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The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is expanding its purview to also focus on climate change and gender equality, according to its founders' 2020 Annual Letter published Monday.

“Climate change is one of the most difficult challenges the world has ever taken on,” Bill Gates wrote in the letter. “But I believe we can avoid a climate catastrophe if we take steps now to reduce emissions and find ways to adapt to a warmer world."

He went on to call reducing emissions “by far, the biggest challenge we need to figure out,” but stressed the importance of also helping vulnerable populations adapt to an already-warming world.

“The cruel irony is that the world’s poorest people, who contribute the least to climate change, will suffer the worst,” he wrote, noting that a warmer climate will make it harder for subsistence farmers to grow food, and fewer children will be able to get the nutrition they need.

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has been funding research into varieties of crops such as rice that are drought- and flood-tolerant, according to the letter. The organization will also continue to invest in public health efforts in vulnerable communities where children are likely to be malnourished.

On the issue of gender equality, Melinda Gates wrote, "The data is unequivocal: No matter where in the world you are born, your life will be harder if you are born a girl."

“I was deeply aware that our foundation was a latecomer to the issue,” she continued. “But I now know that progress depends on all of us speaking up."

To promote gender equality, she said the foundation will increase its commitments to family planning, advocacy, and women’s economic empowerment.

Since it was founded 20 years ago, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has spent more than $53 billion on various causes, primarily in global health and education, according to the letter. It has an endowment of nearly $47 billion, Bloomberg reports.

Together, Bill and Melinda Gates are two of the biggest philanthropists in the US. According to a new list of the top American philanthropists in terms of biggest donations, unveiled at this year's World Economic Forum through a partnership between Forbes and Global Citizen, the Gateses have given away $9.9 billion — around 9% of their net worth.

"We know that philanthropy can never — and should never — take the place of governments or the private sector. We do believe it has a unique role to play in driving progress, though," the letter's introduction reads.

"At its best, philanthropy takes risks that governments can’t and corporations won’t. Governments need to focus most of their resources on scaling proven solutions."

You can read the full 2020 Annual Letter here.

Disclosure: The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is a funding partner of Global Citizen.

Editor's note: This piece has been updated to include a disclosure that the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is a funding partner of Global Citizen. We regret the oversight.


Defeat Poverty

Bill & Melinda Gates Add Climate Change and Gender Equality to Foundation's Priorities

By Erica Sánchez  and  Brandon Wiggins