Bill Gates has weighed into one of the most fraught climate change debates by calling for a rethink of how rich countries can help poorer nations deal with the effects of global warming.
The billionaire philanthropist — ranked the world’s richest man — says a new $10bn Green Climate Fund about to start handing out millions of dollars must focus on the 1.5bn people in poor farming families who face some of the biggest risks from a changing climate.
He has also questioned the long-term impact of some of the first projects the fund is looking to support with the money that 37 countries have pledged for it since it was founded at UN talks five years ago.
“This fund is unique,” the co-founder of Microsoft said in an interview with the Financial Times, explaining it was the only sizeable source of money that could potentially help millions of people adapt to the heatwaves, droughts and flooding that scientists say will be more likely as the atmosphere warms.
He said one “mind-blowingly underfunded” area was research to make crop seeds more productive, heat resistant and drought tolerant.
“I’d put a huge percentage of the money into that,” Mr Gates said.
The Gates Foundation gives about $100m a year to agricultural research centres around the world and has met Green Climate Fund staff to discuss such work.
However, the centres are not among the first batch of eight projects the fund has shortlisted for approval. Its board is due to consider them at a meeting in Zambia next month.
News and analysis of discussions in the build up to December’s Cop 21 climate change talks in the Parisian suburb of Le Bourget
The projects include a $23.6m plan to manage climate-induced water shortages in the Maldives, an effort Mr Gates said may mean “you’re going to have to spend this $23m again and again and again”.
Money spent improving a relatively small number of seed types used by poor farmers for crops such as cassava and sorghum would have an enduring global benefit, he said.
“Then you’re affecting literally hundreds of millions of farmers,” he said. “Once you do the R&D, that seed is there every year.”
Mr Gates said he was not proposing the Green Climate Fund back genetically modified crops, which are contentious in many countries. Rather, he wants more support for conventional breeding techniques that can significantly enhance farmers’ yields.
Héla Cheikhrouhou, executive director of the Green Climate Fund, welcomed Mr Gates’s suggestion, adding he and his foundation were “an inspiration”.
Because the fund is only just starting to operate, it is going to be “learning by doing”, but it does…Read more.