At the Paris climate summit on Monday, President Barack Obama and other world leaders announced moves by 20 nations and private industry to double basic research into clean energy over the next five years.
Accompanying the announcement, a Gates Foundation–led coalition of industrialists said they will support partnerships between governments, researchers, and investors to move “zero-emissions” power from the lab into the marketplace.
Prince Alwaleed bin Talal of Saudi Arabia, Jack Ma of China’s Alibaba Group, and Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook are among the investors, along with Microsoft founder Bill Gates.
“Our nations share a sense of urgency about this challenge and a growing realization that it is within our power to do something about it,” Obama said at the the summit. The two-week meeting will look to create a worldwide agreement on limiting future greenhouse gas emissions, supporting clean energy in developing nations, and verifying those commitments in the future.
Earlier this year, Gates and other industrialists released a report lamenting decades of U.S. under-investment in energy research, finding the energy industry devotes less than 0.5% of its spending on research, far less than the pharmaceutical or defense industry. More money was spent on potato and tortilla chips in the United States than on energy research, the report found.
“New and revolutionary technologies are often too risky to secure private sector investment,” said Jason Grumet of the Bipartisan Policy Center in Washington, D.C., which supported the call for tripling U.S. spending on energy research to more than $11 billion, in a statement applauding the Paris announcements. “One or two of these technologies could change the world.”
However, clean energy research and venture capital investment all by itself won’t stop greenhouse gas emissions from growing, climate policy expert Robert Socolow of Princeton University told BuzzFeed News by email.
“Both President Obama’s speech and the announcement of the public-private partnership are historic,” Socolow said. But unless the new technologies are made cheaper than fossil fuels by government action, and steered into replacing fossil fuels in growing economies, “we will be have created the equivalent of one hand clapping.”