In Paris, Business Helping To Lead The Way On Climate Change

CNBC EVENTS -- Pictured: Bill Gates, co-founder of Microsoft, speaks at the Clinton Global Initiative Annual Meeting, 'The Fu
CNBC EVENTS -- Pictured: Bill Gates, co-founder of Microsoft, speaks at the Clinton Global Initiative Annual Meeting, 'The Future of Impact', hosted by former President Bill Clinton, at the Sheraton Times Square in New York City, on September 27, 2015 -- (Photo by: Adam Jeffery/CNBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)

Smart business leaders know what's good for the environment can also be good for the economy.

No place is that more evident right now than at the UN Conference on Climate Change in Paris, where business is taking center stage as global leaders focus on fixing our ailing planet.

On Monday, Microsoft Corp. founder Bill Gates and 28 other business leaders announced they will invest billions in seed capital in new energy technologies through their new Breakthrough Energy Coalition. The group's goal is getting cutting-edge clean energy companies across the so-called "Valley of Death" (in venture capital speak) between innovation in the research lab and success in the marketplace.

In connection with the Breakthrough Energy Coalition, President Obama and leaders of 20 other countries also announced in Paris an agreement called Mission Innovation to double government investment in clean energy research and development over the next five years.

This combination could be that clean energy moonshot program we've long needed.

The smart money is betting on clean energy in other ways too:

*Goldman Sachs recently announced plans to nearly quadruple its investments in solar, wind, energy efficiency and other clean energy opportunities. Goldman plans to invest $150 billion in clean energy by 2025.

*More than 400 investment firms that represent $24 trillion in assets signed a statement in advance of the Paris summit urging world leaders to take action on climate change because of the economic problems it's creating -- and because of the economic opportunities that come with clean energy.

*More than 80 businesses that do work in all 50 states recently pledged under President Obama's American Business Act on Climate program to reduce their own carbon emissions by investing in renewable energy and energy efficiency.

That's all good, but we need more.

"As an investor, I have been involved with many companies working on promising energy solutions," Gates wrote in a whitepaper describing the Breakthrough Energy Coalition. "I wish there were many more to choose from. There should be hundreds if not thousands of companies around the world exploring different approaches."

There are good reasons why investors and businesses want action on climate change.

One reason is cost. Sea-level rise and increased coastal storms tied to climate change could sap an estimated $35 billion out of our economy each and every year if we don't do something about it. Tens of billions more could go up in smoke with temperature extremes and crop losses.

Another reason is opportunity. More than 170 countries responsible for over 90 percent of the world's climate pollution have announced specific plans to reduce their emissions. In the United States, the federal Clean Power Plan will cut carbon emissions from existing power plans by about 32 percent, in part by replacing dirty power with solar and wind energy and energy efficiency. States such as California and New York now have policies in place to get as much as 50 percent of its energy from renewables. Smart policies like those will create huge new market opportunities for clean energy companies and their suppliers.

As Department of Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz put it in a Boston Globe opinion piece: "New energy supply, demand and infrastructure technologies will generate expenditures at the trillion-dollar scale.

"Benefits will surely accrue to the early innovators."

Just ask guys like Bill Gates about that.

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