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Bill Gates Unveils Massive Green-energy Plan at Start of Climate Talks

Dec 2nd 2015 at 6:15 PM

PARIS — Microsoft co-founder and philanthropist Bill Gates unveiled plans Monday by an international coalition to invest billions of dollars in clean-energy projects to combat global warming. Gates unveiled the initiative on the opening day of the two-week summit on climate talks alongside President Obama, French President Fran?ois Hollande and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Among the 20 countries that agreed to participate in the program called Mission Innovation are France, the United States, India, South Korea, Saudi Arabia, Australia, Canada and Norway. Joining them will be a group of 28 international investors, including Marc Benioff, chairman and chief executive of Salesforce.com; Virgin Group founder Richard Branson; and Prince Alwaleed bin Talal of Saudi Arabia.

The countries pledged to double investment in low or no-carbon energy research. At the same time, Gates said investors will support companies that bring innovative clean-energy ideas to the marketplace. That alliance will be called the Breakthrough Energy Coalition. The project will focus on technologies that permit better use of clean energy from wind and solar, even when there's no wind or sunshine.

The 20 participating nations represent more than 80% of global funds spent on clean-energy innovation. The United States now generates 20 times as much solar power as it did in 2008, and the solar industry is adding jobs more than 10 times faster than the rest of the economy, according to the White House. In brief remarks here, Obama emphasized the need to help emerging economies "skip the dirty phase of development."

"The leap forward is going to take private sector efforts," he added. "If we put our best minds behind it and we have the dollars behind it, we will discover what works," the president said. Gates, whose personal fortune is estimated by Forbes at about $80 billion, said during the summer that he would invest about $1 billion over the next five years to clean-energy projects. In Paris, he said investors have committed about $2 billion so far to the initiative.

"We need to be exploring many different paths — and that means we also need to invent new approaches," Gates wrote in a blog post announcing the project. "Private companies will ultimately develop these energy breakthroughs, but their work will rely on the kind of basic research that only governments can fund. Both have a role to play." Andrew Steer, president and chief executive of World Resources Institute, a climate research group, said the Gates announcement gives a major boost to the climate talks.

"This unprecedented partnership will unleash significant funds for clean tech, and prompt innovation to deliver clean, affordable energy to billions of people," Steer said. “India’s leading role in this initiative is particularly noteworthy," he added. "Prime Minister Modi stands alongside other leaders of emerging economies in demonstrating how international cooperation can spur clean-energy access and advance economic development.”

In previous climate negotiations, developing countries such as India complained they should not be asked to reduce greenhouse gas emissions as steeply as developed countries such as the United States and the United Kingdom, which are responsible for the majority of historic emissions. Countries such as India rely on fossil fuels to expand their economies.

India launched a separate initiative Monday called the Solar Alliance, comprised of more than 100 countries that are solar-rich and lie between the Tropics of Cancer and Capricorn.

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