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Obama’s Clean Energy Coalition Gains Support From Big Investors

Bill Gates and the White House are promoting a new coalition to mount a well-focused and generously funded program for research into making clean energy the global rule, not the exception.

Their Breakthrough Energy Coalition, outlined by the White House, is being described as the largest source of funding for clean, renewable energy. It will involve 20 governments and at least 28 “significant private capital investors” from 10 nations.

Such initiatives previously have suffered from a lack of funding and focus. Even the United States spends only about $5 billion a year on such projects, a small fraction of its annual budget. And since 2009 there’s been no multinational agreement on climate change that could serve as a framework for such a project.

But observers say they expect that the 12 days of U.N. climate talks, which began Monday in Paris, will reach such an agreement. And evidently given the wealth of the partners, there’s optimism that this program may fare better than others. Besides the rich private investors, participants include the world’s five most populous countries: China, India, the United States, Indonesia and Brazil.

Related: Other Energy Companies Accused Of Downplaying Climate Change

And taken together, according to the White House website, the 20 countries that have joined the coalition “represent 75 percent of the world’s CO2 emissions from electricity, and more than 80 percent of the world’s clean energy R&D investment.”

“I come here personally as the leader of world’s biggest economy and second-biggest emitter [after China] to say that America not only acknowledges its role in climate change but embraces doing something about it,” President Obama said in a speech at the start of the summit.

The American leader said the “old” arguments for inaction on climate change were no longer valid. “One of the enemies we will be fighting at this conference is cynicism – the notion we can't do anything about climate change.”

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Many developing countries complain that countries in Europe, for example, were able to build their 
wealth with the use of fossil fuels such as coal and oil, and now, as concern for climate change grows, they themselves are being told they can’t take the same route.

To remedy this, one project in the works is for the United States to give India the financial help it needs to develop wind and solar power while reducing its reliance on coal.

In fact, India is seen as a key to the success of the Paris summit. Hillary Clinton, when she was the U.S. secretary of state, promised that developed countries would give $100 billion a year to their poorer neighbors to help them shift to clean energy. India has demanded that any agreement reached in Paris include language guaranteeing such donations.

Meanwhile, Gates has vowed to invest $1 billion of his own money to finance research into clean energy technology and to deploy it, and The New York Times quotes sources as saying the coalition would include large commitments for this purpose.

Related: Shell Forced to Scale Back Ambitions

“If we create the right environment for innovation, we can accelerate the pace of progress, develop and deploy new solutions, and eventually provide everyone with reliable, affordable energy that is carbon free,” Gates wrote on his blog in July. “We can avoid the worst climate-change scenarios while also lifting people out of poverty, growing food more efficiently and saving lives by reducing pollution.”

Among the entrepreneurs investing in the Breakthrough Energy Coalition are Mark Zuckerberg, a co-founder of Facebook; Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos; Virgin founder Richard Branson; and Jack Ma, the executive chairman of Alibaba.

Can this initiative accomplish more than its predecessors did? Concentrated research can yield stunning results, as with the Manhattan Project that developed nuclear weapons, but as with any broad-based project, it can wither if the participants don’t maintain their focus.

By Andy Tully of Oilprice.com

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