This year’s letter from Bill and Melinda Gates focused on nine things that surprised them. For the Microsoft-cofounder, one thing he was surprised to learn was the massive amount of new buildings the planet should expect in the coming decades due to urban population growth.
“The number of buildings in the world is going to double by 2060. It’s like we’re going to build a new New York City every month for the next 40 years,” he said.
Construction materials such as steel, cement wood “requires lots of energy from fossil fuels,” as Gates noted in the letter, “and the processes involved release carbon as a byproduct.”
“We need to find a way to make it all without worsening climate change,” he wrote.
The “larger point,” the billionaire philanthropist said, is that battling climate change requires much more than just solar panels and wind turbines. It requires “breakthrough inventions” across every polluting sector—buildings, agriculture, electricity, manufacturing and transportation.
Those five industries are the biggest contributors to global greenhouse gas emissions, or as Gates calls them, the five “grand challenges in climate change.”
“Solar panels are great, but we should be hearing about trucks, cement, and cow farts too,” he wrote.
For instance, electricity counts for only a quarter of the emissions, Gates said in a promo video with Melinda for their annual letter. “Things like cement, steel, meat—there’s a lot of other activities that are generating 75 percent of it,” he said.
Meanwhile, agriculture accounts for another 24 percent of greenhouse gases. Gates quipped: “That includes cattle, which give off methane when they belch and pass gas. (A personal surprise for me: I never thought I’d be writing seriously about bovine flatulence.)”
On that note, Gates was happy to report that the European Commission recently committed to invest in research and development on the five challenge areas, and Breakthrough Energy Ventures, the $1 billion fund he helped launch, will be using the five areas to as a guide for their future investments in clean-energy companies.
Breakthrough Energy Ventures counts a number of wealthy and influential billionaires as investors and board members, including Amazon chief Jeff Bezos, Virgin Group’s Richard Branson, Alibaba founder Jack Ma and more.
“Part of the solution is to invest in innovation in all five sectors so we can do these things without destroying the climate,” Gates concluded. “We need breakthrough inventions in each of the grand challenges.”