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Bill Gates: ‘Climate change has the potential to be even more devastating’ than COVID – ‘We need to get to zero net ghg emissions in every sector of the economy within 50 years’

How do we move around in a zero-carbon world?

By Bill Gates

Earlier this month, I wrote about how COVID-19 is a cautionary tale for climate change. There’s no doubt that we have experienced terrible suffering and economic hardship over the last several months. But as hard as it is to imagine right now when we’re still in the middle of the pandemic, climate change has the potential to be even more devastating.

The pandemic has also reminded us how much innovation is needed to prevent a climate disaster. The best numbers I have seen estimate that the economic slowdown due to COVID-19 reduced global emissions by around 8 percent. That’s not nothing, but the austerity that got us there obviously isn’t sustainable. If we’re going to address climate change, we need to find new ways to do things that don’t release greenhouse gases, including how we move around.

When most people picture what contributes to climate change, vehicles are one of the first things that come to mind. Here in the United States, transportation is the number one contributor to emissions. But you might be surprised to learn that it only contributes 16 percent of global emissions. That’s a smaller percentage than how we plug ingrow things, and make things. Still, decarbonizing how we move around is essential if we’re going to get to zero net emissions.

Our goal here isn’t necessarily to make people move around less (although we should look for ways to cut back on driving, flying, and shipping where possible). As we’ve seen over the last several months, economies suffer when people are forced to stay close to home.

We want more people and goods to be able to travel. For some of the world’s poorest people—like smallholder farmers in sub-Saharan Africa—the ability to move goods from rural areas to city markets can make the difference between life and death. To do that, we need to make sure transportation remains affordable to everyone. Products like gasoline, diesel, and even jet fuel are the standard for a reason: they can send you a long way for a low cost per gallon.

So, how exactly do we fuel our need to move around without emitting greenhouse gases? The answer is simple, even if making it happen won’t be: use clean electricity to run all the vehicles we can, and get cheap alternative fuels for everything else.