Microsoft founder Bill Gates, Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and a Saudi Arabian prince are among the names signed up to support the Breakthrough Energy Coalition, an initiative launched as COP21 climate talks begin today in Paris.
The summit, taking place six years after the previous meeting in Copenhagen, will also today see the launch of Mission Innovation, an initiative to “reinvigorate and accelerate clean energy innovation”, through a joint statement signed by the heads of 20 nations.
The White House announced Mission Innovation’s launch on Sunday. Countries which have signed up have committed to doubling investment in clean energy research and development over five years.
In alphabetical order, those nations are:
Australia, Brazil, Canada, Chile, China, Denmark, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Norway, Republic of Korea, Saudi Arabia, Sweden, the United Kingdom, the United Arab Emirates, and the US.
Those 20 nations between them represent 75% of world emissions from electricity but also more than 80% of global investment in clean energy claimed the White House statement, authored by the National Security Council’s senior director for energy and climate change Paul Bodnar and Dave Turk, deputy assistant secretary for International Climate and Technology at the US Department of Energy.
The Breakthrough Energy Coalition is intended as a private sector companion to Mission Innovation. Along with Bill Gates, who since retiring from technology has done philanthropic work for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, other participants include Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and his partner Dr Priscilla Chan, Ratan Tata of India’s Tata heavy industry group, noted fund manager George Soros, Jack Ma of Chinese home shopping site Alibaba, billionaire entrepreneur Richard Branson, founder and CEO of Amazon Jeff Bezos, chief of Japanese mobile telecoms company and solar developer Softbank Masayoshi Son and Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, a Saudi royal and philanthropist.
Breakthrough Energy Coalition said that while government support is vital to ensure that the development of renewables is mandated and carried out, “current governmental funding levels for clean energy are simply insufficient to meet the challenges before us”.
But Breakthrough Energy Coalition’s approach has already drawn criticism on twitter this morning from solar industry veteran and clean tech entrepreneur and financier Jigar Shah.
Shah has said before that in his view, focus on R&D is less of a priority than the scaled deployment of technologies that are already market-ready such as solar PV. Once again he said that spending on R&D was not as fruitful an investment as spending on deployment.
Other commentators early to react on Twitter, including US entrepreneur Marc Andreessen, said today that while hundreds of billions are spent on subsidising fossil fuels worldwide, either through costs for externalities that are not factored in to common calculations of spending such as clean up for oil spills, tax exemptions or direct subsidies, innovation spending in clean energy would be dwarfed in its impact by comparison.