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4 ways the U.S. can reassert leadership on climate change

Congress and the new administration can help put the world on a path to zero emissions

Source | | Bill Gates

During last year’s campaign, President Joe Biden argued that the “United States must lead the world to take on the existential threat we face—climate change.” I agree. Although COVID-19 will rightfully continue to dominate the agenda, the President and Congress also have the opportunity to lead the world in avoiding a climate disaster.

I’ve learned from my work at Microsoft and in philanthropy that the best way to encourage others to take action is to start by doing it yourself. President Biden has already taken an important first step by rejoining the Paris climate accord. Now the United States can build on that step by adopting a concrete plan that checks several boxes at once: eliminating emissions while adapting to the warming that is already happening, spurring innovative industries, creating jobs for the post-pandemic recovery, and ensuring that everyone benefits from the transition to a green economy. (This plan is a key part of my upcoming book about climate change. And I’ll be writing about the last point—the transition to a green economy—here on the Gates Notes in the next few months.)

In the 15 years that I’ve been learning about and investing in clean energy, I’ve benefited from many discussions with scientists, policy experts, and elected leaders from across the political spectrum, in the United States and around the world. Drawing on those conversations, here are four ways that America and other countries can advance their leadership on climate change this year and put the world on a path to zero emissions by 2050.

1.  Increase the supply of innovation.

We need breakthroughs in the way we generate and store clean electricitygrow foodmake thingsmove around, and heat and cool our buildings, so we can do all these things without adding more greenhouse gases to the atmosphere. We have some of the tools we need, like solar and wind power, but far from all of them. And we won’t develop new tools without a dramatic infusion of investment and focus from the federal government.

Just how dramatic? I estimate that federal spending on clean-energy research and development needs to go up fivefold—an increase that would put it on equal footing with health research. And it would be a key first step in creating more than 370,000 jobs as well.

But this is not simply about throwing more money at the problem. We also need to make sure the government is set up to avoid duplication and make the best use of these resources. That’s why we should create the National Institutes of Energy Innovation.

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