Bill Gates is no stranger to progressive thinking. The philanthropic foundation he runs with his wife, Melinda, has backed everything from longer-lasting pill-based contraception to a process whereby human waste can be converted into safe, drinkable water. Most of their efforts are focused on improving conditions for the world's poor in markets often neglected by private sector corporations and government aid.
And it's to safeguard the ongoing work of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation that Bill Gates has announced that he will be doubling his personal investments in clean energy technology over the next five years. Taking his total stake to a whopping US$2 billion in renewable energy production and research, Gates argues that the time is right because he believes that the next five years will see major advancements in technology and initiatives that will help 'solve' climate change.
While Gates's personal investments are separate from the investments made by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, there's a common goal between them. As Gates notes, of all those who will be affected by climate change, it's people in poor countries – who are already vulnerable to harsh environmental and economic conditions – that will suffer the worst:
"Higher temperatures and less-predictable weather would hurt poor farmers, most of whom live on the edge and can be devastated by a single bad crop. Food supplies could decline. Hunger and malnutrition could rise. It would be a terrible injustice to let climate change undo any of the past half-century's progress against poverty and disease — and doubly unfair because the people who will be hurt the most are the ones doing the least to cause the problem."
Despite the size of Gates's personal funding for clean technologies, he acknowledges it's a drop in the ocean compared to the investments and decisions made by governments around the world, prompting him to make the case for why a carbon-free future is a realistic and worthwhile commercial goal.
Gates lays out a three-step model on his blog for how the countries of the world can achieve this ambitious target. Firstly, he says we need to create incentives for innovation by "drastically increasing government funding for research on clean energy solutions". Second, we need to develop markets that help get to zero carbon emissions, with models that more accurately recognise the full impact of emitting carbon (including health and environmental factors). Finally, Gates says we need to treat poor countries fairly. Acknowledging that some climate change is inevitable, he advocates richer countries need to help poorer countries adapt to the world's changing environmental conditions.
"These are solvable problems," Gates says. "If we create the right environment for innovation, we can accelerate the pace of progress, develop and deploy new solutions, and eventually provide everyone with reliable, affordable energy that is carbon free. We can avoid the worst climate-change scenarios while also lifting people out of poverty, growing food more efficiently, and saving lives by reducing pollution."