has gone into artificial intelligence, which we see all around us. But when you look in aggregate, it’s still a drop in the ocean compared with the innovation that's needed to solve such a global problem. We've seen so much progression in EV charging for cars and solar charging and stuff like that, but there's still so much more that needs to be done, that we don't know today, and we need to solve a very big problem together collectively and collaborate, and therefore, that's going to drive a significant amount of innovation going forward.

Angellica:

So I suppose it's about greater collaboration and the communication between both sides?

Zubin:

This is one area where business can really learn from not just space, but science. Science is based upon building upon the shoulders of others, what has gone before. And for business, by and large, it's a tendency to compete, to do things proprietary, to keep things to yourself to create value for your own organisation, for your own shareholders. Here is a problem, which can only be solved, if organisations, governments, and non-governmental organisations collaborate to solve a planetary problem. This isn't a shareholder problem or a company problem, and therefore this is one thing where this will only get solved through collaboration.

Tanya:

Yeah, I agree with that, but there is also a really interesting other angle to that, which is that competition also can accelerate the pace of change. You see it in the car industry at the moment, a lot of car companies, really driven by Tesla at the forefront, are in a race competing with one another to deliver electric cars, and vans, and trucks as quickly as possible, and that competition is really helping move our market forward more quickly than it otherwise would have. But yes, there's also examples of collaboration going on in that space, because a lot of those companies are working together in a way they've never done before, whether it's on battery technology or software to actually bring those cars that might have different badges on them, but actually have the same technology underneath.

Angellica:

That goes back to what you're saying about Russia and America.

Libby:

I was about to say, you bring it together, that the whole space industry grew, and the technology that we have brewing out of the Second World War, the rockets that we all rely on to put all the satellites and spacecraft in space, that we all rely on every single day, that technology came out of the Second World War. You then had the Cold War, and America and the Soviet Union, racing each other to get to the moon, but after that, they came together, they opened up to the rest of the world, and we built the International Space Station, and that has been a collaboration of America, Canada, Russia, Japan, countries across Europe today, including the UK, worked together to build this amazing unique laboratory.

Angellica:

So where does all this investment come from, how do we pay for this?

Zubin:

It’s a really interesting question, because there is a significant amount of capital around the world that is looking for a home. Think about the shift in capital as investors, big pension funds, insurance companies, sovereign wealth funds are looking to deploy their capital. Increasingly, they're looking for clean, responsible, well run companies, and we see that's the opportunity, if you can organise your business, so that you can demonstrate how clean it is, then you're going to attract capital. It's interesting, just in the UK, there’s long-term investors who invest in infrastructure. The UK needs about £40 billion a year invested in low carbon digital infrastructure. About half of that is accessible to pension funds, people who are very patient, who can invest for the long term, but half of that is high risk stuff, but the big challenge then is de-risk that investment, to develop it out of the lab, commercialise it, and take it into what we see in, for example, electric vehicles today rather than 15 years ago, then it is available to be investable by long term capital.

Tanya:

Yeah, in the electric vehicle sector, the assumption is that governments have to seed or at least start to fund the sector in order to make it sustainable. Over the last decade, the government has funded every new purchase of an electric car, from what used to be 5000 pounds, now is at around 2000 pounds, and that's not necessary anymore, because these businesses are growing and they're sustainable in their own rights. The company that I work for went public this year, and listed on the New York Stock Exchange, there is a demand and an interest in wanting to invest in these kinds of companies and then drive the technology forward that way.

Angellica:

So how do you bring people along into this race in net zero, how do you inspire them to think, yeah, we're going to jump on this bandwagon.

Libby:

That’s something where I think space and human spaceflight plays its part. In that astronauts always come back from space and are able to share first hand seeing our planet, our beautiful very delicate planet in this amazing blankness of space, with this thin teeny tiny delicate atmosphere, and it's stories like that I think that open people's eyes where we have a part to play in highlighting how important our planet is, how unique it is, as far as we know entire universe at the minute. That's somewhere where I think space can be that. We also play our part in looking at how all this is going to happen, to monitor the earth, to make sure that we are understanding all of these things, we have to have data, and of all the data that we need half of it can only be got from space.

Zubin:

I think this is a really interesting one, because in business it's not one where business has to convince people to come along. It's working the other way around. It's our people who are saying, ‘this is the world that I want to live in, an environment I want to live in, a planet I want to live in, a society we want to live in.’ And our people are wanting business to catch up. There's a lot of pressure from younger people, in particular, in terms of the organisations that they want to work for, on the values that they associated with those organisations, and selecting those organisations that they want to participate in their careers.

Angellica:

This ties in nicely with the word legacy here, because the space race, it created a legacy, had a massive impact. Do you think there's going to be a huge legacy with net zero for our children?

Zubin:

It's our job to leave our planet that is fit for our children. We have a very short space of time, it feels like a long time, people talk about 2050. 2050 can be with us quite soon. We've got 10 years to halve global emissions, and 10 years was the time, which we were amazed that we sent a man to the moon.

Tanya:

That if we can talk to our next generation about net zero being a problem of the present, even though we've set ourselves a nice convenient faraway target, then it's really something that will help the next generation want to solve a problem, because it's a problem of today and it's a problem that will be in our lifetimes, but very much part of theirs as well.

Angellica:

Well, this has been a brilliant and wide-ranging conversation, and I've enjoyed every minute of it. I really want to thank our panellists for taking part and sharing so much insight into the topic that will shape all of our lives in the years to come. I hope you've enjoyed watching. This has been one of a series of five episodes, all exploring how the biggest challenges facing business will be better solved together.

 

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Zubin Randeria

Zubin Randeria

Partner, PwC United Kingdom

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