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Is Bill Gates’s vision for curbing climate change possible?

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The founder of Microsoft and billionaire philanthropist has long warned of the danger of not curbing climate change in time. So much so that he has made several proposals encouraging governments to act. 

When someone as influential to the history of technology as Bill Gates makes a prediction, those words are generally taken seriously, because for decades he has proven to be ahead of his time.

It is therefore significant that the founder of Microsoft is so concerned about climate change; to the extent that he is eager to make proposals to combat this global problem and to curb it as much as possible.


As lethal as coronavirus

Last August, at the height of the coronavirus pandemic, Gates stated that climate change could eventually cause a higher mortality rate than the virus afflicting the world in 2020. “By 2060, climate change could be just as deadly as COVID-19, and by 2100 it could be five times as deadly,” he says, referring to the risk that the global temperature will continue to rise as it has done so far.

He also points out that the current pandemic should serve to demonstrate the way forward: “If we learn the lessons of COVID-19, we can approach climate change more informed about the consequences of inaction. The current global crisis can inform our response to the next one.” In other words, it is only with a joint, timely response that a situation that has been worsening for decades can be tackled.

The pillars proposed by Bill Gates

In order to confront the havoc that human action is wreaking on the climate and, therefore, on the environment, the billionaire philanthropist proposes four pillars that should form the basis of the work to be done.

The first is scientific work. He believes that those dedicated to science and innovation are the ones who should point the way forward. “We’ll need biology, chemistry, physics, political science, economics, engineering and other sciences,” he points out. And that is precisely one of the most difficult tasks at present, given that decisions are left to political bodies, which are not always guided by scientists.

The second is a determined commitment to clean energy, as was shown by the Paris Agreement in 2015. “We need new tools for fighting climate change: zero-carbon ways to produce electricity, make things, grow food, keep our buildings cool and warm, and move people and goods around the world,” he proposes.

Traveling less is not enough

In this regard, Bill Gates is clear that quarantine has shown how, in order to curb climate change, traveling less is not enough (whether for work or leisure). Such a shift in habits “is helpful but nowhere near sufficient — 2020 is a great example of this,” he said. “Global emissions only dropped about 8% this year.”

The third pillar underpinning the effort to combat environmental deterioration is to consider inequalities, so that any measures taken are also effective in the poorest or most disadvantaged areas. That is why clean energy sources must be made available to less wealthy nations.

Finally, the fourth pillar is to reduce the mortality rates caused by the effects of climate change. Each of these four pillars corresponds to one of the UN Sustainable Development Goals, although, to a greater or lesser extent, there is still much ground to cover.

Immediate action

Acknowledging that all of the above is theoretical in nature, the creator of Microsoft has recently added a dimension of practicality to these ideas with a series of new and very interesting proposals. “We need to revolutionize the world’s physical economy — and that will take, among other things, a dramatic infusion of ingenuity, funding and focus from the federal government,” he writes in his Gates Notes blog, where he also points out the following:

  • “We need breakthroughs in the way we generate and store clean electricity, grow food, make things, move around, and heat and cool our buildings.” In other words, he is committed to increasing public funding to research clean energy, which would also generate new jobs.
  • Second, he says that the whole process must be centralized within a single institution in each country, since this is the only way to achieve cohesive, effective action. In addition, this institution must be free of political nuances, given that the mission must be above those in power at a particular moment in time.

“I believe we can avoid a climate disaster — if we deploy the clean-energy tools we have now wisely, and if we make big breakthroughs that touch every aspect of our physical economy. Creating the National Institutes of Energy Innovation would put us on the right path,” highlights Gates in his blog.

A long-term approach

Bill Gates’s second proposal, although specifically related to the US, could be replicated in other countries. However, the most difficult aspect is the fact that the ultimate decision-makers within governments, political parties, are often involved in conflicts of interest.

Experts on these issues try to offer a vision that is more related to investment than spending, which is often the key obstacle for many administrations. According to the Global Commission on Adaptation, led by former United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon along with Bill Gates himself and Chief Executive of the World Bank Kristalina Georgieva, an investment of 1.8 trillion dollars in the fight against climate change could yield a benefit of more than 7 trillion dollars.

Ban Ki-moon himself says that “we need a revolution […] in the way that we actually plan our cities, our infrastructure and our private investments,” given that simply improving 24-hour prevention systems would result in savings of up to 30 percent and fewer losses from climate disasters.