Bill Gates secures hundreds of millions from U.S. firms for climate fight

Bill Gates at Munich Security Conference on February 17, 2017 in Munich, Germany.
Michael Gottschalk | Getty

Bill Gates has raised hundreds of millions from seven large U.S. companies to develop clean technologies that could play a key role in the fight against climate change.

Breakthrough Energy, a non-profit founded by Gates in 2016, announced Monday that it has secured investments from Microsoft, BlackRock, General Motors, American Airlines, Boston Consulting Group, Bank of America and ArcelorMittal.

The overall size of the investments was not disclosed but they reportedly amount to over $1 billion. Breakthrough Energy did not immediately respond to a CNBC request for comment.

The Washington-headquartered firm said the money will be used to fund its “Breakthrough Energy Catalyst,” a project launched earlier this year that’s aiming to finance, produce, and buy the new solutions that will help underpin a zero-carbon economy.

Gates said in a statement that a “new industrial revolution” is required if the world is going to avoid a climate disaster.

“Half the technology needed to get to zero emissions either doesn’t exist yet or is too expensive for much of the world to afford,” said the Microsoft co-founder. “Catalyst is designed to change that and provide an effective way to invest in our clean technology future.”

He added: “By working with this growing community of private and public partners, Catalyst will take a global view of the energy innovation landscape – the key technologies, leading-edge companies, financing partners, and pivotal policies – and fund the projects that will have the greatest positive impact for our planet.”

The program will initially focus on direct air capture, green hydrogen, long-duration energy storage, and sustainable aviation fuel.

BlackRock has pledged $100 million over five years through its charitable foundation, while Microsoft, American Airlines and ArcelorMittal have committed the same amount. The others did not disclose the size of their investments.

Corporate giants back climate action

Larry Fink, the CEO and chairman of BlackRock, said in a statement that the transition to a net-zero world is “the shared responsibility of every citizen, corporation, and government,” adding that a global energy transition will require $50 trillion.

Despite what world leaders and CEOs say, the so-called energy transition is not actually happening just yet. Global fossil fuel use is accelerating and it’s set to get even worse, exacerbating the risk of a climate catastrophe.

“It is absolutely the case that the transition is moving too slowly from the climate perspective, but what is important to recognize is that it is primarily a matter of political will and economic choices,” Carroll Muffett, chief executive at the non-profit Center for International Environmental Law, told CNBC in April.

A highly anticipated report by the U.N.’s climate panel warned in August that limiting global warming to close to 1.5 degrees Celsius or even 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels “will be beyond reach” in the next two decades without immediate, rapid and large-scale reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.

“Our partnership with the Catalyst program represents a five-year philanthropic commitment to invest in cutting-edge science that will help bring vital clean energy solutions forward,” Fink said.

Aditya Mittal, CEO of ArcelorMitta, the largest steel manufacturer in North America, said in a statement that initiatives like Breakthrough Energy Catalyst are “critical” for the company and the wider steel industry.

“The steel industry knows how to decarbonize – essentially what is missing is the availability of clean energy at competitive prices that provides the foundation for us to really accelerate,” he said.

Gates isn’t the only tech billionaire trying to tackle climate change. Elsewhere, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos has set up the $10 billion Bezos Earth Fund, while Tesla CEO Elon Musk pledged to invest $100 million in new carbon capture technologies.

Some argue that it’s the least the tech billionaires can do as they themselves are one of the leading causes of climate change. Others have questioned whether they’re focusing their climate change mitigation efforts on the right areas.

— Additional reporting by CNBC’s Sam Meredith.

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