Climate change is a problem important and pressing enough that investors begin to seize the opportunities that arise when trying to solve it. Now they have started widening their nets for other adjacent opportunities.
Technology that serves to conserve the oceans while using it to replace older, more harmful ways of producing energy and food seems to be one such opportunity. In fact, when we asked 10 industry investors to share their thoughts on space, we quickly learned that ocean conservation tech startups are attracting more and more interest from mainstream investors now that climate change is all the rage and people are looking for more ways to mitigate its effects.
“Previously, climate change was more focused on land operations. It’s ‘heating up’ now for ocean conservation,” Daniela Fernandez, managing partner of Seabird Ventures, told TechCrunch.
The world’s oceans and its climate have always been closely linked. Winds generate ocean currents, which in turn influence weather patterns both over open waters and deep within the continents.
“Our planet is 70% ocean, so the urgency to confront and solve climate change can only be properly addressed if we include the ocean in the equation,” said Rita Sousa, partner at Faber Ventures.
The open ocean also contains huge amounts of energy. Previously, accessing it meant drilling into the ocean floor to exploit hard-to-reach oil and gas deposits. But today, that increasingly means harnessing the enormous energy of the ocean’s winds and waves. Only offshore wind has the potential to meet global electricity demand by 2040, according to the IEA, which far exceeds all offshore oil and gas production today.
Stephan Feilhauer, managing director of clean energy at S2G Ventures, highlighted the viability of technologies like offshore wind as commercial alternatives to fossil fuels: “Offshore wind has established supply chains across the world. It is possible today to manufacture, install and operate gigawatts of offshore wind power using technology and equipment that is well established and has years of operational data to help us understand its performance. Offshore wind is the only ocean-based renewable technology that meets these criteria today.
The oceans are also constantly exchanging gases with the atmosphere, mostly removing and storing about 30% of all carbon dioxide pollution. The ocean’s ability to act as a carbon sink has created problems for myriad marine life, which depended on historically stable acidity levels that are now rising. However, this very ability also creates opportunities to implement key nutrient cycles and capture humanity’s excess emissions.
“A healthy ocean will continue to provide crucial opportunities for carbon sequestration,” said Peter Bryant, program director (oceans) at Builders Initiative. “There are a number of opportunities to increase the ocean’s capacity to store carbon. We have biological approaches that include ecosystem restoration, algae cultivation and iron fertilization; chemical solutions in which you use minerals to lock dissolved carbon dioxide into bicarbonates; and electromagnetic approaches that store carbon by passing electric currents through seawater.”
Founders and investors increasingly appreciate the potential of the ocean as a renewable energy resource and its ability to buffer and even solve part of the climate problem. “We are confident in the resilience of the ocean here. It’s simply one of the best resources we have in the fight against the climate, and it means an opportunity,” said Reece Pacheco, partner at Propeller. “We will not achieve our climate goals without the ocean. Complete stop.”
Christian Lim, Managing Director of SWEN Capital Partners, confirmed: “It has taken too long, but finally the ocean is recognized as an essential part of our fight against climate change”.
We spoke with:
- Daniela V. Fernandezfounder and CEO of Sustainable Ocean Allianceand managing partner at Seabird companies
- Team Agnewgeneral partner, Daring ocean adventures
- Peter Bryantprogram director (oceans), Manufacturers’ initiative
- Kate DanherGeneral Manager (Oceans and Seafood), S2G companies
- Francis O’SullivanGeneral Manager (Oceans and Seafood), S2G companies
- Stephan FeilhauerManaging Director (Clean Energy), S2G companies
- Sanjeev KrishnanSenior Managing Director and Chief Investment Officer, S2G companies
- Rita Sousapartner, Faber Ventures
- christian limgeneral director, SWEN Blue Ocean Partners
- Reece Pachecopartner, Helix
Daniela V. Fernandez, Founder and CEO, Sustainable Ocean Alliance (Seabird Ventures)
Climate change is the elephant in the room. Has the rising profile of the issue sucked the air out of the room, or is it drawing attention to ocean conservation that otherwise wouldn’t be there? How have things changed over the past five years?
Climate change has been a hot topic for decades. A decade ago, it was a “nice to have”: “If you have the extra funds to do a climate risk assessment, we’ll spend it on climate change.”
Now it’s more of a “must have”. If we don’t tackle climate change, we will see more extreme weather events. Over the past five years, we have increased our focus on ocean conservation, but there is still a $149 billion annual funding gap for the oceans. Climate change was previously more focused on land operations. It’s “warming up” now for ocean conservation.
We are just beginning to see a clear shift in tone. Previously it was thought that “the ocean is a victim of climate change”, but now it is rather thought that “the ocean can become a climate hero” and play a huge role in reducing our carbon footprint. However, this change is still in its infancy. In particular, the philanthropic community is only just beginning to recognize the urgent need to support efforts to develop ocean-based climate solutions.
Until now, most climate donors have focused on terrestrial or atmospheric issues, and ocean donors have focused on important but only tangential climate-related ocean issues, such as ending unsustainable fishing practices and creating marine protected areas. The ocean is already the planet’s largest carbon sink, and we need to better understand both what absorption of all that carbon is doing to ocean ecosystems, and how much it can potentially contribute without disrupting its other critical ecosystem functions.
It has also been encouraging to see governments take steps to really prioritize and create financial incentives to invest in climate/ocean innovations, such as the bipartisan infrastructure law passed in the United States in 2022. is more of an option if we don’t have a habitable planet within the next seven years. We see society reprioritizing and the climate is one of the highest right now.
Climate change has been called “recession-proof” because governments and investors have come to recognize the scope, scale and urgency of the problem. Do you think this also applies to ocean conservation technologies?
Yes. Climate change and ocean restoration are intrinsically linked. The ocean is humanity’s greatest buffer against climate change, producing more than half of the air we breathe and absorbing 93% of excess heat from global warming.
Ocean technology and climate change companies and investors all have the same goal. The urgency of the climate crisis has kept passionate funders and entrepreneurs engaged in developing solutions, regardless of the state of the economy.
Climate change has dramatically affected the oceans, causing everything from rising water temperatures to greater acidification. How do you address the issue of climate change in your investments?
Seabird Ventures internally tracks the impact and reports on the social and/or environmental factors of our investments. We have produced external reports on the following key ocean impact areas:
- Removal or avoidance of blue carbon and CO2e: Initiatives in this category are extremely important for capturing and avoiding harmful GHG emissions, which contribute to climate change and ocean acidification. The impact of these companies is measured by the weight of CO2e emissions reduced or sequestered thanks to the solution.
- Waste reduction and circular use: We focus on companies that reduce the amount of solid waste and plastic polluting our oceans. Two commonly used approaches are prevention of plastic leaks into waterways and plastic cleaning solutions. Plastic pollutants are responsible for smothering marine life and destroying marine and coastal ecosystems. The monitoring of the impact in this category is done by measuring the mass of plastic reduced, avoided or recycled. Companies offering fully biodegradable plastic alternatives are also considered in this space for their ability to replace the use of traditional plastics.