Editor’s note: Helen Bertelli is the founder of Wake Forest, NC based Benecomms, an agency with a focus on climate change communications. She is an On Deck Climate Tech Fellow and co-founder of the international organization Women in Climate Tech.

WAKE FOREST – Climate change is the defining problem of our time with risks and impacts—from sea level rise to drought and wildfire—that will touch virtually every community and every business. Costs to financial markets alone (not including the toll on human health and life) are estimated at $23 trillion between now and 2050.

Thursday’s Executive Order by President Biden directing financial regulators to measure, mitigate and disclose climate-related financial risks, is one example of a series of moves by government and investors to understand and manage climate risk. These actions are spurring innovation nationwide, and North Carolina has the potential to become an epicenter of a new and developing industry: climate tech.

Climate tech is a rapidly emerging industry. It is similar to cleantech but includes a broader swath of technologies like agtech, foodtech, carbon capture, upcycling, geoengineering, and climate data and intelligence. It can be defined as products and services enabling communities, companies, and governments to understand their risk and exposure to the effects of climate change, enabling action for adaptation and resilience. And the sector is taking off.

In 2020, investments in climate tech startups topped $17b. According to “The State of Climate Tech 2020” by PwC, venture funding into climate tech has increased by 3750% since 2013. As of 2019, the climate industry has employed over 9 million people and generates over $1 trillion in annual revenue.

North Carolina is positioned well to benefit from this burgeoning market. Our state’s technology industry as a whole is growing at twice the rate of the national average thanks to an educated workforce, great cost of living, and resources dedicated to tech and entrepreneurism (among the reasons our area was chosen by Apple for its new $1 billion campus).

In addition, North Carolina has burgeoning education, training, incubation, and organizational resources geared to spurring innovation in climate tech. These include Asheville-based National Centers for Environmental Information (NCEI) and The Collider; Research Triangle-based CleanTech cluster; Duke University’s Energy Initiatives program, and more.

As a result, there are a growing number of successful climate tech North Carolina companies. Just a few examples:

  • The Climate Service (TCS): This Durham-based company has experienced rapid growth and now counts some of the world’s largest asset managers, real estate investors, Fortune 500 firms, and public bodies including the U.S. Federal Government as clients, with strategic partners including Aon and IBM.
  • Carbon Insights, a company translating consumer spending behavior into carbon impact. carbIN’s technology enables financial institutions to communicate their customers’ carbon impact, to reduce and offset their carbon footprint.
  • Breezi, predictive maintenance technology for HVAC systems, running equipment at peak efficiency, saving energy, and ensuring indoor air quality.
  • Flux Hybrids is headquartered in Raleigh, NC, and uses hybrid conversion technology to convert commercial and consumer vehicles to electric and increase fuel efficiency.

There are many ways our state could work to grow this sector of our economy to benefit from the rise of climate tech investment and job creation. Carbon capture and climate tech products can, for example, be research and resource-heavy to develop. Lab space, access equipment, and grants are a necessity. Encouraging the allocation of resources from public as well as private organizations for use by climate tech entrepreneurs will be critical.

Also, simply acknowledging and encouraging climate tech as an industry is a good place to start, and this begins with the words we use. Nationwide political and business leaders’ reluctance to speak openly about climate change in years past has been well documented. The use of alternative terms (‘green,’ ‘clean,’ etc.) has sometimes had the effect of muddying the waters, leading to more questions than clarity. As fighting climate change is going to take everything we’ve got, we should speak the same language and be clear about what we are up against.

And go to battle we must. Multiple studies, including the North Carolina Climate Risk Assessment and Resilience Plan, show how climate change has already begun impacting areas across the state. Deaths and damage from extreme heat, flooding, and heavy rainfall are only projected to rise.

By and large, the people in North Carolina believe their elected leaders should act urgently to combat the climate crisis. Doing so in a way that also spurs job creation, innovation, and attracts investment is a win-win for our state.