Through the partnership, the group’s members have committed to use a substantial portion of their hundreds of billions of dollars in collective net worth to invest in early stage clean energy companies.
Zuckerberg wrote a Facebook post Sunday night announcing the partnership, complete with a photo of WIRED’s 2010 cover shoot of Zuckerberg and Gates. In the post, Zuckerberg framed clean energy as foundational to solving so many of the world’s other problems. “Solving the clean energy problem is an essential part of building a better world,” he wrote. “We won’t be able to make meaningful progress on other challenges—like educating or connecting the world—without secure energy and a stable climate.”
The timing of the announcement coincides with the global climate conference, COP21, taking place in Paris this week, where world leaders including President Barack Obama will convene to discuss their plans to deal with climate change. On one hand, with this timing, the Coalition is capitalizing on the fact that clean energy is on everyone’s radar this week. On the other hand, the announcement smacks of a distinctly tech-centric belief, shared by so many in Silicon Valley, that there’s only so much that the government leaders gathered at COP21 will ever be able to accomplish without the private sector’s help.
In a video explaining his involvement with the coalition, Bill Gates essentially said as much.
“If you look at where we’ve had huge success in the past, the government’s been there to fund the basic research,” he says in the video, adding that the government was critical to funding the research that led to the creation of the Internet. “We need the basic research, but we have to pair that with people who are willing to fund high-risk breakthrough energy companies.”
There’s no word yet on just how much the members of the coalition—which also include Jack Ma, Meg Whitman, George Soros, and billionaire environmentalist Tom Steyer—plan to invest. But they say they will fund startups in a range of industries, from agriculture to transportation to electricity storage. They’ll also focus the investments on the countries that are part of Mission Innovation—a consortium of 20 countries, including the US, that have committed to doubling their investment in clean energy over the next five years.