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3 takeaways from COP28 from Houston biotech, sustainability founder

Fresh from COP28, Houston innovator Moji Karimi shared his biggest observations from the event. Photo courtesy of Digital Wildcatters

Before he even had a chance to recover from the jetlag, Moji Karimi was thinking about his biggest takeaways from 2023 United Nations Climate Change Conference or Conference of the Parties, more commonly known as COP28.

Karimi, CEO and co-founder of Cemvita, a biotech company with sustainable solutions for the energy transition, joined the Houston Innovators Podcast this week to discuss what his biggest takeaways were.

"It was a pretty amazing experience," Karimi says, comparing the event to how CERAWeek has evolved to really have a strong presence in its innovation-focused track called Agora. "This year you had a massive section for innovation and sustainability. I think that will become a theme in COP29 and beyond to bring entrepreneurs, investors, and more participating in the event."

Karimi's three big observations are outlined below, as is the full podcast with him sharing more about Cemvita's growth this year.

Expanding the environmental footprint

One of the big things Karimi observed was that there seems to be a rising conversation about not only how carbon emissions are effecting climate change, but that companies and countries need to look more broadly at their environmental impacts.

Specifically, Karimi learned about the new framework Task Force on Nature-Related Financial Disclosures (TNFD), an addition to Task Force on Climate-Related Financial Disclosures (TCFD), which was introduced a few years back.

"TNFD is the new framework to capture non-carbon emissions-related aspects of an impact on the environment, such as biodiversity loss," he says.

Language has evolved to reflect this shift too, Karimi says, referencing "nature-positive tech" and "nature tech." He says he feels like Europe has led the way so far, but in the next year or two the conversations will come to the United States.

"Some of this is driven by COP30 being in Brazil and being focused on biodiversity," he adds.

A major focus on nuclear

Karimi says he saw a lot of support for nuclear energy, which can lower the cost and carbon intensity of power. Personally, Karimi is wondering what happens if and win nuclear is better adapted, solving the current challenges the power industries face.

"What I'm interested in is so many other climate tech applications that are enabled once you have low-cost, and low-carbon power from nuclear energy. That will be interesting to watch," he says.

Actionism, not activism

Lastly, Karimi says he saw a huge push toward action, not simply advocacy. The emphasis on "actionism" included activations for COP28 attendees to share what actions could be taken now.

"The point was to all come together, no matter where you come from, and focus on what actions you can take," he says. "It was interesting to bring people together in a different way. We'll see how that translates into actions from here on."

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A View From HETI

Houston could have ranked higher on a global report of top cities in the world if it had a bit more business diversification. Photo via Getty Images

A new analysis positions the Energy Capital of the World as an economic dynamo, albeit a flawed one.

The recently released Oxford Economics Global Cities Index, which assesses the strengths and weaknesses of the world’s 1,000 largest cities, puts Houston at No. 25.

Houston ranks well for economics (No. 15) and human capital (No. 18), but ranks poorly for governance (No. 184), environment (No. 271), and quality of life (No. 298).

New York City appears at No. 1 on the index, followed by London; San Jose, California; Tokyo; and Paris. Dallas lands at No. 18 and Austin at No. 39.

In its Global Cities Index report, Oxford Economics says Houston’s status as “an international and vertically integrated hub for the oil and gas sector makes it an economic powerhouse. Most aspects of the industry — downstream, midstream, and upstream — are managed from here, including the major fuel refining and petrochemicals sectors.”

“And although the city has notable aerospace and logistics sectors and has diversified into other areas such as biomedical research and tech, its fortunes remain very much tied to oil and gas,” the report adds. “As such, its economic stability and growth lag other leading cities in the index.”

The report points out that Houston ranks highly in the human capital category thanks to the large number of corporate headquarters in the region. The Houston area is home to the headquarters of 26 Fortune 500 companies, including ExxonMobil, Hewlett Packard Enterprise, and Sysco.

Another contributor to Houston’s human capital ranking, the report says, is the presence of Rice University, the University of Houston and the Texas Medical Center.

“Despite this,” says the report, “it lacks the number of world-leading universities that other cities have, and only performs moderately in terms of the educational attainment of its residents.”

Slower-than-expected population growth and an aging population weaken Houston’s human capital score, the report says.

Meanwhile, Houston’s score for quality is life is hurt by a high level of income inequality, along with a low life expectancy compared with nearly half the 1,000 cities on the list, says the report.

Also in the quality-of-life bucket, the report underscores the region’s variety of arts, cultural, and recreational activities. But that’s offset by urban sprawl, traffic congestion, an underdeveloped public transportation system, decreased air quality, and high carbon emissions.

Furthermore, the report downgrades Houston’s environmental stature due to the risks of hurricanes and flooding.

“Undoubtedly, Houston is a leading business [center] that plays a key role in supporting the U.S. economy,” says the report, “but given its shortcomings in other categories, it will need to follow the path of some of its more well-rounded peers in order to move up in the rankings.”


This article originally ran on InnovationMap.

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