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Former US vice-president and climate campaigner Al Gore has hit out at the fossil fuel industry’s “capture” of global UN negotiations on climate change “to a disturbing degree”.
It was “time to abandon the mistaken assumption” that oil and gas companies and petrostates were “good faith participants” during the UN process that culminates in a summit to be held in the United Arab Emirates this year.
Most in the sector wanted to “block and delay and prevent anything that would reduce the sale and burning of fossil fuels”, Gore added.
“It’s simply not realistic to believe that they are going to take the lead in solving this crisis,” he said, ahead of a new report on sustainable investing by Generation Investment Management, where he is co-founder and chair.
“They captured the UN process to a disturbing degree, even putting the CEO of one of the largest oil companies in the world in as president of COP28,” he said, referring to the appointment of Sultan al-Jaber, chief executive of the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company, as COP28 president-designate.
His view stands in contrast with US climate envoy John Kerry, who has backed the attendance of industry executives for the UN COP28 climate summit in Dubai at the end of the year as necessary to effect change.
Kerry recently said he was urging the executives of big energy players, as the biggest contributors to climate change, to attend COP28 with concrete plans to tackle greenhouse gas emissions.
But Gore noted that at the previous COP27 in Egypt the number of fossil fuel industry delegates was greater than the number of delegates from the 10 most climate-affected countries put together.
He said a reform of the UN climate negotiations process was needed, arguing the present system allowing for one country to veto a proposal, even if the majority supported the action, was hampering global progress.
“It’s rather absurd that the world has to go and beg Saudi Arabia for permission, please, to talk about solutions to the climate crisis,” he said.
Nonetheless, Gore, who won an Oscar and Nobel Peace Prize for his 2006 film An Inconvenient Truth on global warning, was optimistic that the world had “at long last” arrived at a “political tipping point”, when certain countries were taking “significant steps forward” to solve the climate crisis.
This included the US’s landmark $369bn climate action through the Inflation Reduction Act, the EU’s Green Deal and its planned carbon tax, as well as changes in political leadership in laggard countries such as Australia and Brazil.
Gore said he had “scars” from the political backlash against carbon taxes, which aim to place a cost on emissions, after efforts to introduce a type of carbon tax during the Bill Clinton administration were rejected.
“Since that time in the US, at least, it’s been considered impossible to pass one. However, some things are changing,” he said. The roll out of Europe’s carbon border adjustment mechanism from next month, putting a carbon levy on carbon-intensive imports, was a “very hopeful sign”.
“I think it is likely to spread and could eventually be a way to, at long last, have a more a global carbon pricing approach,” he said.
The report by Generation forecasts that in just a “few years” wind and solar will begin to meet all new energy demand, with an increased roll out of heat pumps and major surge in sales of electric vehicles.
“I’m more optimistic than I’ve ever been,” Gore said. “But with the caveat that I’m still quite well aware of how difficult the remaining challenges remain.”