The Emerging Leaders in Environmental and Energy Policy Network

Omaid Sharifi painting for the Tipping Points conference
July 12, 2017

BY MARIT SALL (This is an English summary of the article, written by ELEEP Alumna Marit Sall, and published by Cleantech ForEst.)

Last month I had an opportunity to participate at the Atlantic Council, Ecologic Institute, and ELEEP’s joint conference Tipping Points in Washington DC. The remarkable event brought together respected policy makers (like former Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz), well known entrepreneurs (like the founder of SunEdison Jigar Shah) and corporate representatives from Statoil and BP. The conference was dedicated to young professionals in energy and environment, as well as inspiring leaders (Millennium Fellowship) across the world. The aim of the event was to spark conversations about finding energy and climate balance. In climate science, there are well-described events or tipping points, that would dramatically change our living conditions on Earth, like the melting Arctic ice. Yet, the conference challenged participants to identify those tipping points with positive impact, where the idea, event, or technology spreads exponentially, contributing to the major reductions of greenhouse gasses. This article summarizes the current situation, and reflects my views on potential tipping points and actions I am committed to take to foster scalable sustainable solutions.

The world uses nearly 96 million barrels of oil and liquid fuels per day. “To put it into perspective, this is as much as 6000 full Olympic size pools”, said an ELEEP Alumni Julia De la Cruz. Despite popular tweets about record-breaking costs of solar and ambitious renewables agendas set by several cities around the world, reducing our oil consumption and gating the global warming below 2 degree Celsius, is not a walk in the park. Economic growth is essential for sustainable development. At the same time we need to keep electrifying our energy and transportation industry, vastly increase energy efficiency, and material optimization in production. To take on the global challenge, we need everybody around the table. However, not everybody agrees on what the challenge is. Oxford PhD student and ELEEP Fellow Samuel Hampton told in his opening speech how politicized the debate about climate change is in our society. A recent study by Yale showed that more than any other topic, opinion on climate change correlated with one’s political affiliation. This means more than abortion or gun control. One’s opinion on climate change will show whether they are most likely to support the left or right. In the current situation, more effort is put into vilifying the other side, rather than finding working solutions.

The complexity of climate change issues is also not limited to personal views of the world. While the tech-advanced and innovative regions praise the emerging solar installations, people working in coal are having increasingly tough times. Besides Trump, perhaps no-one tries to argue that millions of solar jobs are more important that tens of thousands of coal miners, yet it is essential to acknowledge that solar does not replace coal necessarily in the exact same regions. That, in return, creates redistribution of wealth and discontent in large areas.

Even when economic interests are seemingly aligned, cooperation between parties, can be extremely hard to reach. The Paris agreement is a good framework to refer to, when making suggestions to policy makers or demanding commitment from big corporations. The Agreement also opens up new opportunities for green tech startups that can offer cities and corporates scalable solutions to tackle pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. BP’s Director of Internal Affairs, an ELEEP Fellow, Sally Kolenda, revealed that BP, together with other industry partners, have devoted 1 billion dollars to low carbon investments. These traditional oil based industries are looking to decarbonize their production or diversify investments. They are also at the same time helping to fund and accelerate the growth of green tech startups. However, every day I see sustainable innovation centres and startups accelerators who are unwilling to work with oil companies, picturing them as “green washers” or enemies to fight with.

The world needs millions fans to create a tipping point. Maybe 96 million of them. To put that into perspective, it’s almost as the size of Justin Bieber’s followers (97)*. To reach a tipping point, we need millions of cleantech fans, “climate heroes”, who are developing more sustainable, smart, reusable and sexier products. Those are inspiring entrepreneurs, whose technologies and services do not leave room for traditional polluting solutions, nor arguments about climate change existence. They are showing the way, creating demand and making it easy to live resource efficiently.

Both renowned entrepreneurs and investors Jigar Shah and Richard Branson have been talking about climate change, as one of the biggest business opportunities of our time. As a co-founder of green innovation support organization Cleantech ForEst, I see a great potential for fast development in the green sector in Estonia as well. In two consecutive years, we have found and supported technologies from local universities, which potential was seen and funded by Europe’s largest greentech business ideas competition. This year, we are planning to support 10 more early stage technologies and 6-10 green startups with 150 000 euros.

To highlight the importance of green startups in fighting global warming, and increase the number of these “climate heroes”, Cleantech ForEst is happy to announce that during the EU Estonian presidency, we are becoming one of the leading partners for the global 24-hours hacktahon – Climathon***. The event, which happens simultaneously within 100 cities across the world, is organized in Estonia in cooperation with the Estonian Ministry of the Environment and Europe’s main climate innovation initiative Climate-KIC. We invite all the people interested in creating smart and efficient city solutions, to start a business out of that and participate in the hackathon on October 27th. Climathon offers an amazing platform for starting entrepreneurs to increase their visibility.

According to Paul Hawken’s latest book, that was released a couple of months ago, the solutions to decreasing greenhouse gasses are widely available already. I think we need to put an effort in supporting the cleantech fans who are able to develop, implement, and scale up these solutions. With Cleantech ForEst, we are providing that support - we are ready to roll out the barrels of oil and bring in the fans.


* A witty illustrative fact pointed out by Julia De la Cruz
** Cleantech ForEst (Cleantech for Estonia) is a green innovation support organization in Estonia.


Marit Sall is Emerging Leaders in Environmental and Energy Policy (ELEEP) alumna with the Atlantic Council and Ecologic Institute.

This is an English summary of the article, written by ELEEP Alumna Marit Sall, and published by Cleantech ForEst.

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