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Technology: from environmental villain to saviour?

BNP Paribas Asset Management

Technology and the environment (or sustainability) do not really seem like natural partners. After all, technology is at the root of many of the environmental, climate and social problems confronting us today. Since the onset of the industrial revolution, industrialisation and economic growth have gone hand in hand with the scourge of environmental pollution.  

However, advances in technology are now increasingly helping to tackle environmental and climate issues while also offering solutions to other major challenges such as population growth, a better standard of living for more people, obsolete or rudimentary infrastructure and the depletion of finite resources. Amid the growing awareness that action is imperative on all fronts, it would appear that technology is reinventing itself as the saviour of the planet.

Technology for environmental good – 1

Solar farms – In China, renewable energy is steaming ahead: according to projections in its latest five-year plan, between now and 2022, China intends to increase its total solar and wind power production capacity to more than 300 gigawatts. In 2015, solar farm generated power amounted to only 50 gigawatts. Growth will most likely be bolstered by the steady fall in the cost of photovoltaic components, down by 40% since 2010. When substantial economies of scale feed off the sharp rise in demand for these components, the result looks set to be a self-sustaining virtuous cycle.

Its beneficial contributions can be seen in many shapes and forms. Ever-smarter meters are making our energy and water networks more efficient. LED lighting is rapidly establishing itself as the new standard. And electricity is evidently superseding petrol and diesel as the clean fuel for cars and, in the future, ships and aircraft. Solar and wind energy have made major advances in terms of technology and efficiency, which has drastically improved their affordability and accessibility.

Water treatment and purification technologies are helping us to reduce water waste and reclaim clean water from effluent. Increasingly sensitive sensors enable infrastructure operators to identify leaks and obsolescence at an earlier stage. Test and sensor equipment is also playing a greater role in health and environmental risk monitoring and quality assurance.

Technology for environmental good – 2

Wind farms in the North Atlantic – New, practical alternative energy generation solutions are emerging thanks to leaps in technology that have only taken shape very recently. Does this mean the challenge of climate change can actually be overcome? According to a study by the Carnegie Institution, if offshore wind power turbines were installed over an area the size of India in the North Atlantic, this vast field could supply all the energy consumed by the world’s population.

The food, agriculture and forestry sectors are embracing technology to become more sustainable and efficient as they strive to meet the growing need to feed and house the world’s swelling population, while maintaining quality levels and mitigating the environmental impact. GPS technology is being harnessed to ensure that water, manure and pesticides are only used where necessary and no longer on the massively wasteful and polluting scale of the past.

Technology for environmental good – 3

Innovations in tackling plastic waste – Large and start-up companies are investing in finding solutions to reduce plastic packaging as well as reducing the existing massive waste piles. Major drinks groups have teamed up to work on mineral water bottles made from sawdust or farm crop residues. An Indian chemistry professor has developed a process to include plastic waste in the road laying mix, while a US architectural graduate has suggested including granulated waste plastic in a cement mix.

It is too early to say whether technology can repair the damage already done, but it is clearly an increasingly positive force for good – and this is a trend that fund investors can turn to their advantage. BNP Paribas Asset Management offers investors the opportunity to invest in funds that focus specifically on companies dedicated to the improvement of the natural environment and to climate change prevention and adaptation strategies.

BNP Paribas Asset Management’s environmental experts are closely following how innovations can result in major breakthroughs in environmental protection and watching which companies will be able to benefit.

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17 Juli 2019 3 min
Global views and trends