Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates was surprised by the former Coalition government’s lack of ‘climate commitments’, despite the economic advantages that the energy transition presents to Australia.
The world’s seventh wealthiest individual addressed the Lowy Institute on Tuesday, stating “Australia was fairly unique until quite recently at not having a climate commitment… [which] was a little bit surprising” given its large mineral reserves and potential to onshore iron ore processing.
Land area per person in Australia was described by Mr Gates as “quite phenomenal” for the development of wind and solar energy farms.
Under the Coalition government, an emissions reduction target of 26-28 per cent on 2005 levels by 2030 was introduced in 2016 but never legislated. This has since been increased to 43 per cent and legislated under the Albanese government.
Mr Gates said “it’s great to have Australia on board on climate” and argued that the “world isn’t going to trade with people who don’t have serious climate commitments”.
“Australia is amazing when it comes to” agricultural innovation, particularly in tropical and dryland agriculture, which plays an in important role in helping farmers deal with climate change and achieve greater productivity, according to Mr Gates.
He notes that his foundation has sponsored Australian research programs and collaborated with Australian government organisations. This includes more than $22 million in commitments to CSIRO since 2011 to support agricultural development and nutrition research.
On Monday, Breakthrough Energy Ventures, which was founded by Mr Gates, made its first investment in an Australia-based Rumin8. The Western Australian methane reducing feedstock company is the VC firm’s 103rd investment.
Mr Gates also praised the ongoing work of the federal government’s Clean Energy Finance Corporation in helping to “mature [climate change mitigation and adaptation] technologies and get the green premiums down to zero”.
He similarly acknowledged Australia’s decision to not participate in the development of nuclear energy technologies, despite his own investment in four of the world’s 14 nuclear fusion companies and as a primary investor in TerraPower, a nuclear fission energy company.
“I think the idea that Australia is watching other countries and saying ‘ok, over the next 15 years, show us… you make us something that’s safe and cheap and you deal with the waste and all those things’. It’s a very good attitude,” Mr Gates said.
“Some countries have opted in to be part of that next 15 to 20 years. I don’t know if it will success, I’ve put billions of dollars into it so I must think there’s some chance of succeeding there. It would help us solve climate and low-cost energy for poor countries.”
While believing in the viability of nuclear energy, Mr Gates notes that it must be a part of a larger energy mix which would include carbon capture and sequestration, and about 60-70 per cent capacity from renewables.
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