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  • 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?