Al Gore: Trump has failed to knock Paris climate deal off course
Donald Trump has failed to knock the Paris climate agreement off course despite his efforts to derail it, according to the former US vice president Al Gore.
“The US will meet its commitments [on emissions] in spite of Donald Trump,” he said in London, where his new film An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power was released on Friday. “Every other country has pledged [to combat climate change]. I think the psychological message is that the train has left the station. The signal sent to investors, businesses, individuals and civil society is extraordinarily powerful.”
He said the US president was now isolated and unable to prevent global action on climate change, despite his announcement of the US’s withdrawal from the 2015 Paris agreement.
“I was very concerned at his speech – I feared that some other countries would use it as an excuse [to delay or withdraw from the Paris agreement]. I was extremely gratified that the rest of the world redoubled their commitment to Paris,” he told journalists.
“I think he has isolated himself. Even today in the US, members of his own political party in the House [of Representatives] and the Senate are beginning to separate themselves from him, and why wouldn’t they?”
Gore’s new film recounts much of the story of the Paris negotiations in which he took part informally in attempts to persuade governments, businesses and civil society of the need for concerted global action on the climate. It comes just over a decade after his first film, An Inconvenient Truth, which won an Oscar and helped make Gore co-winner of the Nobel peace prize in 2007 alongside the scientists of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
The first film dealt mainly with the science of global warming, making clear the consensus among experts that human activities, chiefly in burning fossil fuels, were contributing to what could end up as large-scale and disastrous changes to the world’s climate. Its sequel takes the story forward, detailing some of the probable effects of climate change now being seen, such as floods, droughts and fierce rainstorms, and also some of the potential solutions, such as renewable energy, which is surging ahead across the globe.
Like the first film, the new documentary dwells on some of the remarkable story of Gore’s life, including his term as vice president to Bill Clinton, during which the Kyoto protocol aiming to reduce greenhouse gas emissions was signed, and the 2000 presidential election, in which Gore won the popular vote but was denied the presidency in a controversial supreme court decision to halt a vote recount in Florida, handing the post to George W Bush.
Gore told journalists: “I do not know of a position in the world with [the ability to achieve] positive change that is like the position of US president.”
The film was largely made before Trump’s election victory, but a final section examines his rhetoric on climate change during the campaign, and initial actions on taking office. As well as announcing the withdrawal from Paris, Trump has appointed several people to high office who dismiss the human role in climate change, including department of agriculture chief scientist Sam Clovis. He has also begun the dismantling of President Obama’s clean power plan, as well as longer-standing regulations on clean air and water, and the Guardian recently revealed that his team have censored officials’ use of the term climate change.
Gore said of Trump’s election: “It is a setback, but not the worst setback we have received. I have seen a lot of setbacks over the years. The damage I feared Trump would do has turned out to be less than I feared.”
He pointed to the success of renewable energy, the price of which has plunged dramatically in recent years. In the film, he visits Georgetown in Texas, where the conservative Republican mayor has moved to run the town using only clean energy. “I’m not saying business and new technology will solve this on their own, but it is a tremendous benefit, a legitimate basis for hope.”
Gore’s film also deals with aspects of his own role in the Paris negotiations, highlighting efforts he made to broker a deal with the Indian government, which initially took a tough line in the talks, arguing for developing countries to continue using fossil fuels. Gore helped to win a cooperation with the renewable company Solar City that would benefit India. Though the film casts his role as pivotal, Gore acknowledged that “there were many elements involved, a lot of people – President Obama, [Indian prime minister Narendra] Modi, the World Bank and others.” He also praised the French hosts of the talks for a “virtuoso performance” in gaining the global agreement, particularly former president François Hollande and foreign minister Laurent Fabius.
The new film highlights the increasing threat of extreme weather. Hurricane Sandy, which caused widespread damage on the US eastern seaboard in 2012, is a taste of disasters to come, according to Gore. He also spent time filming floods in Florida, the low-lying US state most threatened by climate change.
Since his election defeat in 2000, Gore has made climate change his focus. He co-founded, with former Goldman Sachs banker David Blood, the fund manager Generation Investment Management, which specialises in renewable energy and other emissions-cutting technologies, and has run a series of “climate leadership” programmes to train politicians, businesspeople and civil society leaders in climate science.
Gore, who will turn 70 in March, has no plans to let up on his globetrotting efforts on climate change. Does he have any regrets over his long and varied career? Just one: “I might have campaigned an extra week in Florida.”