Microsoft founder, investor, and philanthropist Bill Gates has warned that while the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) is 'awful,' the climate change crisis could be even worse. Gates, in a blog, said, "As awful as this pandemic is, climate change could be worse."
Gates said that it's hard to focus on anything other than the coronavirus pandemic at the moment, but that we must accelerate efforts to deal with climate change now to avoid a climate disaster. He added, "If you want to understand the kind of damage that climate change will inflict, look at COVID-19 and spread the pain out over a much longer period of time. The loss of life and economic misery caused by this pandemic are on par with what will happen regularly if we do not eliminate the world's carbon emissions."
Gates, while comparing the mortality rate of coronavirus, which is around 14 deaths per 100,000, hinted that the mortality rate due to rising global temperatures is expected to reach the same. Gates said, "Within the next 40 years, increases in global temperatures are projected to raise global mortality rates by the same amount - 14 deaths per 100,000."
"By the end of the century, if emissions growth stays high, climate change could be responsible for 73 extra deaths per 100,000 people. In a lower emissions scenario, the death rate drops to 10 per 100,000," he added.
Gates said that in each projection, the mortality rate is either similar to current coronavirus fatality rates, or higher. "By 2060, climate change could be just as deadly as COVID-19," he said, "and by 2100 it could be five times as deadly," he added.
Gates, in his blog, wrote, "Analysts disagree about how much emissions will go down this year, but the International Energy Agency puts the reduction around 8 per cent. In real terms, that means we will release the equivalent of around 47 billion tonnes of carbon, instead of 51 billion. That's a meaningful reduction, and we would be in great shape if we could continue that rate of decrease every year. Unfortunately, we can't. Consider what it's taking to achieve this 8 per cent reduction. More than 600,000 people have died, and tens of millions are out of work. This April, car traffic was half what it was in April 2019. For months, air traffic virtually came to a halt."
Gates also suggested that, if we learn the lessons of COVID-19, we can approach climate change more informed about the consequences of inaction, and more prepared to save lives and prevent the worst possible outcome.
He highlighted that we should:
Let science and innovation lead the way
The relatively small decline in emissions this year makes one thing clear: We cannot get to zero emissions simply - or even mostly - by flying and driving less.
He added that "We need new tools for fighting climate change: zero-carbon ways to produce electricity, make things, grow food, keep our buildings cool and warm, and move people and goods around the world. And we need new seeds and other innovations to help the world's poorest people - many of whom are smallholder farmers - adapt to a less predictable climate."
Make sure solutions work for poor countries too
"We don't yet know exactly what impact COVID-19 will have on the world's poorest people, but I am concerned that by the time this is over, they will have had the worst of it. The same goes for climate change. It will hurt the poorest people in the world the most, " said Gates.
"According to a recent study published by Climate Impact Lab, although climate change will push the overall death rate up globally, the overall average will obscure an enormous disparity between rich and poor countries. More than anywhere else, climate change will dramatically increase death rates in poor countries near or below the Equator, where the weather will get even hotter and more unpredictable," reads the blog.
Additionally, clean sources of energy also need to be cheap enough so that low- and middle-income countries could buy them. These nations are looking to grow their economies by building factories and call centres; if this growth is powered by fossil fuels, it will be even harder to get to zero emissions.
Unlike the novel coronavirus, for which will have a vaccine next year, there is no two-year fix for climate change. It will take decades to develop and deploy all the clean-energy inventions.
Gates added, "We need to create a plan to avoid a climate disaster - to use the zero-carbon tools we have now, develop and deploy the many innovations we still need, and help the poorest adapt to the temperature increase that is already locked in."
"Some governments and private investors are committing the funding and the policies that will help us get to zero emissions, but we need even more to join in. And we need to act with the same sense of urgency that we have for COVID-19," he wrote.