A socially equitable green transition ought to rely heavily on technological innovation, American tech mogul and philanthropist Bill Gates told a high-level ‘Growth and Climate’ conference in Paris on Tuesday (5 December).
“The way to square the fact that climate is incredibly important and people’s unwillingness to bear very high costs [is through] innovation,” Gates said.
In an exchange with French Economy Minister Bruno Le Maire, he said innovation was at the heart of the fight against climate change, both in getting citizens onboard with the green transition and in creating new tech markets that ultimately lower the ‘green premium’ so that new, green solutions become economically viable.
“Almost every form of [CO2] emission, from food to industry to planes, [can be improved through] global technologies,” whose development predominantly comes from the West, he said.
It is therefore on rich countries to help develop innovative solutions and share best practices with emerging counterparts as the world aims for net zero and keep temperature levels below 1.5 degrees Celsius, the Microsoft co-founder added.
The Paris ‘Growth and Climate’ conference, which looked at ways growth and climate could work together, had innovation at its very core.
Le Maire, who says he refutes both “climate change denial” and “catastrophism” to equal amounts and wants nothing to do with “degrowth,” presented innovative solutions as the only way to secure “new growth,” which could enable economic growth and a general reduction in CO2 emissions.
“Climate change could be a huge opportunity,” Le Maire said in his conversation with Gates. “We don’t have any other possibilities but to put more innovation in our economies. And this innovation could bring more productivity and more prosperity for all citizens.”
In this sense, public funding is there “to leverage private funding,” Le Maire went on to say. “You should never believe that [the French Treasury] will spend between 60 to €70 billion worth of public money to fund the fight against climate change”.
Enter Gates’ new Breakthrough Energy Foundation, which grants philanthropic funding to promising projects, but so high-risk that only venture capital can really take a gamble, when public financing is often deemed too conservative.
The EU spends an average of 2.2% of GDP on public and private research and development (R&D) investments, according to 2021 OECD data. This compares to 2.4% in China, and pales in front of the US’s 3.5%.
There are large discrepancies among EU member states, too. While Germany’s R&D investments stand at 3.1%, it drops to 2.2% in France and 1.4% in Italy or Poland.
If innovation as a response to climate change must be developed at a global stage, the tech giant said, it means one more thing: rethinking the way the world produces energy.
In this sense, France’s nuclear infrastructure “is really good,” Gates explained, but “we can do so much better on the cost of nuclear,” and bring in innovative ways to improve production both for existing, and new, infrastructures.
Such new advances, especially in the form of a new generation of Small Modular Reactors (SMR), can further help develop clean and cheap energy in emerging countries, according to Gates, rather than go through initial polluting coal-dependent stages.
And this ought to come alongside the growth of renewables too.
“It’s not nuclear only,” Gates confirmed and his view was shared by Le Maire, who hopes to strengthen a nuclear-renewable-green industry tryptic that has become an increasingly common refrain in France, which has pledged, alongside a number of other countries, to increase nuclear production capabilities three-fold between 2020 and 2050.