Our grandchildren will pay if we don’t fix climate change
Bill Gates, co-founder of Microsoft Corp, delivers his speech to the National Assembly August 16, 2022 in Seoul, South Korea.
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The idea of becoming a grandparent is emotional for Bill Gates to write about.
“I recently started seeing the world through a new lens — when my older daughter broke the amazing news that I’m going to be a grandfather next year,” Gates wrote in a letter posted overnight to his personal blog, Gates Notes would.
Gates’ daughter Jennifer, 26, and her husband Nayel Nassar are expecting their first baby in 2023.
“Just typing that phrase ‘I’m going to be a grandfather next year’ makes me emotional,” wrote the 67-year-old billionaire philanthropist, who made his fortune through co-founders Microsoft in the 1970s. “And the thought gives my work a new dimension. As I think of the world my grandchild will be born into, I am more inspired than ever to help all children and grandchildren have a chance to survive and thrive.”
Gates summarizes the work his eponymous philanthropic organization, the Gates Foundation, is doing for children living in global poverty to improve education, pandemic preparedness and the fight against polio and AIDS.
Gates also talks about his work to fight climate change, both through the Gates Foundation and by supporting early-stage climate companies with his investment firm Breakthrough Energy Ventures.
The response of current leaders to climate change will affect future generations, which is the first point Gates makes in the section of his letter where he addresses climate change.
“I can sum up the solution to climate change in two sentences: we must eliminate global emissions of greenhouse gases by 2050,” writes Gates. “Extreme weather conditions are already causing more suffering, and unless we reach net-zero emissions, our grandchildren will grow up in a world that is dramatically worse off.”
Getting to zero will be the hardest thing humans have ever done.
Co-founder of Microsoft, climate investor
The implications are enormous – and so is the challenge.
“Getting to zero will be the hardest thing humans have ever done,” writes Gates. “We have to revolutionize the entire physical economy – how we make things, move around, generate electricity, grow food and stay warm and cool – in less than three decades.”
Gates began working on climate change after learning about the struggles of small farmers in countries where his eponymous philanthropic organization operates. The Gates Foundation funds climate change adaptation efforts, helping people adapt to the effects of a warming world where a commercial enterprise cannot turn a profit.
“It starts from the idea that the poorest suffer most from climate change, but companies have no natural incentive to make tools to help them,” Gates writes.
“For example, a seed company can make a profit on a new variety of tomato that’s a nicer shade of red and doesn’t bruise easily, but it has no incentive to produce better cassava varieties that (a) survive floods and droughts and (b) are cheap enough for the world’s low-income farmers,” Gates writes. “The foundation’s role is to ensure that the poorest benefit from the same innovative skills that richer countries benefit from.”
Not all of Gates’ climate work is philanthropic. Breakthrough Energy Ventures funds early-stage companies that are working to build and grow businesses to decarbonize various sectors of the economy. Building for-profit companies to address a problem affecting the well-being of the world’s population may seem unsavory to Gates, who already has a fortune to his name — $103.6 billion, according to Forbes Monday.
But Gates says decarbonizing the global industry is too big a problem even for his deep pockets.
“Philanthropy alone cannot eliminate greenhouse gases. Only markets and governments can achieve this kind of pace and scale,” Gates said. Any profits Gates makes investing in breakthrough energy companies will go back to climate work or to the philanthropic foundation, he said.
And if companies committed to fighting climate change can be self-sustaining, it will encourage other investors to put money into them.
“Companies need to be profitable in order to grow, keep going, and prove there’s a market for their products,” Gates writes. “The incentive to win will attract other innovators and create competition that will drive down the prices of zero-emission inventions and have a significant impact on emissions from buildings.”
Greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise
The bad news is that greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise.
“Unfortunately, we are missing short-term goals. Indeed, between 2021 and 2022, global emissions increased from 51 billion tonnes of carbon equivalent to 52 billion tonnes,” Gates writes.
On Monday, the United Nations Secretary-General also underscored the grim reality of the current climate change moment.
“We’re still moving in the wrong direction,” said António Guterres on Monday. “The global emissions gap is growing. The 1.5-degree target is gasping for air. National climate plans fall woefully short.”
Despite the bleak current climate situation, Gates is optimistic about increasing investments in decarbonization technologies.
“We’re a lot further along than I would have expected a few years ago in getting companies to invest in zero-carbon breakthroughs,” Gates writes.
Public funding for climate research and development has increased by a third since the 2015 Paris climate accord, and legislation passed in the United States this year will allocate $500 billion to shift US energy infrastructure away from fossil fuel sources gates
Private money is also flowing into climate technologies at a rapid pace. Venture capital firms have invested $70 billion in clean energy startups over the past two years, Gates writes.