Boris Johnson and Bill Gates team up to rally green innovation and investment

Covid vaccines demonstrated mankind’s ability to rapidly overcome hurdles, says British PM

Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson appears on stage in conversation with Bill Gates during the Global Investment Summit at the Science Museum, London. Reuters
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Tech pioneer Bill Gates has spent the last decade spearheading the international fight against malaria.

As a newly-installed prime minister, Boris Johnson played a crucial role in enabling scientists to successfully create a vaccine against Covid-19.

Now, the two have joined forces to harness investment and innovation in the fight against global warming.

Mr Johnson on Tuesday called for global investment in the green technology required for carbon-cutting plans.

He was joined by the Microsoft founder to announce a £400 million ($552.6m) joint investment partnership, targeting technology such as green hydrogen, long-term energy storage and sustainable aviation fuels.

The UK Prime Minister courted the "trillions of the markets" in a speech to the world's top financiers and executives.

The UK government's Global Investment Summit in London marks post-Brexit Britain's biggest push to woo investors, even leveraging the soft power of drinks with Queen Elizabeth II at Windsor Castle as it seeks cash and partners to edge ahead in the international race for green technology.

Downing Street said plans being announced at the summit would involve £9.7 billion of new overseas investment in the UK, creating 30,000 additional jobs.

Mr Johnson said the major hurdles overcome in rapidly producing Covid-19 vaccines showed that humanity had the skills to find the solutions to avert climate catastrophe.

The pair announced a new global Breakthrough Energy Catalyst in which the Gates Foundation would team up with the British government, investing an initial total of £400m to assist green technology development across the UK.

The partnership is “a boost to the UK’s vision of a green industrial revolution”, Mr Johnson said. “We will only achieve our ambitious climate goals if we rapidly scale up new technologies in areas like green hydrogen and sustainable aviation fuels, technologies that seemed impossible just a few years ago.”

He said his government was making “big bets” on electric vehicles, giga factories for battery production, hydrogen and solar power.

He singled out hydrogen as a major “part of the solution” as well as a reliance on nuclear power.

Mr Johnson made a direct appeal to the business leaders assembled before him at the Science Museum, London, stating that while his government could “deploy billions”, those in the room represented a total value of $24 trillion.

“I want to say to each and every one of those dollars, you are very welcome to the UK and you have come to the right place at the right time.”

The lessons from the coronavirus pandemic were clear, “we have to listen to the scientists”, he said, using the rapid creation of vaccines as an example of what people could achieve.

“When humanity really wants something then our promethium powers of invention are quite amazing when we have to do it,” Mr Johnson said. “When necessity is the mother of invention, we crack it.”

On the day the government publishes its net zero strategy for cutting emissions, Mr Johnson said the UK had a responsibility to lead the world in decarbonising because as the birthplace of the industrial revolution, “we were the first to knit the deadly tea cosy of CO2 that is now driving climate change”.

It was also announced on Tuesday that homeowners in England and Wales will be offered subsidies of £5,000 from next year to help them replace old gas boilers with low-carbon heat pumps.

He channelled the spirit of Michael Douglas’s character from the 1987 film Wall Street as he told business chiefs: “To adapt Gordon Gekko – who may or may not be a hero of anybody in this room – green is good, green is right, green works.”

Mr Gates, 65, the billionaire Microsoft philanthropist, spoke of his passion for cutting-edge technology.

“The most exciting thing going on is innovation,” he said. “The way that you can get from the trillions that you'd have to subsidise down to something that really works is through innovation.”

He highlighted how initial significant government investment in solar energy, lithium ion batteries and wind power had diminished once the systems became widespread.

“That difference that the government has to fund comes down and, like it has with electric cars, eventually reaches zero.”

Mr Johnson issued a plea for industrialised countries to contribute to the £100 billion a year needed to help developing countries decarbonise, a major focus of the Cop26 climate summit in Glasgow, which beings on October 31.

“It’s crucial for the success of the summit that the G20 countries – rich countries – show that they understand that global solidarity is necessary, absolutely crucial.”

Green and clean technology was vital to keep to the target of a 1.5°C temperature rise by the end of the century under the 2015 Paris Agreement.

“That sounds like a pretty modest ambition but in reality that's a huge thing to achieve and it will be dramatic for our lives and the lives of our children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren,” Mr Johnson said. “It is crucial that we do it, as the evidence is overwhelming.”

Attendees at the event included JP Morgan Chase chief executive Jamie Dimon, Blackrock chief executive Larry Fink and bosses from GlaxoSmithKline and Darktrace.

Officials hope the summit will bring a new wave of investments over the next 12 months. More than 100 private meetings were set to take place in exhibition halls adorned with planes, spacecraft and other artefacts of Britain's engineering history.

After the conference, attendees will travel to Windsor Castle for a reception attended by the queen and senior royals.

"This summit is not just a showcase but an opportunity to come together and, in the generous spirit of collaboration, forge new partnerships," the queen said in a foreword for the investment programme.

Updated: October 19, 2021, 1:38 PM