“The climate miracle is that we have so many solutions already”

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We speak with the renowned innovator and chairman of Solar Impulse, Bertrand Piccard, as he prepares to lead climate discussions at the forthcoming Global Leadership Forum Summit in Geneva.

IG: To meet the world’s great challenges, diverse solutions will be needed that affect every aspect of infrastructure design, construction, maintenance, and operation. Just how crucial is it for industry leaders to understand the incredible diversity of innovations underway? 

BP: “People don’t understand that new construction can be energy neutral and carbon neutral. You can have almost CO2-free cement, can make concrete out of demolition waste, have insulation that makes the building energy neutral. Heat pumps use three to four times less energy than a conventional heating or cooling system.

“This is something we need to do immediately. If you want to house the 2.5 billion people that are going to live in cities by 2050, you need to build a city the size of Manhattan every four months. It’s unbelievable, but true. If you build inefficiently, with bad insulation and outdated heating systems, you are locked in for 50 years.”

“There’s no silver bullet, no one solution that’s going to change the world. But the miracle is that there are so many solutions”
Bertrand Piccard

IG: How can we do more to help inform industry of the most applicable innovations available for each sector it operates in, while seeking to avoid a ‘picking winners’ approach that may stifle the progress of other innovations.

BP: “There’s no silver bullet, no one solution that’s going to change the world. But the miracle is that there are so many solutions. It’s what I like to call the piranha theory. If one piranha bites you, you hardly feel it. But if 1,500 piranhas attack you at once, you’re a skeleton within three minutes.

“1,500 is the number of solutions that the Solar Impulse Foundation has already identified to protect the environment in an economically profitable way. And this is what we have to aim for with all these solutions. Each solution bites off a little bit of pollution, a little bit of CO2, and in the end, you have a modern, efficient and clean world.”

“We URGENTLY need modern and much more demanding norms and standards, which impose energy and resource efficiency, circular economy, respect for biodiversity”
Bertrand Piccard

IG: Having led innovation and pushed boundaries yourself, how can industry create and support a culture among its people and companies of doing the same at every faster speed than has been seen before?

BP: “By restoring the image of innovation. Not just by pushing it with grants, scholarships, pitches, and incubators into a valley of death that many start-ups can’t get through, but by pulling it to market by creating the need to use it.

“We therefore urgently need modern and much more demanding norms and standards, which impose energy and resource efficiency, circular economy, respect for biodiversity. These are all measures that would make it obvious to implement all the solutions that already exist and show the way to the next ones.” 

“if you have economic, industrial and finance leaders asking for political and legal framework changes, these are more likely to happen” Bertrand Piccard

IG: As we move to climate ‘delivery delivery delivery’ following COP27, how optimistic are you that the infrastructure industry is living up to the challenge, and can leaders coming together to chart a course do more to ensure greater success?

BP: “If we are optimistic, we do nothing because we think that things will work themselves out. If you are pessimistic, you don’t do anything either because you think it’s too late to act. So I am neither an optimist nor a pessimist, but a realist, in the sense that I want to obtain a result beyond everyone’s ideologies!

“As for your second question, if you have economic, industrial and finance leaders asking for political and legal framework changes, these are more likely to happen, because they are the ones running the economy. So what I try to do is have these people be the ambassadors of this message. If you modernise the legal framework, it will help modernise the world.”

Bertrand Piccard, chairman of Solar Impulse, will give the keynote address at the Global Leadership Forum Summit in Geneva on 27 April 2023.