Our grandchildren will pay if we don’t fix climate change

Microsoft Corp co-founder Bill Gates delivers his speech at the National Assembly on August 16, 2022 in Seoul, South Korea.

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The thought of becoming grandparents is emotional for Bill Gates to even write about.

“I began to look at the world through a new lens recently when my oldest daughter gave me the incredible news that I will become a grandfather next year,” Gates wrote in a letter published overnight on his personal blog, Gates Notes.

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Gates’ 26-year-old daughter, Jennifer, and her husband, Nayel Nassar, are expecting their first child in 2023.

“Just typing that sentence, ‘I’m going to be a grandpa next year,’ gets me excited,” wrote the 67-year-old billionaire philanthropist, who made his fortune through co-founding. Microsoft in the 1970s. “And the thought gives a new dimension to my work. When I think about the world my grandson will be born into, I am more inspired than ever to help everyone’s children and grandchildren have a chance to survive and prosper.”

Gates goes on to outline the work his namesake 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 the work he’s doing to combat climate change, both through the Gates Foundation supporting early-stage climate companies and his investment company, Breakthrough Energy Ventures.

The response of today’s leaders to climate change will affect future generations, which is the first point Gates makes in the section of his letter addressing climate change.

“I can sum up the solution to climate change in two sentences: We must eliminate global greenhouse gas emissions by 2050,” Gates writes. “Extreme weather is already causing more suffering, and if we don’t get to 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.

Bill Gates

Microsoft co-founder, climate investor

The implications are huge, and so is the challenge.

“Getting to zero will be the hardest thing humans have ever done,” Gates writes. “We need to revolutionize the entire physical economy – how we make things, move, produce electricity, grow food and stay warm and cool – in less than three decades.”

Gates began working on climate change when he learned about the struggles of small farmers in the countries where his eponymous philanthropic organization worked. The Gates Foundation funds climate adaptation work, helping people adapt to the implications of a warming world, where commercial enterprise has no profit.

“It starts from the idea that the poorest suffer the most from climate change, but companies have no natural incentive to make tools to help them,” Gates writes.

“A seed company can make a profit, for example, from a new type of tomato that has a nicer red hue and isn’t easily embraced, but has no incentive to make better varieties of cassava that (a) survive to floods and droughts and (b) are cheap enough for the world’s low-income farmers,” Gates writes. “The role of the foundation is to ensure that the poorest benefit from the same innovative skills that benefit the richest countries.”

Why poorer countries want rich countries to pay their climate change bill

Not all of Gates’ climate work is philanthropic. Breakthrough Energy Ventures funds early-stage companies working to build and grow businesses to decarbonize various sectors of the economy. Building for-profit companies to address a problem that affects the well-being of the world’s population may seem off-putting to Gates, who already has a fortune to his name: $103.6 billion according to Forbes as of Monday.

But Gates says decarbonizing 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 from investments he makes in Breakthrough Energy companies will go back into climate work or the philanthropic foundation, he said.

Also, if companies working to address climate change can be self-sustaining, that will encourage other investors to put money into them.

“Companies need to be profitable so that they can grow, stay in business, and demonstrate that there is a market for their products,” Gates writes. “The profit incentive will attract other innovators, creating competition that will drive down the prices of zero-emissions inventions and have a significant impact on building emissions.”

Greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise

The bad news is that greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise.

“Unfortunately, on short-term targets, we are falling short. Between 2021 and 2022, global emissions actually increased from 51 billion tons of carbon equivalents to 52 billion tons,” Gates writes.

On Monday, the Secretary General of the United Nations also underlined the sad reality of the current moment of climate change.

“We are still moving in the wrong direction,” António Guterres said on Monday. “The global emissions gap is widening. The 1.5 degree target is running out of steam. National climate plans are falling far short.”

Despite the bleakness of the current climate moment, Gates is optimistic about increased investment in decarbonisation technologies.

“We are much further along than I would have predicted a few years ago in getting companies to invest in zero-carbon advances,” Gates writes.

Public money for climate research and development has increased by a third since the 2015 Paris climate accord, and in the United States, laws passed this year will direct $500 billion to move US energy infrastructure away from sources based on fossil fuels. according to Gates.

Private money is also flowing into climate technologies at a brisk pace. Venture capital firms have invested $70 billion in clean energy startups in the past two years, Gates writes.

Watch the full CNBC interview with Breakthrough Energy founder Bill Gates

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