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Zuckerberg and Gates' clean-energy mantra: Invest, invent

Tech industry titans are banding together to try to ensure the world has enough energy, with less of the carbon emissions tied to global warming.

Mark Zuckerberg is one of several prominent tech figures supporting the clean energy initiative.

Jose Miguel Gomez/Reuters/Corbis

Some of the leading lights of the tech industry have issued a call to action on clean energy.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has partnered with philanthropist and Microsoft founder Bill Gates to spearhead an environmental initiative called the Breakthrough Energy Coalition. Its founding principle is to find new ways to meet growing demands for energy around the world without increasing the burden on the environment. They plan to do this by creating a fund to bolster the research and development of new technologies.

They're not the only moguls involved. The coalition also has the backing of other high-profile members of the tech community including Amazon Chief Executive Jeff Bezos, Virgin founder Richard Branson, LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman and Alibaba Executive Chairman Jack Ma, along with Zuckerberg's wife, Priscilla Chan. Missing from the list are representatives from Apple, which has trumpeted its own environmental initiatives, and from Google, which has supported renewable energy but scrapped an effort to drive down renewable energy costs.

Still, the assemblage underscores the message that there's more to the technology business than the latest smartphone game, shopping deal, mobile ad or package delivery robot. The companies you buy gear from want you to know that they can apply their skills, money and business methods to the weighty problems of the world.

The twin declarations from Zuckerberg and Gates come ahead of the COP21 climate change conference that kicks off in Paris on Monday.

The world will use 50 percent more energy by the middle of the century than it does now, meaning there will be a massive growth in the demand for energy, according to Gates. The hope is to meet this demand without boosting the carbon emissions that contribute to increases in the world's temperature. Achieving this will require serious breakthroughs in clean energy technology.

Solar power and wind turbines have helped supply cleaner energy but are only gradually claiming a place alongside alternatives like coal and natural gas that produce carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas. Tech companies and entrepreneurs, used to a faster pace of innovation, believe they can speed this process and find additional approaches to creating clean energy. There are also benefits for the tech industry itself, which gobbles massive amounts of electric power to build and run the gadgets and online services everyone now depends on.

"Solving the clean energy problem is an essential part of building a better world," said Zuckerberg, announcing the coalition of his Facebook page. "We won't be able to make meaningful progress on other challenges -- like educating or connecting the world -- without secure energy and a stable climate."

The Breakthrough Energy Coalition's funding and research will feed into Mission Innovation, a clean-energy acceleration project supported by multiple governments, including the United States and United Kingdom.

"It is great to see so many government leaders and investors making these commitments and showing how the public and private sectors can come together to work on big problems," Gates said in a blog post. "I am optimistic that we can invent the tools we need to generate clean, affordable, reliable energy that will help the poorest improve their lives and also stop climate change."

Zuckerberg and Gates gave no indication of exactly how much the partners will be investing in the coalition, but its aim is to search out and fund those projects that otherwise might not draw sufficient financial backing. Targets will be early-stage companies across sectors including transportation, agriculture, and electricity generation and storage. The coalition hopes to invest in companies that have the potential to create a near-zero carbon emissions source.