The Silver Lining of Early Stage Innovation

For the first time in COP history, almost200 nations unanimously agreed to transition away from fossil fuels for emissions reductions last December. Other positive outcomes from the United Nations COP28 climate conference included policies to triple renewable energy generation and double energy efficiency efforts by 2030, the UAE pledging $30 billion to their climate-focused investment fund Alterra, and wealthier countries committing $700 million to the loss and damage fund for climate-vulnerable communities.

Despite this optimism, capital investments still need to increase from $1 trillion per year to $3.5 trillion annually from now until 2050 to achieve net zero targets. This begs the question: what if in addition to attempting to gain that momentum in funding, we also focused on decreasing the amount required?

The International Energy Agency argues that nearly half of the required emission reductions to decarbonize by 2050 will come from technologies that are currently in demonstration or development stage. Shifting the focus from deploying existing technology to funding rapidly scaling early-stage innovation more efficiently could be an alternative and more cost-effective approach towards sustainability.

Emerging markets start-ups are excellent candidates for driving innovation as sustainability is not a choice but an inherent feature and essential for ensuring their long-term success. For example, whereas companies in many parts of the world have to search for alternative fuels as a choice, most emerging market mobility companies need to build solutions that are non-fuel reliant simply because of the historical cost of fuel compared to household income and even more so, its lack of availability. The Middle East and Africa (MEA), in particular, is becoming a leading hub for building and designing new clean technologies that could be exported worldwide.

A number of regional start-ups are already showing how their early-stage innovations can decrease emissions and contribute to cost savings in the global energy transition. 

RedSea: Transforming Agriculture

Rising temperatures and water shortages significantly threaten global food production, driving demand for solutions that mitigate food insecurity by building resilient and sustainable food supply chains. RedSea offers a scalable solution that enhances productivity and profitability for farmers in hot and water-scarce climates. Their technologies, including heat-blocking greenhouse roofs, intelligent agriculture monitoring systems, and drought-resistant seeds, boost yields, reduce water and energy needs, and strengthen food supply chains to feed the world sustainably. Considering that most of the produce consumed in the United States, Europe and the Gulf are grown in low-to-mid tech greenhouses, solutions that increase their productivity and profitability –such as RedSea’s - unlock immediate value by boosting yields and reducing water and energy needs.

FortyGuard: AI-Driven Heat Mitigation for Urban Planning

FortyGuard,a UAE-based cleantech startup, leverages machine learning (ML) and data-driven insights to combat outdoor heat from global warming. While traditional satellite solutions are expensive, feature limited granularity at three kilometers, and only update once per day, FortyGuard provides an alternative solution that is 100 times cheaper, offers up to 10-meter granularity, and updates every hour. This cost-effective AI tool will be crucial for sustainable urban planning by creating heat maps using high-resolution temperature data for the most accuracy.

MAX: Driving Eco-Friendly Mobility withElectric Motorcycles

MAX, aNigerian mobility startup, focuses on reducing operating costs for taxi drivers by 50% with affordable and less maintenance-prone electric vehicles (EVs). By designing, assembling, and financing electric vehicles at scale, MAX addresses the need for eco-friendly mobility solutions that can be scaled for Africa’s public transportation, even amidst global fuel shortages.

Hydro Wind Energy: A Holistic Approach to Clean Energy and Water

Hydro WindEnergy’s is an innovative startup dedicated to tackling three pivotal challenges: providing affordable and clean electricity, implementing grid-scale energy storage, and advancing seawater desalination. The solution leverages vertical axis wind rotors offshore for harnessing wind energy and employs mechanical-based energy storage systems. These same systems are tailored for large-scale seawater desalination, contributing to efforts in alleviating the global water crisis. Hydro Wind Energy has successfully introduced and brought to market QuenchSea, the world's only low-cost handheld seawater desalination device.

Prominent Players Advancing Other Clean Technologies

While startups drive innovation, governments and other large institutions are pivotal in advancing more expensive technologies like nuclear, hydrogen, and carbon capture. Nuclear power received noteworthy attention at COP28, with 22 countries pledging to triple nuclear capacity by 2050. Another leading climate solution, carbon capture and storage (CCS), witnessed commitments from many nations to double their CCS subsidies and propose carbon capture mandates for fossil fuel plants. Hydrogen, despite having 150 projects at COP28, only secured final investment for 5% of all ventures – signaling a necessity for increased investment from both the private and public sectors.


While the financial and environmental commitments from COP28 are remarkable, achieving net zero by 2050 will require a more cost-effective and less capital-intensive strategy. Rapidly scaling early stage innovations in clean technologies emerges as a viable alternative, with MEA at the forefront of this accelerated journey toward a resilient and decarbonized future.