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‘I plead guilty’ – Bill Gates confesses his climate guilt: ‘My carbon footprint is absurdly high…I have felt guilty about this…I own big houses & fly in private planes…who am I to lecture anyone on the environment?’

Bill Gates on the climate crisis: ‘I can’t deny being a rich guy with an opinion’
In an exclusive extract from his new book, the Microsoft founder explains why we need to cut carbon emissions to zero – even if he is an ‘imperfect messenger’

Bill Gates: It’s true that my carbon footprint is absurdly high. For a long time I have felt guilty about this. Working on this book has made me even more conscious of my responsibility to reduce my emissions; shrinking my carbon footprint is the least that can be expected of someone in my position. In 2020, I started buying sustainable jet fuel and will fully offset my family’s aviation emissions in 2021. For our non-aviation emissions, I’m buying offsets through a company that removes carbon dioxide from the air and a nonprofit that installs clean energy upgrades in affordable housing units in Chicago.

I am aware that I’m an imperfect messenger on climate change. The world is not exactly lacking in rich men with big ideas about what other people should do, or who think technology can fix any problem. I own big houses and fly in private planes – in fact, I took one to Paris for the climate conference, so who am I to lecture anyone on the environment?

I plead guilty to all three charges. I can’t deny being a rich guy with an opinion.

Each year, America alone produces more than 96m tons of cement, one of the main ingredients in concrete, and we’re not even the biggest consumers of the stuff – that would be China, which installed more concrete in the first 16 years of the 21st century than the United States did in the entire 20th century.

To make cement, you need calcium. To get calcium, you start with limestone and burn it in a furnace until you end up with the thing you want – calcium for your cement – plus something you don’t want: carbon dioxide. Nobody knows of a way to make cement without going through this process. It’s a one-to-one relationship; make a ton of cement and you’ll get a ton of carbon dioxide.

Between now and 2050, the world’s annual cement production is predicted to go up a bit, as the building boom slows in China and picks up in smaller developing countries before settling back down near 4bn tons a year, roughly where it is today.

The question now is this: what should we do with this momentum? To me, the answer is clear. We should spend the next decade focusing on the technologies, policies and market structures that will put us on the path to eliminating greenhouse gases by 2050. It’s hard to think of a better response to a miserable 2020 than spending the next 10 years dedicating ourselves to this ambitious goal.

• Bill Gates’ How To Avoid A Climate Disaster: The Solutions We Have And The Breakthroughs We Need is published by Allen Lane on 16 February at £20. To order a copy for £17.40, visit