“There are probably Teslas over there”

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Bill Gates has a net worth of nearly $ 124 billion, according to Forbes.

One way he’s using some of that money is an investment effort to get the private sector to embrace green innovation as a way to tackle climate change.

“You know, there are probably Tesla out there,” he told Yahoo Finance editor-in-chief Andy Serwer in a broad interview this week. But he added that “identifying who they are in advance” is the tricky part.

Gates repeatedly referred to the electric car maker (TLSA) led by Elon Musk during the conversation as a model of green innovation. In his new book “How to Avoid Climate Catastrophe,” the former CEO of Microsoft (MSFT) outlines plans to reorient the US economy in the coming decades to combat global warming.

Bill Gates at a 2017 panel discussion in New Delhi, India. (Sanchit Khanna / Hindustan Times via Getty Images)

In his book, Gates argues that the world must achieve zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. To achieve that goal, Gates says companies must better use technologies that already exist and invent new ones.

That’s where his fund, Breakthrough Energy Ventures, comes in. Billions of dollars in the fund, provided by Gates and others, go to environmentally conscious entrepreneurs in fields like agriculture, construction, power, manufacturing and transportation.

Gates began the effort in 2015 as he began to increasingly focus his attention on climate change.

“The trip alone did not give us a dramatic cut”

In the book, Gate offers revisions in a range of areas, from manufacturing to agriculture to electricity.

Gates is a big fan of what Tesla and others have done in transportation and says other sectors of the economy should follow suit. He points out that the current pandemic proves that sectors beyond travel must fight against global warming. Travel has declined dramatically over the past year as people stay home, but “we’re still producing cement and steel,” Gates said. “Travel alone has not enabled us to significantly reduce” greenhouse gas emissions, he added.

While the world may not have experienced a huge reduction in emissions, recent research shows that global greenhouse gas emissions have fallen by about 7% in 2020 amid pandemic restrictions. The analysis, published in December 2020, comes from researchers at the University of East Anglia, the University of Exeter and the Global Carbon Project.

These researchers found that the largest drop was in surface transport, with emissions dropping at a rate of about half the normal peak for COVID blockages.

SpaceX owner and Tesla CEO Elon Musk looks on after arriving on the red carpet for the Axel Springer Award, in Berlin, Germany on December 1, 2020. REUTERS / Hannibal Hanschke / Pool

SpaceX owner and Tesla CEO Elon Musk looks on after arriving on the red carpet for the Axel Springer Award, in Berlin, Germany on December 1, 2020. REUTERS / Hannibal Hanschke / Pool

In December 2020, the road transport and aviation sectors were still below 2019 levels, but were approaching normal – and the researchers warned that the numbers are expected to rebound again this year.

To help keep the numbers down permanently, Gates wants to encourage widespread adoption of greener technologies to produce things like concrete and steel more cheaply. He argues that any long-term “green bounty” – where it costs more to make things environmentally friendly – is not sustainable, especially in countries like India and China.

“The United States holds the majority of the global innovation power,” he notes. And if he succeeds here, he added, “then we will have world class companies like Tesla helping to solve the problem on a global scale.”

Innovative companies can also make profits while saving the planet, Gates said, specifically citing synthetic meat company Beyond Meat (BYND) and QuantumScape (QS), a Breakthrough Ventures portfolio company that sells lithium metal batteries for electric cars. Beyond Meat saw an increase in sales during the pandemic as Americans stockpiled groceries and feared meat shortages (although they posted a quarterly loss in November).

Meanwhile, shares of QuantumScape surged this week just after announcing the lifting of a key hurdle in its efforts to build lithium-metal solid-state batteries for electric vehicles.

“It’s nice to see the drive to reward these companies and appreciate that they will have a strong future,” said Gates.

Ben Werschkul is a writer and producer for Yahoo Finance in Washington, DC. Max Zahn contributed additional reporting.

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