Bill Gates bullish on climate innovation, even if 1.5C target is out of reach

Bill Gates bullish on climate innovation, even if 1.5C target is out of reach

WASHINGTON, Dec 20 (Reuters) – When it comes to climate change, Bill Gates considers himself a realist – even if that means admitting the world has no chance of limiting warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

Given “the overall scale of our industrial economy…we’re going to have to do a mind-boggling job of staying below 2 degrees,” he said.

But to meet the Paris Agreement’s 1.5C target? No one wants to be “the first to say it,” but the math shows it’s out of reach, Gates said in a video interview with Reuters.

The software developer-turned-philanthropist was nonetheless bullish on climate innovation — ticking off many areas advancing low-carbon technologies with funding from the Breakthrough Energy Group, which Gates founded in 2015.

Gates has invested more than $2 billion in climate technologies, including direct air capture, solar power and nuclear fission. The 14-year-old fission company under the Breakthrough umbrella, TerraPower, aims to have a demonstration reactor running by 2030.

These things take time, said Microsoft Corp co-founder Gates .

Gates spoke to Reuters ahead of the publication of his annual letter – reflecting on 2022 and outlining what excites him most about the year ahead.

He transferred $20 billion of his funds to the Gates Foundation endowment, which plans to increase philanthropic spending on public health and education from $6 billion to $9 billion in coming years. .

He also praised Warren Buffett for his contribution, which Gates said has totaled $45 billion since 2006, including the appreciation in Berkshire Hathaway (BRKa.N) shares.

Breakthrough Energy, however, operates separately from the charity Gates Foundation. In his letter to shareholders, Gates explains that the climate problem is too big for philanthropy to tackle alone.

“There’s not enough money, so you have to innovate,” he told Reuters. “The idea that it can be done by brute force, there’s just no chance.”

Companies need investment and technical support to prove their low-carbon ideas beyond the pilot phase — and then scale up manufacturing, he says. But all profits from Breakthrough Energy go back to the group or the foundation.

Bill Gates, Administrator and Co-Chair of the Global Commission on Adaptation, arrives to speak at the 2019 United Nations Climate Action Summit at the United Nations Headquarters in New York, New York, USA, September 23, 2019. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson/File Photo

Some of the companies under Breakthrough that are developing Direct Air Capture (DAC) – a technology designed to extract CO2 directly from the atmosphere – have their sights set on some $3.5 billion in recently announced US contracts to build DAC plants and finance research grants.

“We have a number of direct air capture companies that will be bidding to be part of these projects,” he said, noting that recent inflation-reduction legislation has boosted prospects for innovation. climatic. He did not specify the plans of the DAC companies.

In manufacturing, the steel and cement industries have made “fantastic” progress, he said, a change from his worries about the sector just two years ago.

The manufacturing sector is responsible for about a third of global emissions contributing to global warming.

Now, “there’s no area of ​​climate mitigation that I’m like, ‘Oh, this is really completely uncovered,'” he said.

Instead, as the world is on course to surpass 1.5C in warming, he said the challenge shifts to helping people adapt to a tougher, warmer future.

“In addition to mitigation, which will always be the biggest part (of Breakthrough Energy’s investment), we will also fund adaptation-related work.” This could include technology to help control wildfires, the use of coral reef-like structures to create flood barriers, or the development of crop strains that can withstand drought.

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Reporting by Katy Daigle; Editing by Lisa Shumaker

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