Are there enough green innovations in the world?

Are there enough green innovations in the world?
Are there enough green innovations in the world?

According to a recent report from the European Patent Office, the Old Continent leads the way in patents filed for new so-called “clean” technologies, followed by China. But the development of these innovations could be greater if it were not hampered by difficulties in accessing financing. But are there enough green innovations in the world?

No less than 750,000 inventions linked to decarbonization, water pollution, alternatives to plastics or even adaptation to global warming have been patented in 25 years around the world. The number of these “cleantech” patents has therefore grown since 1997. We note, in absolute value, an acceleration since 2016 with the enthusiasm around hydrogen or batteries, for example.

Decline in the share of low-carbon in innovations

However, the pace of innovations is not dynamic enough. An OECD report was concerned about this last year. The number of patents for climate technologies increased much more slowly than others during the 2010 decade, respectively by 0.3% compared to 4.6% per year since 2012. Result: the share of low-carbon innovations on the all inventions are declining, going from 12.6% in 2010 to 9% in 2020. With the exception of batteries, the entire sector is affected, from renewable energies to electric mini-grids and transport.

However, in view of growing concerns about the environment, the signing of theParis agreement in 2015, the trend is surprising. Several hypotheses can explain it. Oil prices have been quite low over the last decade,” notes Mohamed Bahlali, research fellow in economics at Paris-Dauphine University. And in this case, “Companies have less incentive to innovate to reduce their dependence on fossil fuels. »The second explanation« would be more linked to climate policies. We have observed a slowdown over the last decade. For example, it was around 2010 that renewable electricity feed-in tariffs were reduced in Europe, including for photovoltaics. »

Betting on immature technologies

Still with regard to photovoltaics, China’s control over the sector has reduced competition to the bare minimum. Companies in difficulty, or even bankruptcy, are not a good breeding ground for innovation. However, policies to mitigate global warming have relied on technology. Analyzes from the International Energy Agency suggest that climate goals cannot be achieved by deploying existing technologies alone. 35% of emissions reductions needed by 2050 would be linked to technologies that are not yet mature. A sign that progress has nevertheless been made, in 2021, the International Energy Agency estimated this share at 50%.

To encourage innovations, Mohamed Bahlali identified several possible measures : “the carbon tax on businesses is a fairly effective instrument. From the moment we put a price on carbon that is high enough, they react quite quickly by trying to find solutions that reduce their dependence on fossil fuels. » This also goes through “ more ambitious climate policies, both in terms of support for R&D and the deployment of these green technologies,” recommends the researcher. Certainly, post-covid recovery plans may have favored aid for research and development. But the OECD called for continued efforts.

These difficulties in any case illustrate the concern surrounding the bet made on technologies to resolve the environmental crisis. A bet which, in the eyes of certain NGOs in particular, diverts too much from the path of sobriety.

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