Must we change?
Thoughts from Al Gore at the Green Alliance event 'Beyond Paris - What could a good climate deal mean for Britain and the world?'
Last week, a few of us attended Green Alliance’s event ‘Beyond Paris’, in association with CBI and National Grid. There were key note speeches from Former US Vice President Al Gore, John Cridland, Director-Gneneral of CBI, and Loretta Minghella, Chief Execuitve of Christian Aid. The opening address from Matthew Burzun, US Ambassador to the UK, reminded us that Al Gore’s first congressional hearings on climate change were in 1976 and he has been campaigning on the issue ever since. Al Gore then took to the stage and listed the impacts of climate change that are already being felt globally. However, he said that while climate change is threatening civilisation it presents a fantastic set of opportunities as leaders are unleashing the creative energy of investors, inventors, entrepreneurs and corporations who are ready to take on this challenge.
His speech was split into three questions:
- Must we change?
- Can we change?
- Will we change?
1. Must we change?
Gore says yes, of course, as we are disrupting the natural balance. For example, 98% of the extra heat on earth is going directly into the oceans which is severely disrupting the water cycle, causing floods, typhoons and destroying ecosystems, which we have already experienced this year. The media reports on these disasters but doesn’t always connect the dots to climate change. He claimed that sea level rise will be so astonishingly high humanity will have to retreat from some of the great cities of today - sounds like science fiction but it's not. Cities around the world are already dealing with this, yet the question of ‘must we?’ persists.
2. Can we change?
Here Al Gore said that the news is thrillingly optimistic - entrepreneurs have succeeded in bringing the cost of solar to compete with fossil fuels in some parts of the world. He compared the technological revolutions of solar energy to that of mobile phones. Their success was unprecedented and technological revolutions like this can unlock dramatic cost reductions while the quality goes up. Like with phones, developing countries are leapfrogging old technologies and Bangladesh is currently the most advanced country on solar. So he says, yes we can change - enough energy arrives to earth from the sun every hour to power the earth's needs for a year. We have the means to phase out coal and replace with renewable energy – we just need the financial and political backing to unleash the potential. At the moment just 0.002% of global GDP is invested in clean energy R&D even when our survival is at stake.
3. Will we change?
Al Gore said that the issue was another moral question that human kind is facing. It is now a question of survival. Like abolition and women’s rights, the cause heard numerous ‘no’s before having a break through, and the UK was always leading the way. There are very few questions where the UK hasn't been heard loudly and clearly. Al Gore said that he met a number of people in the Conservative party before the election and was encouraged by their pledges on climate change.
Gore continued that he has since been “puzzled” by what he has seen from this Government. Puzzled by the cancellation of zero carbon homes, the green deal, renewables obligation, subsidies of onshore wind and a reduction of 87% in subsidies for solar energy. He said that he never wants to meddle in a country’s politics but too much is at stake. Between now and Paris, the UK needs to recognise what the business community and Green Alliance is saying, recognise we must change. When the UK has previously offered leadership the world has moved - will the UK do the right thing? He feels optimistic but certain changes have already taken place that cannot be reversed. However, he has faith that we can succeed in preventing “catastrophic changes”.
The speech was passionate and received a standing ovation from the crowd at RIBA. With the constant scrutiny of the wording of COP21 contracts and what country is pledging what, it is easy to forget the bigger picture story and why the talks exist in the first place. Al Gore has been talking about the risks of climate change for years and will continue to shout from the roof tops, or conference halls, until the world listens.