NEW YORK — With deadly extreme weather hitting all over the globe, rising temperatures peaking during the hottest summer on record and carbon pollution levels that keep climbing, Britain’s Prince William and wealthy entrepreneurs Bill Gates and Michael Bloomberg promised a warming world a degree of hope.
That comes in the form of innovation, creativity and technology, the trio and others said at a summit Tuesday in the posh Plaza Hotel. They announced finalists for William’s third annual Earthshot Prize that offers five awards of $1.2 million to companies and groups that come up with new ways to save the planet.
“We’ve got to hang onto optimism and hope because it is the biggest driver of change, the biggest driver of innovation,” William told the crowd of movers and shakers, after mentioning that he’d slipped away for a morning jog in New York’s Central Park.
While a healthy dose of realistic pessimism about Earth’s climate is important, the heir to the British throne said he wants people to believe “there is hope; there are people out there doing incredible things that will have massive impacts on our futures.”
William’s summit highlighted 15 different finalists from around the world, including efforts to reduce London air pollution from vehicle tires, reduce livestock methane emissions by new types of seaweed feedstock and use DNA technology to make more sustainable textile dyes.
DIFFERING VISIONS OF THE FUTURE
Days after protesters in the street, many of them under 30, talked of robbed futures, speakers at the Earthshot summit – named because it was inspired by President John F. Kennedy’s moonshot effort in the 1960s – saw a different world developing, mainly because of changes in technology.
“There’s a lot of climate exaggeration,” said Gates, who founded Microsoft and is now a philanthropist. “The climate is not the end of the planet. So the planet is going to be fine.”
The world will not be able to meet its agreed-upon goal to limit future warming to 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit above pre-industrial temperatures, but it won’t hit the 5.4-degree mark either, said Gates, who is not a climate scientist.
Gates cited a reason for thinking it won’t be as bad as it once looked: Since 2015, until last year, the world went on a “gigantic” innovation binge in efforts that could help curb climate change.
Gates promoted a winner from last year who tries to use rock-like resources to safely store carbon dioxide sucked from the atmosphere, speeding up a natural process by 100,000 times. If that company can get the price of storing carbon dioxide down to $50 a ton it “brings in this additional tool that reduces the temperature rise.”
AVOIDING INVESTMENT IN HEAT-TRAPPING GASES
Later, at the same hotel, U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen talked about more down-to-Earth financial issues — how powerful companies could have what’s called net-zero investments, which is not funding industries and firms that emit heat-trapping gases.
“The climate crisis has propelled a massive economic shift,” Yellen said.
She introduced a series of best practices for these financial institutions to carry out their net-zero commitments called ” Principles for Net-Zero Financing and Investment.” They include encouraging banks and other institutions to finance clients pursuing decarbonization in high-polluting industries and investing in clean energy projects. Some financial institutions could supplement emissions reduction measures with the voluntary purchase of carbon credits, according to a handout.
She said the goal is to affirm “the importance of credible net-zero commitments and to encourage financial institutions that make them to take consistent approaches to implementation.”
Yellen also announced that a group of philanthropic organizations – including Bezos Earth Fund, Bloomberg Philanthropies and others – would pledge $340 million to help financial institutions “develop and execute robust, voluntary net-zero commitments,” she said.
In a statement, David Arkush, director of Public Citizen’s Climate Program, said the new Treasury commitments, “suffer from major shortcomings.”
“Offsets are a loophole large enough to drive most carbon pollution through,” he said.
Afterward, Prince William headed toward ground zero, where he visited with firefighters at FDNY Ten House, the station that was the first on the scene at the World Trade Center after the 9/11 attacks. He then greeted scores of people lined up behind metal barricades across the street. The Prince shook outstretched hands and chatted briefly with people.