Opinion | Bill Gates: A clean energy future is in the hands of Congress

Turn on the evening news and it quickly becomes clear that Americans are suffering from the effects of climate change. Extreme heat and drought are affecting tens of millions of people as floods and fires devastate communities from the Appalachians to California. In the coming days, Congress will have the opportunity to address the climate crisis while strengthening our country’s energy security, creating opportunities for businesses and improving the lives of Americans. We cannot afford to lose it.

The Inflation Reduction Act of 2022 may be the single most important piece of climate legislation in American history. It represents our best opportunity to build a cleaner, cheaper and safer energy future. Senators Chuck Schumer of New York and Joe Manchin of West Virginia deserve much credit for reaching this agreement, as do countless others. Many business leaders and activists I met through Breakthrough Energy, the climate organization I founded in 2015 to accelerate the clean energy transition, have been working tirelessly for decades for this moment. But even if it looks like the legislation will pass, success isn’t guaranteed, so it’s vital to keep pushing it. Let me tell you why.

Many of the technologies we will need to achieve net zero emissions do not exist, are in the early stages of development or are still too expensive to expand. At the same time, more mature technologies such as solar, wind and electric vehicles need to be deployed faster in more places. Through new and expanded tax credits and a long-term approach, this bill would ensure that critical climate solutions have sustained support to develop into new sectors.

These incentives would also give the private sector the confidence to invest over the long term. This legislation would begin to transform the parts of our economy that are most difficult to decarbonise, such as manufacturing, which we need to do to achieve net zero emissions. As many Americans face summer blackouts, power shortages, and high electricity bills, these measures would help build a modern and reliable power grid so that everyone can have access to cheap, plentiful, and clean energy.

With those incentives and investments, this bill would catalyze a new era of American innovation. The ability of American universities and industries to innovate is second to none, but the country risks falling behind as other countries scramble to build their own clean energy economies. This legislation would help transform American energy innovations into American energy industries and unlock huge economic opportunities in the energy market. If it became law, few nations would have the capacity to produce homegrown clean energy like the United States. America could quickly become a leader in deploying clean energy at the required scale.

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American companies are ready for this change. I have spoken to corporate executives who are eager for our government to take action. Many have made big commitments on the climate and invested heavily in clean energy, both because they are concerned about keeping their promises and because it is a good business. Even more companies are waiting on the sidelines for a strong signal from the government that clean industries are a solid long-term investment. Passing the inflation reduction law would send that message and allow private capital to power our clean energy future with even greater confidence.

With President Biden’s signing, this legislation would kickstart and support clean energy industries that could create millions of jobs, many in communities that have been built on fossil fuels. Indeed, many of the most promising technologies in the clean energy economy will require similar skills and competencies possessed by today’s coal, oil and gas workers. This will help ensure a just transition.

Resolving climate change is perhaps the most difficult challenge humanity has ever faced. It will require a fundamental transformation in the way we feed our communities, move goods, build things, heat and cool buildings and grow food – basically how we do it all. We must do this quickly with a cohesive and coherent plan if we are to avoid the worst effects of climate change.

The country has the opportunity to lead by example by offering a vision of what is possible and then making it happen. With the passage of this legislation, Congress would mark a time when, despite the many challenges facing the nation, Washington lawmakers have acted with ambition and foresight to build a cleaner, healthier and more prosperous future. Let’s do it.

Bill Gates, the co-founder of Microsoft, is also the founder of Breakthrough Energy and the author of “How to Avoid a Climate Disaster”.

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