Bill Gates on why he’ll carry on using private jets and campaigning on climate change

Bill Gates photographed in New York City on June 8, 2022. During a recent interview with the BBC, the billionaire said rich countries needed “to get their emissions down to zero as fast as they can.”

Michael Loccisano | Getty Images Entertainment | Getty Images

Bill Gates does not agree that using a private jet and campaigning on the issue of climate change represents a contradiction open to allegations of hypocrisy.

During a wide-ranging interview with the BBC aired at the end of last week, Gates was asked for his view on the charge that a climate change campaigner using a private jet to travel around the world was a hypocrite.

“Well, I buy the gold standard of, funding Climeworks, to do direct air capture that far exceeds my family’s carbon footprint,” the Microsoft co-founder, who was being interviewed in Kenya, replied.

“And I spend billions of dollars on … climate innovation. So, you know, should I stay at home and not come to Kenya and learn about farming and malaria?”

The billionaire added that he was “comfortable with the idea that, not only am I not part of the problem by paying for the offsets, but also through the billions that my Breakthrough Energy Group is spending, that I’m part of the solution.”

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The environmental footprint of aviation is significant, with the World Wildlife Fund describing it as “one of the fastest-growing sources of the greenhouse gas emissions driving global climate change.”

The WWF also says air travel is “currently the most carbon intensive activity an individual can make.”

Within aviation, the use of private jets by the wealthy is a contentious issue that creates a significant amount of debate and discussion.

Climeworks, which has offices in Switzerland and Germany, has clients such as Stripe and Microsoft and the Microsoft Climate Innovation Fund has invested in the company. It says it “uses a technology called ‘direct air capture’ to capture carbon dioxide directly from the air.”

The firm adds that combining the CO2 that’s been removed with underground storage enables “the permanent removal of excess and legacy CO2 emissions, which can no longer contribute to climate change.”

Gates has previously spoken about using Climeworks to “pay for direct air capture.” While the sector has high-profile backers, it faces challenges.

The International Energy Agency, for instance, notes that capturing carbon dioxide from the air “is more energy intensive and therefore expensive than capturing it from a point source.”

“Carbon removal technologies such as DAC are not an alternative to cutting emissions or an excuse for delayed action, but they can be an important part of the suite of technology options used to achieve climate goals,” the Paris-based organization adds.

During his interview with the BBC, Gates also spoke about the role developed nations needed to play when it came to reducing emissions.

“What the rich countries owe to the entire world is that they need to get their emissions down to zero as fast as they can,” he said. “But that’s not enough because they, you know, they have so … much in the way of resources.”

“They also need to invent new approaches so that the cost of being green, the cost of not having emissions in all areas, gets down to be zero.”

“So a new way of making cement or steel, you know, electric passenger cars, that’s all in the rich countries.”

“And they’ve got to solve it so they can turn to the middle-income countries and say, ‘OK, you know — India being a good example — here’s how you make steel, here’s how you make cement’.”

“For the low-income countries, as you get rich, you’re much more resilient against climate disasters and so improving … those economies through health, education, agriculture is … what we owe to the low income countries.”

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