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Bill Gates, philanthropist and co-founder of Microsoft, along with U.S. President Barack Obama and French President François Hollande, are expected to announce tens of billions of dollars for a technological fix to the planet’s climate woes on Monday. (Mark Lennihan/Associated Press)
Government and business leaders are banking on clean energy technology to fight global warming, kicking off this week’s high-stakes climate change negotiations by pledging tens of billions of dollars for research and development.
Microsoft founder and philanthropist Bill Gates, U.S. President Barack Obama and French President François Hollande will announce the new initiative on Monday, committing to spend tens of billions of dollars for a technological fix to the planet’s climate woes, three current and former officials have told The Associated Press.
“It’s quite a big deal,” said Jennifer Morgan, global climate director for the World Resources Institute. “It brings a new kind of burst of energy into the conference right at the beginning on something very important.”
The United Nations climate summit formally opened Sunday afternoon with a minute of silence for the victims of this month’s Paris attacks and vows not to let terrorism derail efforts to slow or stop climate change.
The “ambitious” effort to develop clean energies initially involves eight countries — Canada, France, the U.S., India, South Korea, Saudi Arabia, Australia and Norway — according to a French official, who asked not to be named for lack of authorization to speak. These countries would pledge to double their spending on low or no-carbon energy, according to an early version of a document obtained by the AP.
Obama revealed no details Sunday as he travelled to the talks, but wrote on his Facebook page that “we’ll work to mobilize support to help the most vulnerable countries expand clean energy and adapt to the effects of climate change we can no longer avoid.”
The money would focus on research and development of technologies such as energy storage, which could make better use of clean power from wind and solar regardless of the vagaries of weather.
Led by Gates, about 20 private business leaders have signed on to the initiative, making their pledges conditional on governments also pledging more money, said a former U.S. government official who is familiar with the plan.
“They are committed to making increased investments in existing technologies and new breakthrough technologies to lower the cost of emissions reductions,” the former U.S. government official said, adding that Gates is particularly concerned about alleviating the “energy poverty” that denies power to millions of people in India and elsewhere.
But a multinational research effort combining the investments of governments, corporations and private individuals could create intellectual property problems. It also remains to be seen how much of this money is new and how much will involve repackaging old promises.
An environmentalist attends a demonstration near French police at the Place de la République after the cancellation of a planned climate march following shootings in the French capital, ahead of the World Climate Change Conference 2015 (COP21), in Paris on Sunday, Nov. 29. (Benoit Tessier/Reuters)
“The Obama administration recognizes that this is a fundamental competitive advantage for the United States,” the former U.S. official said, but getting such funds approved by a Republican-controlled Congress could be difficult.
Storing electricity is especially crucial for wind and solar power, which can be intermittent because of the weather. Improving batteries is key, and there have been breakthroughs both in technology and production announced this year, including by space and electric car tycoon Elon Musk, whose Gigafactory has begun producing large batteries for home power storage to make solar and wind power more viable.