US President Joe Biden has had the top job for less than a week but billionaire Bill Gates has wasted no time in getting straight to business about raising the alarm on climate change.
In his latest blog post, the Microsoft co-founder, philanthropist and climate activist described climate change as a global “existential threat”.
Gates said the new administration should take the opportunity to “lead the world in avoiding a climate disaster” and detailed how it could be done.
“President Biden has already taken an important first step by rejoining the Paris climate accord. Now the United States can build on that step by adopting a concrete plan that checks several boxes at once,” Gates wrote.
“Eliminating emissions while adapting to the warming that is already happening, spurring innovative industries, creating jobs for the post-pandemic recovery, and ensuring that everyone benefits from the transition to a green economy.”
But Gates’ message isn’t just to America’s new leadership; other world leaders should take note, too, he said.
Drawing upon 15 years of accumulated expertise from conversations with scientists, policy experts and leaders around the world, here’s how Gates believes world leaders could work towards a global path to zero emissions by 2050:
1. Accelerate innovation
If Gates could have his way, stepping up innovation in the energy space is the most important thing that the US should do.
“We need breakthroughs in the way we generate and store clean electricity, grow food, make things, move around, and heat and cool our buildings, so we can do all these things without adding more greenhouse gases to the atmosphere,” he said.
“And we won’t develop new tools without a dramatic infusion of investment and focus from the federal government.”
US federal spending on clean-energy research and development needs to increase fivefold, Gates said, and this would create 370,000 more American jobs, too.
He added that a new institute, the National Institute of Energy Innovation, should be built to avoid duplication of resources.
2. Up the demand for innovation
Gates said his experience as the co-founder of Microsoft highlighted the need for competition and demand.
“I learned the hard way at Microsoft that simply making a great product doesn’t guarantee that you will beat the competition. Sometimes there’s just not enough demand for what you’re selling,” he said.
That’s why innovation alone won’t be enough to side-step a climate disaster: policy innovations will be needed to get scientific breakthroughs from the lab to the market, and to ensure it stays affordable for developing countries.
World leaders could require that a certain proportion of electricity or fuel come from zero-carbon sources, and use their power to make greener purchases, such as buying only electric buses. Infrastructure should also be built to facilitate greener, renewable options, like creating charging stations for electric vehicles.
“The problem is that right now, products that cause emissions aren’t priced to reflect the environmental damage they cause. They should be. Carbon taxes and cap-and-trade programs are two ways to solve this problem,” Gates said.
“The idea isn’t to punish people for their greenhouse gases. It’s to create incentives for inventors to create competitive carbon-free alternatives and for consumers to buy them.”
3. Ramp up global cooperation
Climate change is a global issue, and countries will take their lead from other nations, Gates pointed out.
“That is why governments need to work together to develop common goals, share knowledge, and make sure that clean technologies developed in one country will spread quickly to others.
“This cooperation can happen on a bilateral basis—between two countries talking directly to each other—as well as among many governments through venues like the United Nations and Mission Innovation.”
4. Prepare for rising temperatures
The impact of climate change can already be seen and felt, and the world will have to adapt to the warmer temperatures.
That means countries have to invest more in “climate-proofing infrastructure” to deal with severe weather events and rising sea levels.
Smaller, developing countries will also need help from wealthier nations by way of investment in primary healthcare and ensuring local farmers can grow enough food to sustain their country, Gates said.
But the billionaire also made it clear that he believed the responsibility wasn’t all on governments.
“Businesses, philanthropists, and individuals can also play a pivotal role by advocating for these policies, investing in low-emissions solutions, paying the Green Premiums when they can, and more,” he said.
“I see promise in 2021.”
The UN’s next week-long Summit on climate change will be held from 1 November this year, Gates noted.
But world leaders can take action before then, he added.
[It’s] an opportunity for countries around the world, including the US, to showcase their leadership on this urgent problem.
“If they want to lead by doing, the four steps laid out here are a good place to start.”