As world leaders converge on Paris for historic climate talks, a coalition of governments and private investors is preparing to launch major research initiatives that seek to pour billions of dollars into an urgent search for solutions to global warming.
President Obama and Microsoft founder Bill Gates are expected to stand with counterparts from more than 20 countries on Monday in announcing the unprecedented efforts, which are aimed at spurring rapid advances in research and development for clean energy, U.S. officials confirmed Sunday.
Nineteen governments, including the United States, China and India, will join in a “Mission Innovation” initiative that commits governments to a doubling of public investments in basic energy research over the next five years, Obama administration officials said.
In a separate program heavily backed by Gates, 28 of the world’s wealthiest investors will pool their money to provide early-stage capital for technologies that offer promise in bringing affordable clean energy to billions of people, especially in the developing world.
“Given the scale of the challenge, we need to be exploring many different paths, and that means we also need to invent new approaches,” Gates explained in a statement on Monday’s launch of the private initiative, dubbed the “Breakthrough Energy Coalition.” Gates said he was “optimistic that we can invent the tools we need” to battle climate change while providing energy to the world’s poor. The amount of investment planned by the group wasn’t announced.
The programs will be formally unveiled in the opening hours of a 12-day climate conference attended by diplomats from more than 190 countries. Negotiators at the talks will seek to hammer out an accord on reducing emissions of carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping greenhouse gases blamed for global warming.
The U.S. State Department said in a statement early Monday that the United States was pledging $51 million to a $248 million effort involving 10 other nations to support the Least Developed Countries Fund to support climate change adaptation. In its statement, the State Department said the fund “plays a key role in addressing urgent and immediate adaptation needs of least developed countries.”
In the run-up to the talks, more than 180 countries have already submitted pledges to cut or limit carbon pollution, with the aim of keeping global temperatures from rising by more than 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial averages. But U.S. officials acknowledge that the pledges made so far are not enough to keep the planet from crossing a threshold that scientists say is likely to result in major ecological disruptions, including rising sea levels, mass extinctions and extreme weather events such as mega-droughts and destructive storms.
The United States and other industrialized countries have made major strides in deploying wind and solar energy over the past decade. But investment has lagged in the kinds of basic energy research needed to solve the climate challenge, U.S. officials have acknowledged.
The Mission Innovation program will seek to close that gap, administration officials said. Over the next five years, the 19 participating countries will increase their annual spending on basic research and development to $20 billion, up from current levels of about $10 billion.
“It should send a strong signal to the markets . . . that these countries are committing to going all-in on clean energy,” said Brian Deese, an adviser to Obama on climate and energy issues.
The 19 countries that signed up for the initiative include the world’s biggest emitters of greenhouse gases and collectively represent more than 80 percent of current global spending on energy research. In addition to the United States, China and India, the group includes Australia, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Denmark, France, Germany, Indonesia, Japan, South Korea, Mexico, Norway, Saudi Arabia, Sweden, the United Arab Emirates and the United Kingdom.
The private initiative headed by Gates consists of 28 investors from 10 countries, including two African nations that are not part of the 19-nation Mission Innovation bloc. The list of participants includes such U.S. heavyweights as Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and Amazon founder and Washington Post owner Jeffrey P. Bezos, as well as major international investors such as China’s Jack Ma, executive chairman of the Alibaba Group, and Britain’s Richard Branson, founder of the Virgin Group.
The group, with a collective net worth of more than $350 billion, will provide capital for early, high-risk research on the most promising technologies, participants said.
“We are facing the rising danger of climate change, and it has become clear to me that the solution will require significant innovation,” said Marc Benioff, founder and chief executive of Salesforce.com. “We don’t know what our energy mix will look like years from now, but we have to start inventing it today.”
The announcement of the initiatives came as Obama arrived in Paris to attend the opening of the climate summit. In a statement posted on his Facebook account, the president expressed optimism about the meeting’s outcome.
“What we’re trying to do in Paris is put in place a long-term framework for further emissions reductions — targets set by each nation, but transparent enough to be verified by other nations,” Obama said. “And 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.”