It’s been 17 years since former Vice President Al Gore raised the alarm about climate change with his documentary “An Inconvenient Truth.” Since then, he has been shouting from the rooftops about the risks of global warming more or less continuously.
But the events of the past few weeks have Gore even more worried than usual.
“Everywhere you look in the world, the extremes now seem to have reached a new level,” he told me in an interview. “The temperatures in the North Atlantic and the unprecedented decline in Antarctic sea ice, both at the same time. We see it in upstate New York, we see it in Vermont, we see it in southern Japan, we see it in India. We see it in the unprecedented drought in Uruguay and Argentina.”
We can’t always say that a specific weather event was caused by climate change, but it makes certain extremes more likely. And this summer, the extreme weather chaos that Gore predicted in “An Inconvenient Truth” appears to have arrived promptly.
“Every night on the TV news is like taking a nature hike through the Book of Revelation,” Gore said.
‘We know how to fix this’
Despite the apocalyptic weather news, Gore is also hopeful.
Clean energy is cheaper than ever, and electric car sales are growing, turbocharged by government subsidies. Put that together, and Gore thinks developed economies could be cutting their emissions at a surprising rate.
“If you outline what the possible curves are taking you to by 2030 or 2040, it becomes increasingly realistic to say, ‘Yes, these broad goals are definitely achievable,'” he said.
To drive home the point about how fast renewable energy is growing, Gore quoted economist Rudiger Dornbusch: “Sometimes things take longer than you think they will, and then they happen faster than you thought they could.”
But Gore was quick to add that every second counts. The faster we stop burning fossil fuels and releasing other global warming emissions, the faster global temperatures can stabilize.
“We know how to fix this,” he said. “We can stop the rise in temperatures worldwide with only a three-year time lag by reaching net zero,” he said. “And if we stay at true net zero, we’ll see half of the human-caused CO2 coming out of the atmosphere in as little as 30 years.”
In other words, all hope is not lost. But Gore has no illusions about how difficult it will be.
“Eighty percent of all the energy used in the world today still comes from fossil fuels,” he said. Furthermore, Gore acknowledged that the oil, gas and coal companies are not going down without a fight.
“Fossil fuel companies are desperately trying to use their political and economic networks and their successful capture of politics in too many countries to slow this transition,” he said. “They don’t disclose their emissions. They don’t have any removal. They are not committed to a true net zero path. They are green. They are making an anti-climatic plot.”
Gore is particularly upset that fossil fuel companies continue to play a major role at the annual United Nations climate change conference known as the COP (full name: Conference of the Parties to the United Nations climate convention).
Hundreds of oil and gas managers are participating in the proceedings, and this year, the president of COP, which will begin in November in the United Arab Emirates, is also the head of that country’s state oil company.
Tensions are rising, and Gore said he doesn’t think COP28 president Sultan al-Jaber should be in the role.
“The president of COP28 is obviously not the right person for the job,” Gore said. “This is not a good time to undermine the trust that people deserve to have in the process.”
Gore suggested reforming the COP process in ways that would limit the influence of fossil fuel companies, and remove the ability for rich countries to veto language requiring fossil fuel divestment, as they have done for years.
“The climate crisis is primarily a fossil fuel crisis,” Gore told me. “If the world is not allowed to discuss the reduction of fossil fuels because the fossil fuel companies do not want the world to discuss it, that is the sign of a very flawed process.”
Extreme weather around the world
Optics and performance at the World Bank
Almost a year ago, Al Gore called David Malpass, then president of the World Bank, a “climate denier”, setting the wheels in motion for Malpass’s early exit. His replacement, Ajay Banga, was in office for just six weeks.
How is it going so far?
Banga, the former chief executive of Mastercard, seems to be having a ball. He started knocking month-long world tourrecruited senior executives to join the bank’s a new club of private investors and got the rock star treatment at the Global Citizen Concert in Paris. But beyond the show, he also began to deliver.
Last month, at a global financial summit in Paris, he said the World Bank would be on hiatus debt repayments for countries that have recently been hit by a disaster.
Mia Mottley, the prime minister of Barbados and champion of calls to transform the global financial system, gave her accolades at the Paris festival. She told a cheering crowd that developing countries had been waiting for the debt break for years.
“Ajay, you did it in 19 days,” she said. “And, if I could sing, I’d tell you we’ve only just begun.”
Rishikesh Ram Bhandary, an expert on climate finance at Boston University’s Global Development Policy Center, told me that the “ball is still very much in his court in terms of clearly articulating how he can transform the bank.”
However, one thing is certain, he said: “There is a lot of enthusiasm and energy around his presidency.” – Manuela Andreoni
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