Bill Gates’ entire argument is based on a single fact : the need to aim for carbon neutrality. He explains with great clarity that reducing our emissions will not be enough, because as long as carbon accumulates in the atmosphere, temperatures will continue to rise, threatening all life on this planet. He also explains that achieving “zero emissions” does not mean that our economic activities will no longer result in carbon emissions, but that we are talking about net zero emissions. He defines this as reducing emissions as much as possible, in combination with carbon removal techniques. Carbon could be removed either at the source of the emission or in the atmosphere. Gates also reconciles the fight against poverty with the fight against climate change. He states that it is imperative that every individual has access to electricity, transport and quality food. This makes promoting the economic development of the poorest regions vital. The fight against global warming must take these issues into account, and must not condemn human beings to live in poverty. It is inconceivable to ask African countries, for example, which today account for only 2% of carbon emissions, to continue living in poverty in order to avoid a climate disaster. Instead, we need to invest in technologies that will allow emerging countries to develop in a sustainable manner, without increasing their carbon footprints.
Every sector is affected
As Gates explains, reaching net zero will not be an easy task, because every economic sector will have to rethink the way it operates. Changing the transport and electricity sectors will not be enough. The transport sector, for example, accounts for only 16% of global emissions, while the construction and infrastructure sector is responsible for 31%. This means that all areas of the economy will have to be revolutionised.
In his view, it will be necessary to electrify as many sectors as possible, such as the transport sector, and to ensure that electricity comes from non-polluting sources. Naturally, he talks at length about renewables, the need to bring down their costs and to improve storage systems, but he also talks about nuclear power. Nuclear energy, a major taboo in environmental debates, is, in his view, essential for achieving carbon neutrality, since it is currently the only zero-carbon, non-intermittent source of electricity. Of course, he mentions the progress that needs to be made to make nuclear power safer and cleaner; and he also talks about the possibility of one day seeing nuclear power plants based on fusion, a process that would release four times more energy than nuclear fission, and that would not produce any high-level radioactive waste.