Video: DiCaprio and Obama on role of business and carbon tax in the climate ‘battle against time’

US President Barack Obama has called on businesses to invest and innovate in order to "build a bridge to a clean energy future" during an interview with actor-turned-environmentalist Leonardo DiCaprio, warning that the planet is in a "race against time" to combat climate change.

Video: DiCaprio and Obama on role of business and carbon tax in the climate ‘battle against time’

For Obama

President Obama was interviewed by the actor on Monday (3 October) during the annual South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas ahead of the launch of DiCaprio’s new climate-based documentary Before the Flood, which made its US debut at the White House later that day.

Joined by climate scientist Dr Katharine Hayhoe, DiCaprio – a United Nations Messenger of Peace – asked the President how nations could mobilise the private sector to spur economic activity by addressing climate issues.

“Some companies are beginning to realise that addressing the climate issue can actually spur economic activity,” DiCaprio said. “A massive change is required right now. One that leads to a new collective consciousness. A new collective evolution of the human race, inspired and enabled by a sense of urgency from all of you.”

For Obama, who has just three months left in office, businesses could hold the key to “straddle between the world as it is and the world that we want it to be”. Noting the role that political incentives – such as his flagship Clean Power Plan – can play in mobilising the private sector, Obama claimed regulations such as a carbon tax could “harness the power and creativity” of businesses to innovate and invest in low-carbon infrastructure and technology.

“If we’re going to be able to solve this problem we’re going to have to come up with new sources of energy that are clean and cheap,” Obama said. “It’s going to involve research, investment and start-ups and innovators but it takes time to ramp up and we’re in a battle against time.

“The best way we can spur that type of innovation is to either create regulations that say ‘figure it out or pay a penalty’, or create something like a carbon tax that creates an economic incentive for businesses to do this.”

Despite a carbon tax being implemented in countries such as France, Obama admitted that the likelihood of a global tax being introduced was still some way off. In the more immediate timeframe, the president recommended that companies turn to innovations such as energy storage as a means to compliment established clean energy sources like wind and solar.

Personification of Paris

However, Obama did reveal that he expects the Paris Agreement – which has currently been ratified by 62 countries worth 52% of global emissions – to come into force “within the next few weeks”, and that the next task would be educate the public in a way that makes climate action “visual, vivid” and relevant.

“Climate change is almost perversely designed to be really hard to solve politically,” Obama said. “The natural inclination of political systems is to push that stuff off as long as possible.”

“It will require mobilisation and a better job of educating ourselves on the matter. In order to do that, it is important to not be dismissive of people’s concerns of what will this mean for ‘me and my family’.

“We need to engage and make it visual and vivid in ways that people can understand. This transition won’t happen overnight and won’t start from scratch, people are locked into existing ways of doing business. There are going to be some compromises along the way, which is frustrating because science says we don’t have time to allow for them, but if we actually want to get stuff done, we’ve got to take immediate and current views into account to move the ball forward.”

The three panellists also delved into Obama’s climate legacy which has seen investment into low-carbon technology accelerate, while renewables generation has developed substantially. DiCaprio’s Oscar winning role in The Revenant was also brought to light – whereby the actor’s subsequent acceptance speech highlighted the “urgent threat” of climate change.

DiCaprio’s new documentary, which will air on Natural Geographic later this month, sees the actor travel to parts of the world including Greenland, the Pacific islands, Sumatra and China to examine the impact of climate change as he comes to the realisation that this may be the last generation that can limit the damage.

Matt Mace

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