The world will be lucky to avoid 2.5C of heating, but emerging technology may help avert even worse, Bill Gates has told a Sydney audience.
The US billionaire and philanthropist told the Lowy Institute on Monday that while malaria still killed more children – 400,000 a year – the climate crisis was “worth investing in massively because it will get worse and worse over time”.
There was “no chance” of limiting warming to the Paris climate goal of 1.5C compared with pre-industrial levels, and it was “very unlikely” it could be kept to 2C, Gates said.
“The key is to minimise the warming as much as possible,” he said. “At this point, to stay below 2.5C would be pretty fantastic. I do think that’s possible.”
Gates remains among the world’s richest people, despite having donated $US35bn ($50bn) to mid-2022, with his former wife, Melinda Gates, and pledging another $US20bn.
Asked about the policies of the government led by Anthony Albanese, whom Gates met over the weekend, the Microsoft founder said it was “great to have Australia on board on climate” after the country had been an “outlier until quite recently”.
The country was “very blessed” with renewable energy resources and the minerals needed for a transition away from carbon. “Australia is rare in that the opportunities exceed what you have to give up,” he said.
Gates said his investment in the Perth-based firm Rumin8, announced on Monday, was his 103rd foray into climate start-ups, from energy and aircraft to steel. Rumin8 aims to reduce methane emissions from cattle.
Nuclear fission and fusion were both “very, very promising” energy sources not dependent on the weather for generation, he said.
Still, he said the government’s approach to wait 15 years for proof that the technology of small modular reactors was safe and cheap and the waste can be handled “was a very good attitude”.
“I don’t know whether it will succeed,” he said. “I’ve put billions of dollars into [nuclear technology], so I must think there’s some chance.”
“Even if nuclear succeeds, we’re still going to need 60-70% renewables,” Gates said. “I think the world is underinvested in those [nuclear] innovations because they could make a huge difference.”
On other issues, Gates said there were still “huge factors pushing for global trade”, even with a “fear of dependency on China”. These include the cross-border need for copper, lithium and cobalt “as part of the green energy revolution”.
“It is sad that we’re evolving into a world where [there’s] the willingness, certainly of the US, to be independent of things from China,” he said. “It will create significant inefficiencies if globalisation goes into reverse.”
Still, Gates said he was hopeful that major advances were still possible to tackle many health and other issues.
“We will cure obesity, we will cure cancer, we will eradicate polio,” he said. “I’m still very optimistic that it will be much better to be born 20, 40, 60 years from now than [at] any time in the past.”