“Innovate to Zero” emissions?- Bill Gates

Roughly speaking, global CO2 emissions are the product of 3 things: world population (P), how much stuff each of us use (U), and the amount of CO2 released to make one product or service (E). This could be described as:

Total CO2 = P x U x E

The “innovating to zero” idea is simple: to get “Total CO2” emissions to zero, either P, U, or E needs to be zero. Population (P) is likely to grow until 2100 [1]. Use (U) can’t decrease to zero either. In wealthy countries, consumption could decrease a bit. In poorer places like Sub-Saharan Africa and India, we want people to have things many of us have had for decades – sanitation, medicine, technology, stoves etc. So, overall consumption will grow…

Ok, we can’t make P or U zero, so it will have to be E – we need to get CO2 from production of stuff down to zero!

Can we reduce emissions from production? Absolutely. For example, renewable energy is on the rise [5], but not dominant yet [4]. Some emissions are very hard to avoid though, such as those from cattle farming, because they come from the cows themselves [6,7]. In this case, we need to eat less beef, but unfortunately this isn’t happening yet [2]. So, for some products E has to go to zero and for others, were E can’t be decreased much, U has to go to zero.

Even if we can’t reduce emissions to zero, we may be able to take the CO2 we do release out of the air again. This requires so-called “Negative Emissions Technologies” (NETs), that remove CO2 from the air permanently [16]. These will likely be key for making the world carbon neutral [16]. NETs are still in development, but we can now suck CO2 straight from the air [8, 9], but at a high price [18].

Another problem that needs solving is zero-emissions transport [12, 13, 14, 15]: electric cars are hyped as planet-friendly, but still cause emissions during manufacturing and electricity production [12]. Cars may soon run on fuel made from CO2 that was fished out of the air for just $1 per liter [17].

We need to “innovate to zero” by decreasing emissions in all sectors. Innovation doesn’t come on its own – it needs smart brains! Maybe yours?!


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