Subtitles section Play video Print subtitles Chris Anderson: Al, welcome. So look, just six months ago -- it seems a lifetime ago, but it really was just six months ago -- climate seemed to be on the lips of every thinking person on the planet. Recent events seem to have swept it all away from our attention. How worried are you about that? Al Gore: Well, first of all Chris, thank you so much for inviting me to have this conversation. People are reacting differently to the climate crisis in the midst of these other great challenges that have taken over our awareness, appropriately. One reason is something that you mentioned. People get the fact that when scientists are warning us in ever more dire terms and setting their hair on fire, so to speak, it's best to listen to what they're saying, and I think that lesson has begun to sink in in a new way. Another similarity, by the way, is that the climate crisis, like the COVID-19 pandemic, has revealed in a new way the shocking injustices and inequalities and disparities that affect communities of color and low-income communities. There are differences. The climate crisis has effects that are not measured in years, as the pandemic is, but consequences that are measured in centuries and even longer. And the other difference is that instead of depressing economic activity to deal with the climate crisis, as nations around the world have had to do with COVID-19, we have the opportunity to create tens of millions of new jobs. That sounds like a political phrasing, but it's literally true. For the last five years, the fastest-growing job in the US has been solar installer. The second-fastest has been wind turbine technician. And the "Oxford Review of Economics," just a few weeks ago, pointed the way to a very jobs-rich recovery if we emphasize renewable energy and sustainability technology. So I think we are crossing a tipping point, and you need only look at the recovery plans that are being presented in nations around the world to see that they're very much focused on a green recovery. CA: I mean, one obvious impact of the pandemic is that it's brought the world's economy to a shuddering halt, thereby reducing greenhouse gas emissions. I mean, how big an effect has that been, and is it unambiguously good news? AG: Well, it's a little bit of an illusion, Chris, and you need only look back to the Great Recession in 2008 and '09, when there was a one percent decline in emissions, but then in 2010, they came roaring back during the recovery with a four percent increase. The latest estimates are that emissions will go down by at least five percent during this induced coma, as the economist Paul Krugman perceptively described it, but whether it goes back the way it did after the Great Recession is in part up to us, and if these green recovery plans are actually implemented, and I know many countries are determined to implement them, then we need not repeat that pattern. After all, this whole process is occurring during a period when the cost of renewable energy and electric vehicles, batteries and a range of other sustainability approaches are continuing to fall in price, and they're becoming much more competitive. Just a quick reference to how fast this is: five years ago, electricity from solar and wind was cheaper than electricity from fossil fuels in only one percent of the world. This year, it's cheaper in two-thirds of the world, and five years from now, it will be cheaper in virtually 100 percent of the world. EVs will be cost-competitive within two years, and then will continue falling in price. And so there are changes underway that could interrupt the pattern we saw after the Great Recession. CA: The reason those pricing differentials happen in different parts of the world is obviously because there's different amounts of sunshine and wind there and different building costs and so forth. AG: Well, yes, and government policies also account for a lot. The world is continuing to subsidize fossil fuels at a ridiculous amount, more so in many developing countries than in the US and developed countries, but it's subsidized here as well. But everywhere in the world, wind and solar will be cheaper as a source of electricity than fossil fuels, within a few years. CA: I think I've heard it said that the fall in emissions caused by the pandemic isn't that much more than, actually, the fall that we will need every single year if we're to meet emissions targets. Is that true, and, if so, doesn't that seem impossibly daunting? AG: It does seem daunting, but first look at the number. That number came from a study a little over a year ago released by the IPCC as to what it would take to keep the Earth's temperatures from increasing more than 1.5 degrees Celsius. And yes, the annual reductions would be significant, on the order of what we've seen with the pandemic. And yes, that does seem daunting. However, we do have the opportunity to make some fairly dramatic changes, and the plan is not a mystery. You start with the two sectors that are closest to an effective transition -- electricity generation, as I mentioned -- and last year, 2019, if you look at all of the new electricity generation built all around the world, 72 percent of it was from solar and wind. And already, without the continuing subsidies for fossil fuels, we would see many more of these plants being shut down. There are some new fossil plants being built, but many more are being shut down. And where transportation is concerned, the second sector ready to go, in addition to the cheaper prices for EVs that I made reference to before, there are some 45 jurisdictions around the world -- national, regional and municipal -- where laws have been passed beginning a phaseout of internal combustion engines. Even India said that by 2030, less than 10 years from now, it will be illegal to sell any new internal combustion engines in India. There are many other examples. So the past small reductions may not be an accurate guide to the kind we can achieve with serious national plans and a focused global effort. CA: So help us understand just the big picture here, Al. I think before the pandemic, the world was emitting about 55 gigatons of what they call "CO2 equivalent," so that includes other greenhouse gases like methane dialed up to be the equivalent of CO2. And am I right in saying that the IPCC, which is the global organization of scientists, is recommending that the only way to fix this crisis is to get that number from 55 to zero by 2050 at the very latest, and that even then, there's a chance that we will end up with temperature rises more like two degrees Celsius rather than 1.5? I mean, is that approximately the big picture of what the IPCC is recommending? AG: That's correct. The global goal established in the Paris Conference is to get to net zero on a global basis by 2050, and many people quickly add that that really means a 45 to 50 percent reduction by 2030 to make that pathway to net zero feasible. CA: And that kind of timeline is the kind of timeline where people couldn't even imagine it. It's just hard to think of policy over 30 years. So that's actually a very good shorthand, that humanity's task is to cut emissions in half by 2030, approximately speaking, which I think boils down to about a seven or eight percent reduction a year, something like that, if I'm not wrong. AG: Not quite. Not quite that large but close, yes. CA: So it is something like the effect that we've experienced this year may be necessary. This year, we've done it by basically shutting down the economy. You're talking about a way of doing it over the coming years that actually gives some economic growth and new jobs. So talk more about that. You've referred to changing our energy sources, changing how we transport. If we did those things, how much of the problem does that solve? AG: Well, we can get to -- well, in addition to doing the two sectors that I mentioned, we also have to deal with manufacturing and all the use cases that require temperatures of a thousand degrees Celsius, and there are solutions there as well. I'll come back and mention an exciting one that Germany has just embarked upon. We also have to tackle regenerative agriculture. There is the opportunity to sequester a great deal of carbon in topsoils around the world by changing the agricultural techniques. There is a farmer-led movement to do that. We need to also retrofit buildings. We need to change our management of forests and the ocean. But let me just mention two things briefly. First of all, the high temperature use cases. Angela Merkel, just 10 days ago, with the leadership of her minister Peter Altmaier, who is a good friend and a great public servant, have just embarked on a green hydrogen strategy to make hydrogen with zero marginal cost renewable energy. And just a word on that, Chris: you've heard about the intermittency of wind and solar -- solar doesn't produce electricity when the sun's not shining, and wind doesn't when the wind's not blowing -- but batteries are getting better, and these technologies are becoming much more efficient and powerful, so that for an increasing number of hours of each day, they're producing often way more electricity than can be used. So what to do with it? The marginal cost for the next kilowatt-hour is zero. So all of a sudden, the very energy-intensive process of cracking hydrogen from water becomes economically feasible, and it can be substituted for coal and gas, and that's already being done. There's a Swedish company already making steel with green hydrogen, and, as I say, Germany has just embarked on a major new initiative to do that. I think they're pointing the way for the rest of the world. Now, where building retrofits are concerned, just a moment on this, because about 20 to 25 percent of the global warming pollution in the world and in the US comes from inefficient buildings that were constructed by companies and individuals who were trying to be competitive in the marketplace and keep their margins acceptably high and thereby skimping on insulation and the right windows and LEDs and the rest. And yet the person or company that buys that building or leases that building, they want their monthly utility bills much lower. So there are now ways to close that so-called agent-principal divide, the differing incentives for the builder and occupier, and we can retrofit buildings with a program that literally pays for itself over three to five years, and we could put tens of millions of people to work in jobs that by definition cannot be outsourced because they exist in every single community. And we really ought to get serious about doing this, because we're going to need all those jobs to get sustainable prosperity in the aftermath of this pandemic. CA: Just going back to the hydrogen economy that you referred to there, when some people hear that, they think, "Oh, are you talking about hydrogen-fueled cars?" And they've heard that that probably won't be a winning strategy. But you're thinking much more broadly than that, I think, that it's not just hydrogen as a kind of storage mechanism to act as a buffer for renewable energy, but also hydrogen could be essential for some of the other processes in the economy like making steel, making cement, that are fundamentally carbon-intensive processes right now but could be transformed if we had much cheaper sources of hydrogen. Is that right?