Bill Gates, Co-Chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, has called for strengthened investment in innovation in key areas so that related industries can continue to develop without worsening climate change.
Gates said this in the Bill and Melinda Gates 2019 annual letter released on Tuesday in New York.
To solve climate change, people need to get to near-zero emissions on all the things that drive it — agriculture, electricity, manufacturing, transportation and buildings.
“We need breakthrough inventions in each of the grand challenges,” he said.
As renewable gets cheaper, some progress has been made on electricity. But electricity accounts for only a quarter of all the greenhouse gases emitted around the world.
Manufacturing is not far behind, at 21 per cent, according to the letter.
When most people think of manufacturing, they picture widgets on assembly lines, but it also includes the materials used in buildings.
Making cement and steel requires lots of energy from fossil fuels, and the processes involved release of carbon as a byproduct.
As the urban population continues to grow in the coming decades, the world’s building stock is expected to double by 2060 — the equivalent of adding another New York City monthly between now and then.
That’s a lot of cement and steel.
“We need to find a way to make it all without worsening climate change,” he said.
Manufacturing is not the only big emitter. Agriculture accounts for 24 per cent of greenhouse gases. That includes cattle, which give off methane when they belch and pass gas.
He said it’s not realistic to think that people will simply stop using fertiliser, running cargo ships, building offices, or flying airplanes, nor is it fair to ask developing countries to curtail their growth for the sake of everyone else. For example, for many people in low- and middle-income countries, cattle are an essential source of income and nutrients.
“Part of the solution is to invest in innovation in all five sectors so we can do these things without destroying the climate,” he said.
He said some progress has been made in this respect, but “we need to do a much better job of informing people about the challenges.”
“It would help if media coverage matched the breadth of the problem. Solar panels are great, but we should be hearing about trucks, cement and cow farts too,” he added.
Similarly, Gates said that toilets of the future might not be the “sexiest” innovations in the world, but they will save millions of lives.
Gates said that more than two billion people around the world lack access to a decent toilet.
Their waste often ends up in the environment, untreated, killing nearly 800 children every day.
And exporting rich world sanitation solutions isn’t an option, because they require sewer systems that are too expensive to build and need a lot of water.
“Nearly eight years ago, Melinda and I challenged engineers and scientists around the world to reinvent the toilet,” Gates said in the letter.
“In 2018, we organised a toilet fair in Beijing, where I got to check out a number of next-gen toilets in person and even shared the stage with a beaker of human feces.”
He said several companies are business-ready.
Their inventions check almost all the boxes: They kill pathogens, can keep pace with the needs of fast-growing urban areas, and don’t require sewer infrastructure, external water sources, or continuous electricity to operate.
“The only area where they currently fall short is cost — which is why our foundation is investing in more R&D to help make them affordable for the poor,” he said.
He said at first glance the next generation of toilets are not that different from traditional ones, they don’t exactly look like something out of a sci-fi novel.
The real magic happens out of sight. Unlike today’s commodes, the toilets of the future are self-contained. They’re essentially tiny treatment plants capable of killing pathogens and rendering waste safe on their own.
Many of them even turn human feces and urine into useful byproducts, like fertiliser for crops and water for handwashing.
Melinda Gates said that they also improve lives — especially for women and girls.
Life without a toilet is hard for anyone, but it tends to be women and girls, who suffer most.
“Bill and I have both met women, who have suffered kidney damage from holding in urine all night to avoid a risky trip to dangerous public facilities.
“We’ve met others whose only place to defecate is in an open field, so they restrict their food intake all day and wait for cover of darkness to relieve themselves in relative privacy,” she said.
She said that one in ten girls in sub-Saharan Africa and one in four girls in India miss school during their periods, most often because their schools don’t have anywhere they can go to change or dispose of menstrual hygiene products.
“If you’re anything like me, I’m guessing toilets aren’t your favorite topic of conversation.
But if you care about keeping girls in school, expanding women’s economic participation, and protecting them against violence, then we have to be willing to talk about toilets,” she said.