We are failing to meet the Paris commitment of keeping the planet below 2 degrees of warming by 2100. The most recent IPCC reports claims that ‘if we take action on emissions soon, instituting immediately all of the commitments made in the Paris accords but nowhere yet actually implemented, we are likely to get about 3.2 degrees of warming’ by the end of the century. 3.2 degrees of warming would flood cities like Miami, Dakha, Shanghai, Hong and hundreds of other cities. If we reach the 4 degrees of global warming the Alps will be as ‘arid as the Atlas Mountains’. The Paris treaty aims to stay below 2 degrees of warming. Anything after would constitute an environmental ‘tipping point’.
Luckily, we have the world’s former richest man working towards mitigating this eventuality. Bill Gates’ new book ‘How To Avoid Climate Disaster’, mixes computer programming problem solving with experience of personally influencing the market, to read like a cheat sheet of how capitalism can achieve the Paris accord goals.
Gates encourages state and private investment into clean energy and climate Research and Development. Gates writes that ‘although we have a number of cost-competitive low carbon solutions today, we still don’t have all the technologies we need to get to zero emissions globally’. These technologies include Zero Carbon Cement, Nuclear Fusion and Grid scale electricity storage that can last a full season. Gates estimates that governments in the next decade should ‘quintuple clean energy and climate related Research and Development’ estimating that 0.1% of global economy spending should be given towards investments on clean energy and climate related Research and Development. He suggests the US government invest $ 35 billion dollars, therefore approximately 0.016% of Growth National Income (GNI). If the United Kingdom, the World’s 6th largest economy, were to match the spending of the United States they would need to invest approximately £5.6 billion a year towards clean energy and climate change R and D.
The latest ONS data suggests the government’s annual R and D spending was some £ 5 billion pounds behind the target set by Gates for the next decade. The latest ONS dataset R suggests that the Environmental R and D was 234 million in 2018, just 2% of total R and D spending. Energy spending equated to 351 million, just 3% of R and D spending. 22% of R and D spending, approximately 2.5 billion, is provided towards the ‘general advancement of knowledge’. There is no indication of whether this contributes towards clean energy and climate change research. Taking into consideration the specific energy, of which clean energy is not specified, and environmental spending the government is £5 billion pounds behind Bill Gates suggested target. Worryingly environmental R and D spending has decreased from 3% of the R and D spending in 2008 to 2013 to just 2% between 2014 and 2018 and ‘energy’ research and development is not necessarily ‘clean energy’.
It is clear that the government needs to improve transparency over their R and D spending because it is not clear whether initiatives like the UK investment in clean energy which provided £2.5 billion towards the development and research into clean energy between 2015 and 2021 has been recorded in the ONS data. Similarly, the UK’s ICF support of £5.8 billion between 2016 and 2021 has contributed towards the ONS data on clean energy and R and D spending. Nonetheless, even if all of the UK clean energy plan and the ICF investments contributed towards clean energy and climate R and D, which they’re definitely not, the UK would still be around 3 billion short of Bill Gates’ £5.6 billion. The government has recently proposed a series of competitions worth £94 million pounds. It is vital that these investments are recorded within future ONS data on R and D clean energy and climate spending. Therefore, the government needs not only to vastly increase their R and D spending but also improve transparency so the public can have confidence in the efforts being made to find solutions to climate disaster.
Gates suggests that government Research and Development investments provide an excellent opportunity to provide the security and constant investment to allow major scientific breakthroughs that will lead towards carbon neutrality. Bill Gates suggests these investments would be of similar value as those in the Human Genome Project which an independent study found generated returns of $141 for every $1 invested. He suggests that while the figure of R and D may seem like a lot of money ‘it pales in comparison to the size and the challenge – and it’s a powerful indicator of just how seriously government takes the problem’.
No country is safe from global warming. The floods, the droughts, the storms, the fires, the food shortages, the migrations will impact every country. Given the government’s pledge to reduce Overseas Development Aid spending by 0.2% of National Income, cutting investments by around 4 billion pounds annually, surely the most effective reallocation of these funds would be to increase investments in clean energy and climate change R and D? Findings from these innovations, as we have seen with coronavirus vaccines, would provide continued support for developing nations, where investment is being reduced.
The economies mobilisation in facing the Coronavirus has given the government and public a swagger and confidence through effective scientific and political coordination. We should now extend awareness and investment to our ages greatest battle. Increase spending in clean energy R and D to find the vaccines that can keep the planet below 2 degrees of global warming and see the United Kingdom defend the planet from the tempest we helped create.
David Wallace Wells The Uninhabitable Earth 2019
Bill Gates How to Avoid Climate a Climate Change Disaster 2021