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Venture capitalists join net-zero alliance as climate tech investments grow

A group of 23 venture capitalist firms in the US and Europe has formed an alliance to push startups to set greenhouse gas emission targets from the outset.

The Venture Climate Alliance (VCA) offers a boost for the Glasgow Financial Alliance for Net Zero (GFANZ), the voluntary coalition of financial institutions formed in 2021 to accelerate the shift to a zero-emissions economy.

The venture capitalists become a new sector-specific alliance under GFANZ, adding fresh members to the umbrella organization after several high-profile departures in recent months.

"We think that investing in clean energy transition and climate solutions is broadly on the rise and that there is a very high degree of investor interest," said Peter Fox-Penner, a partner and chief impact officer of Energy Impact Partners, a VCA founder.

New sustainability reporting regulations in the European Union, the SEC's upcoming climate disclosure rule, the massive infusion of clean energy funding from the US Inflation Reduction Act and the latest dire report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change have led to a surge in entrepreneurial activity in the clean technology space, Fox-Penner said in an interview.

Ambitious goals

Entrepreneurs funded by VCA members will not be required to commit to net-zero emissions by 2050, the target set by the Paris Agreement on climate change. Rather, they will be coached and encouraged to build a sustainable business that will eventually meet that goal.

The alliance has been in the works for the past year as founding members and GFANZ hammered out the wording of its official commitment, which spells out expectations, responsibilities and the structure of the group.

With that framework in place, the venture capitalists will now try to establish a robust methodology for measuring emissions and a mechanism for using carbon offsets, said Jason Pontin, a partner with DCVC, another founder of the VCA.

"One of the problems that GFANZ has run into and that the venture capitalists must now solve in their own way is what a rigorous methodology will look like," Pontin said in an interview. "And what a carbon offset may be for companies that are not themselves directly [driving] down emissions."

The alliance hopes to eventually align all venture capital investments with net-zero goals, Pontin said. All its members have been recruited through word of mouth, but with the alliance now official, members expect it to grow quickly.

Venture capitalists invested a record $16.2 billion in new clean energy companies in 2022, according to a recent report by the research firm PitchBook Data Inc.

Some ups and downs

GFANZ has been in the news in recent months after some of its members suddenly departed, shining a light on the limits of voluntary associations trying to tackle climate change.

In December 2022, Vanguard Group Inc. quit the Net Zero Asset Managers Initiative amid growing pressure on individual asset managers with holdings in Republican-led US states. German bank GLS walked out of the Net-Zero Banking Alliance in February, citing a report showing that 72% of alliance members have continued to finance fossil fuel projects in Africa.

Meanwhile, three insurance companies have left the Net-Zero Insurance Alliance in the past month over material antitrust risk and other stated concerns. All three groups are sector-specific alliances within GFANZ.

But other high-profile GFANZ members, including asset management giant BlackRock Inc., have said they plan to stay. The coalition today counts 550-plus members representing a balance sheet of $150 trillion, not including its latest 23 members.

"The Venture Climate Alliance fills an important role in the effort to transition to a net-zero economy," Curtis Ravenel, senior adviser to GFANZ co-chair Mark Carney, said in an emailed statement. "The global transition requires all of finance — including venture capital — to move towards a net-zero common goal."

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