Bill Gates sees innovation as key to achieving net-zero

Bill Gates takes over as guest editor of the Fortune website today

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Good morning.

Bill Gates takes over as guest editor of the Fortune website today, providing a look at the steps needed for a climate breakthrough. You can read the whole package, along with updates, at Especially worth attention is Gates’ lengthy interview with editor-in-chief Clifton Leaf, available here. In it, he makes the point that during the last recession, in 2007-2008, concern about climate change receded. But this time, the opposite has happened:

“During the financial crisis … people were like, “Hey, things are tough now and that climate stuff, that’s way out there.” Even by 2010, if you polled the public, you’d find that interest in the climate had gone way down. It began to build up gradually over the next decade, but as we hit the pandemic, I thought, ‘Okay, what’s gonna’ happen?’ But it’s actually gone up somewhat during the pandemic, which is kind of weird.”

Gates believes the global challenge to meet net zero carbon emissions will have to rely heavily on innovation. And in his new book, How to Avoid a Climate Disaster, he lays out the innovations needed. (Read Leaf’s review of the book here.) It’s a daunting agenda. But as we reported last month, 60% of CEOs surveyed recently are now on board and have adopted their own plans for achieving net zero by 2050 or before. And many executives I’ve talked with recently share the view that GM CEO Mary Barra expressed at a recent Fortune meeting—that 2021 could be an “inflection point.”  

For its part, the Biden administration is rapidly turning the U.S. government toward the net zero goal. The recent COVID vaccine effort has shown what can happen when business and government collaborate with a clear purpose. If they do the same on climate change, anything is possible.

Separately, Chobani CEO Hamdi Ulukaya is the subject of a new documentary, which debuted last night on Vice. The film focuses on the work he has done to resettle and provide jobs to refugees. I spoke with Ulukaya about the film last week. He says he grew up “hating CEOs and business and wealth,” and wanted to show it could be done better. He believes other businesses increasingly share his view, for two big reasons:

“One is the people who want to come and join these companies. They want to work for companies whose values align with theirs. That’s the new force, and it is getting more and more powerful… The second big force is the consumer…That’s also becoming more and more powerful.”

And finally, Magic Leap’s new CEO Peggy Johnson was our guest on Leadership Next this week.  She believes she has a plan to turn the troubled augmented reality headset maker around. You can listen on Apple or Spotify.

More news below.

Alan Murray


Rare earth

China is reportedly considering whether to limit exports of rare earth minerals that U.S. defense contractors need to make their fighter jets and other advanced weapons. If limits are imposed, that could force China’s rivals to develop their own production capacity. Financial Times

WTO leader

Nigeria’s Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala has finally been appointed as the World Trade Organization’s first female leader, and its first African leader. She now has the task of shepherding WTO reforms on which there is substantial international disagreement. CNBC

Pfizer hack

South Korea’s spy agency has alleged that North Korean hackers tried to steal vaccine technology from Pfizer—which rather spoils the story Kim Jong Un has been spinning about there being no COVID-19 cases inside the pariah state. AFP

TikTok complaints

Europe’s consumer watchdogs have ganged up on TikTok over a litany of alleged failures, ranging from GDPR data-protection violations, to a failure to protect kids from hidden advertising, to unfair terms over the exchange rate of virtual coins. Fortune


Texan grid

Turns out California isn’t the only state whose power grid can topple in adverse weather conditions. Texas suffered rolling blackouts yesterday during a rare winter storm, with around 2 million homes being without power. The weather forced natural gas and coal-fired plants offline, and froze wind turbines. Fortune

Nord Stream 2

With new U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken having literally written the book (well, a book) on contentious Russia-to-Europe pipelines, German officials are trying to figure out how to get the Biden administration on-board-ish with Nord Stream 2. Blinken is reportedly open to minimizing sanctions on the project, and the Germans are considering mechanisms that might strengthen rather than weaken the EU’s diplomatic leverage with Moscow. FT

Parler redux

The right-wing social network Parler is back online using “sustainable, independent technology”, though it remains banned from mobile app platforms and isn’t taking on new users yet. All its existing users’ posts have disappeared, too. The platform was cancelled by providers following the Jan. 6 insurrection in the U.S. BBC

Bitcoin milestone

The price of one bitcoin is very close to $50,000, having broken through the $20,000 barrier for the first time just a couple months ago. Fortune

This edition of CEO Daily was edited by David Meyer.