Bill Gates on COVID-19, Climate Change, and Our Economic Future

Bill Gates discusses how the pandemic, the growing importance of digital solutions, and climate change impact our economic future.


Air Date: May 19, 2021

Moderator: Suzanne P. Clark, President and CEO, U.S. Chamber of Commerce

Featured Guests: Bill Gates, Co-Chair and Trustee, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

From his founding of Microsoft to his philanthropy work through the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Bill Gates has been a leading voice on many issues that impact our economic recovery. Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, Gates has shown leadership by leveraging his resources to support poorer countries and develop a vaccine. To conclude the Global Forum on Economic Recovery, Suzanne Clark (President and CEO, U.S. Chamber of Commerce) sat down with Gates to discuss how the pandemic, climate change, and other factors will affect economic recovery in the long and short term.

Investing in Preventing a Future Pandemic Is Cheaper Than Combating One

The coronavirus pandemic caused a significant economic downturn for the entire world. While pandemics are unpredictable, having the right infrastructure in place to address them can prevent the next one from cratering our economy and healthcare systems. Bill Gates believes this investment would only be a few billion a year.

“Which, given that the [global] cost has been a trillion [dollars], is a pretty good insurance policy,” Gates said. “[We need a] workforce of epidemiologists that are looking at these outbreaks when they're still very small, and you have to have a lot of surveillance. The diagnostic tools have gotten cheaper.”

Gates continues, “Surveillance managed by a team of 3000 professionals under the WHO — that's kind of the global level investment. For the U.S., given our incredible expertise in medical innovation, we'll have to devote some of the research budget to these areas, finding a blend of funding, academic research, and incentivizing the private sector.”

The Pandemic Increased the Importance of the Digital World

With people staying inside for safety precautions, the pandemic created a greater emphasis on the digital space. Now more than ever before, people are learning how to buy products and operate their businesses online. Though becoming a trend earlier, the pandemic has been a catalyst for this change.

“We realized that some part of the activity can be done on a virtual basis,” said Gates. “I hope people are going to their employee groups and thinking about, [how] there were some benefits to not having that long commute, there were some benefits to being able to hire people who live in different locations. [Before] the cost of real estate in the cities that are doing well became a barrier, particularly for the middle-class jobs.”

The Government Needs to Make the Right Investments in Climate Change

Last year, the United States and other global governments invested heavily in economic recovery and vaccine development. Now, Gates said, they need to make the same investments to conquer climate change and bring the premium cost of being environmentally cognitive down.

“I absolutely believe with innovation that every one of the categories has extra costs for being green … can be brought down,” said Gates.

“Now we need to use all the tools here; [research and development] for the early-stage venture capital for first commercialization,” Gates affirmed. “But then some degree of purchase requirements or tax credits in the money from philanthropists and companies to create a market, to try to get that volume up and create a learning curve.”


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