There’s no doubt that Bill Gates is an exceptional person. At just twenty years old, he co-founded Microsoft, which went on to become the world’s largest personal computer software company. He became known as a pioneer of the microcomputer revolution throughout the 70s and 80s, making himself one of the wealthiest individuals on the planet in the process.
His other endeavours include the Bill & Melinda Gates foundation, the largest private foundation in the world where he funds positive global projects, enhancing healthcare and reducing extreme poverty for those who need the most help.
So when he steps into the climate change debate, it’s no wonder that people want to hear what he has to say. With global emissions 65% higher today than they were in 1990, he’s now using his significant knowledge and platform to highlight what we need to do to change this.
With his new book, How To Avoid A Climate Disaster, the billionaire technology entrepreneur lays out his wide-ranging plans for how we can get the world to zero greenhouse gas emissions and avoid a climate catastrophe.
Despite the fact that his own carbon footprint is “absurdly high”, as he admits, owning many large properties and travelling via private jet, he’s still in one of the best positions possible to divulge information about climate change and set out his own ideas of how to stop it from becoming irreversibly damaging.
He’s spent the last decade investigating the causes and effects of climate change and has been able to outline a realistic action plan that’s practical, accessible and most importantly, effective at combating climate change. We’re going to take a look at his ideas and breakdown what he believes needs to be done to save our planet from climate disaster.
Ultimately, Gates argues that there’s only two main data points that are necessary and relevant; 51 billion and zero. The former is the tonnes of greenhouse gases that are put into the atmosphere by human activity. The latter? The amount we need to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions to avoid the worst case scenario.
He admits this is incredibly challenging, but argues that such wholesale change is possible. He even poses that it can be done in a way that can maintain the lifestyles of more developed nations, whilst also lifting billions out of poverty.
Through various initiatives, regulations and technology, he envisions a world where economic advancement can exist alongside avoiding environmental harm. With cooperation amongst governments and businesses, he suggests that a reorganisation of the global economy will allow for innovation to focus on our most urgent collective problem.
In a world gripped by chaos and calamity, Gates still fancies our chances and believes that his ideas present a reasonable and achievable path to reaching zero greenhouse gas emissions.
Understanding which clean sources of energy are effective enough and cheap enough now, and which ones aren’t yet viable is critical to implementing the right technologies and initiatives in the most effective way to make the most progress. It essentially boils down to: What is the difference in cost between a product that involves emitting carbon and an alternative that doesn’t?
To help ascertain the disparity in cost, Gates has coined the term “Green Premium”. While he admits it’s not an exact science to calculate, sometimes relying on assumptions about the cost of emerging technologies, thereby making it an imperfect metric, it is however, better than no measuring tool at all.
When used, they can serve as a guide to action. Once we figure out what’s driving a given Green Premium, it acts like a roadmap, telling us the route we need to take to get to zero.
As a world class leader of innovation himself, Gates knows a thing or two about technology and how it can be developed to be beneficial and impactful. He’d noted that the energy Research and Development budgets of rich countries hadn’t increased, seemingly neglecting the importance of positive investments in this area.
Boosting the supply and demand side of innovation, through budget increases and pre-commercial research could massively raise the level and efficiency of green technologies, making them more affordable and available for widespread use and adoption.
Already, scientific advance has brought an astonishing reduction in the prices of solar, wind and wave energy, battery storage, electric vehicles, remote sensing monitoring and smart grids. But if we are to deliver affordable clean energy, we have to go much further. Gates demands what he calls “a renewable portfolio standard” of energy pricing and an immediate quintupling of climate-related research and development.
Heightened corporate responsibility is key to moving everything in the right direction. Companies can make a huge difference if they enact their own policies and changes to their operations to become more environmentally friendly, so Gates proposes that new corporate laws should be agreed.
These new laws would be applied worldwide, and ensure global companies disclose their carbon footprints, adopt impact-weighted accounting that would reveal the full environmental cost of their operations, and break with business-as-usual by publishing transition plans to a zero net carbon economy.
When transparency is thrust upon corporations around the world, we’d likely see an uptake of environmentally cleaner business practices, with companies wishing to offset bad press and reputational damage by behaving more ethically.
Previously, energy transitions have taken decades. However, the pressing matter of climate catastrophe requires an abrupt and rapid adoption of green alternatives and decarbonisation of the global economy. Carbon pricing would discourage polluting activities by imposing taxes on carbon-intensive and greenhouse gas producing activities and in doing so, encourage the adoption of cleaner and more environmentally friendly industry practices.
Putting economic strain on negative operations would force many companies to protect their profit lines by becoming more green. Gates argues that we should advance the cause of carbon pricing by agreements to eliminate fossil fuel subsidies and by taking up Biden’s plan for border adjustment mechanisms that, for the first time, tax carbon-intensive imports and exports.
To find out more about new green policies in the USA, read our article What Does A New US President Mean For Climate Change?
Green New Deal
Hoping to steer the world’s efforts of post-Covid economic recovery in the best possible direction for tackling climate change, Gates suggests that a globally coordinated fiscal stimulus requires a green new deal, centred around a massive expansion in environmentally sustainable infrastructure and the creation of millions of much needed new jobs.
A big boost to nature-based solutions from afforestation to the better land use now championed by the World Resources Institute could be agreed. In doing so we could finally make a reality of the promised $100bn green climate fund that was planned 10 years ago to collect and allocate payments for climate mitigation and adaptation in the developing world.
Aligning the world’s governments and policy makers and keeping them accountable to reasonable targets would enact a cataclysmic shift in the use of green technology, clean alternatives and bring down global greenhouse gas emissions on a huge scale.
So there we have it, a brief summary of the major cogs of Bill Gates’ vision for how we avoid climate disaster by reducing our ever-increasing greenhouse gas emissions to zero.
Despite the almost insurmountable challenge of reaching zero greenhouse gas emissions, Gates remains optimistic about our chances. Through understanding our innovations and technologies better, directing funding and investment to provide the best value, holding corporations accountable for their environmental records and baking a united global effort to work on climate change as part of post-Covid economic recovery, Gates believes we can achieve the nigh on impossible.
If you’ve found this an interesting read, I’d recommend you check out his new book How To Avoid A Climate Disaster to get the full picture of the plan and obtain an even better understanding of climate change.