Bill Gates believes we can fight climate change using GMO crops and livestock. Will it work?

Bill Gates believes we can fight climate change using GMO crops and livestock. Will it work?

Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates is a major advocate for fighting climate change and has a dedicated investment wing called Breakthrough Energy, who invest in technologies and startups that fight climate change. Gates believes how we raise livestock and use GM crops can save the planet

Microsoft co-founder and philanthropist Bill Gates has a dedicated investment wing called Breakthrough Energy, a climate-focused organisation, with one simple objective — invest in technologies and startups that fight climate change.

Bill Gates is convinced that we can fight climate change using GMO crops and livestock. To that effect, earlier this year, he had invested in Rumin8, a Perth-based startup pioneering a synthetic supplement to reduce methane emissions from cattle. Gates, a strong advocate for innovative climate solutions, has previously supported various technologies such as next-gen nuclear reactors and advanced carbon capture designs.

Rumin8’s groundbreaking supplement, primarily composed of seaweed, aims to minimize the methane content in cows’ burps and flatulence—a major contributor to global warming.

Gates, along with Australian billionaire investor Andrew Forrest, actively participated in Rumin8’s Phase 2 seeding round, injected $12 million into the startup.

The funds are expected to expedite Rumin8’s path to commercialization, facilitating international trials, branding initiatives, and the establishment of a pilot manufacturing plant.

Gates, during an interview with Michael Fullilove of the Lowy Institute, disclosed that Rumin8 marks his 103rd investment in climate tech startups globally, underscoring the urgency to address the approximately 6 per cent of planet-warming emissions originating from livestock.


Similarly, he has a number of investments in startups working with some unique farming techniques, and GMOs.

Gates has underscores the pivotal role of agriculture in greenhouse gas emissions, labeling it as the second-largest contributor, generating 24 per cenrt of harmful fumes linked to climate change—just 1 per cent less than the energy generation sector.

The carbon stored in soil surpasses that in the atmosphere and all plant life combined. Disturbances to soil, such as converting forests into cropland, release stored carbon as carbon dioxide, contributing to the 11 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions attributed to deforestation.

Gates notes that besides releasing carbon, clearing forests and grasslands diminish the planet’s ability to naturally remove carbon dioxide from the air.

In a separate context during the Global Climate Action Summit in 2018, Gates emphasized the importance of innovation in confronting climate change. He highlighted the impact on smallholder farmers and stressed the need for advanced farming techniques and new seeds, including genetically modified organisms (GMOs), to enhance productivity, withstand environmental challenges, and prevent hunger and malnutrition.

Gates emphasized that agricultural innovation deserves attention on par with the focus on climate change from electricity, as both are critical for addressing the global challenge.

But how feasible is his idea, of fighting climate change?

The agricultural industry has faced scrutiny for its methane emissions, with the greenhouse gas being a significant contributor to global warming. Recognizing the challenge of reducing food production, Gates advocates for optimizing production to lower the “emissions per product” of edible goods.

Methane, which accounts for 30 per cent of post-Industrial Revolution warming, is particularly prevalent in livestock emissions, comprising 32 per cent of human-caused agriculture emissions.

Rumin8 utilizes anti-methanogenic compounds from seaweed to target methane-producing bacteria, demonstrating a remarkable reduction of over 85 per cent in methane emissions from cows in early trials.

Globally, similar technologies have shown promise. Last year, the Indian Council of Agricultural Research developed a feed using tannins and compounds from legume plants, resulting in a 20 per cent reduction in methane production and increased milk production in cows.

Rumin8’s success is part of a broader trend in Australia, where climate tech companies are benefiting from increased government funding for green energy and emissions reduction projects.

Similarly, Pivot Bio, an initiative backed by the fund, seeks to provide plants with nitrogen through genetically modified soil microbes, minimizing environmental costs associated with off-gassing from synthetic and natural fertilizers.

Then, there are ventures like Apeel and Cambridge Crops with a slightly different approach, addressing food availability by creating protective, edible coatings that extend the shelf life of produce. This not only reduces spoilage but also impacts how far food must travel to reach consumers and how long it remains available in different markets.

Gates is also working with some other concepts, like enabling farmers to preserve harvests longer with less spoilage, and the creation of synthetic palm oil using fermentation instead of traditional palm plantations, which require massive deforestation.

(With input from agencies)