More than 80,000 people gathered in the UAE for COP28, including world leaders, global CEOs, and civil society members. Bill Gates spoke on several topics at COP including how agriculture has been impacted by the climate crisis.
A warming world has many implications for our global food system, Gates explains, “The biggest problem is the effect on agriculture. You have a few other things, sea level rise, storms, fires, but overwhelmingly the biggest impact is that you can’t grow enough food and that has those incredible knock-on effects.”
One ag-tech company working towards solutions is the International Potato Centre (CIP). Partially funded by the Gates Foundation, CIP focuses on research including making root vegetables more resistant to climate change.
Director General Simon Heck was at COP28 and told CNN, “Our job is to develop better varieties of these crops and to bring these varieties to farmers, support farmers to produce them in a way that is good for the environment, that’s productive, that increases farm income. The varieties we have produced are very climate resilient in many ecologies that are vulnerable to drought or flooding, rising temperatures, to salinity. And that is a great tool to put in the hands of countries trying to adapt to climate changes.”
CIP’s Kenya-based laboratory focuses on the orange-fleshed sweet potato, a versatile variety particularly rich in vitamins and nutrients that can play a significant role in feeding developing countries. Joyce Maru, Director of CIP’s Sweet Potato Program, talks about their research, “We’re breeding varieties that are more resilient to climate change, drought resistant, but yet higher yielding and nutritious.” She continues, “Laboratories like these are also very important in terms of evaluating or analyzing the nutritional values of these new varieties. So, it is solving two problems of food and nutrition security.”
Finding solutions to procure sustainable energy was another issue discussed extensively at COP28. Gates believes innovators around the world are prepared for it and has been betting big money on it with the Breakthrough Energy fund. He describes the fund, “We didn’t want to invest in anything that wouldn’t have a dramatic effect on climate emissions. And we wanted companies that could address every source of emissions, transport industry, electricity, agriculture, buildings, everything. And I am stunned at how well it’s gone. It’s a great team. These entrepreneurs are amazing. We raised a second fund. We’ve spent that, so now we’re raising a third fund. It’s kind of amazing.”
Companies backed by Breakthrough Energy showcased their work at COP28. CNN meets Amine Berrada, VP of Strategic Business Development & Marketing at California-based Terabase, a company that uses technology to automate large-scale solar panel installation. Berrada says, “The problem that Terabase is working on solving is the problem of scale. To address climate goals, we need to be building two to three terawatts a year every year for about 20 years or so. The challenge that we’re seeing is arishe fact that it takes too long to build a solar power plant because it’s too much of a manual process.”
Health and climate change are inextricably linked, with COP28 putting health discussions at the top of the agenda. Heat-related illnesses, water- and vector-borne diseases, food scarcity, and poor air quality are just a few of the threats to well-being that are associated with global warming. Gates tells Anderson about some of these health threats, “The heating we’ve seen today, it means mosquitoes can live higher up than before and that’s where a lot of African cities are. So, in Ethiopia, the biggest city, Addis Ababa has seen more malaria cases. When you have a big flood, then the mosquitoes thrive. Pakistan had a huge increase in malaria deaths after flooding. There are also diseases like typhoid and cholera that when you have a flood, all the human waste sort of gets spread around and it’s not great. We need to be smart enough that we’re making climate progress and continuing not reducing the health dollars at all.”
The Global Institute for Disease Elimination (GLIDE) is part of the Gates Foundation’s efforts to tackle global health crises. GLIDE supports initiatives around the world like Lima’s Institute of Tropical Medicine, where a group of scientists is developing low-cost technology that can help forecast the spread of disease in the Peruvian Amazon. Researcher Gabriel Carrasco Escobar speaks about their work, “What we are trying to do here is to improve what we have so far in terms of forecasting to prevent deaths or hospitalizations. We start doing environmental surveillance, deploying drones, deploying weather stations, acoustic sensors, and air pollution sensors. We transfer all this data into inputs for our early warning system model.”
Investing in solutions across agriculture, technology, and health is what Gates believes will be the key to tackling climate change and improving lives as the world looks beyond COP28. He concludes, “All lives have equal value. And we see in the world that there’s great inequity even before climate change comes along. Climate comes along and sadly, even though it’s caused by the activities of the richer countries, the suffering will almost entirely be in these poor countries. So, we need to improve the human condition and make sure climate change doesn’t slow down that work. That’s the ultimate measure, are we treating people all over the world as having worth?”
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