On his visit to New Delhi, former US Vice President and climate change evangelist Al Gore said Indians must know that this is a life and death issue. Speaking exclusively to NDTV, Mr Gore sounded the warning on what's at stake. He also praised Prime Minister Narendra Modi's efforts in encouraging clean energy. Mr Gore said PM Modi's plan to dramatically expand clean energy was "the most exciting development in the world today where renewable energy technology is concerned." He said PM Modi has integrity and credibility on climate change and will lead the way even though the US didn't get any China-style emissions agreement with India. He also spoke of how technology could help reduce emissions, the debate between developed and developing nations and why he is optimistic that the world will solve the climate change crisis.
Here is the full transcript from his interview:
NDTV: Former Vice President of United States and Nobel Laureate Al Gore is of course today the world's best-known climate change crusader. He is here in India, in New Delhi in fact, leading a very interesting Climate Reality Project, actually training people on the issues that revolve around climate change that should be, that should be the most important issue that confronts the world, but somehow people, many people still continue to be in denial.
It's pleasure to welcome Al Gore this afternoon. Thank you so much for being with us. Let me start by asking you if you are struck with an irony, you are here in Delhi, the national capital of India, which is the world's most polluted city and yet all of us could not get that to be a major issue in the recently concluded Elections in Delhi. So are you struck with an irony here you are, sitting in the hot plate of pollution. How does that feel?
Al Gore: Well it's interesting that in China that this air pollution issue has become linked with the climate crisis, because the same activities that cause one also cause the other.
Al Gore: And it is a very powerful issue in China. My sense here is that it is beginning, just beginning to be very powerful issue. Just like yesterday a report was released by doctors and scientists showing that the average Indian is losing more than three years of life because of the air pollution. And the number of cases of hospitalisations related to air pollution is really quite high. There are many other measures of the damage being done. A friend of mine here told me that because of the activities that have long created air pollution in Delhi, and in India, have gone on for so long that it's not a new concern; but the rapid increase in the coal burning has added so much to the air pollution, that now all of a sudden many people are beginning to recognise the serious health consequences.
NDTV: And we saw the American Embassy here actually moving to start air pollution monitors and they are going to do that in embassies around the world, it's obviously one way of putting pressure on policies. Do you think it's a good way because sometimes the country gets defensive, you know. Who are they to come here and tell us about our air? I mean you've dealt with such kind of defensive responses from the countries, right?
Al Gore: Yes but the people wanted truth. In my culture and faith tradition there is a famous saying that you shall know the truth and the truth can set you free. And if you ask the average in United States and in India or in any country do want to know what the real figures are of air pollution. Everyone will say yes of course, and then the China Embassy monitors really caused quite a stir and were controversial, since you are using our story there. But at the end Chinese citizens started buying the same monitors and putting them on their roofs and it was an unstoppable trend toward free information. I don't think there is resistance to having the accurate measurements of the air. It's been done for two years by the Embassy here and it's been publicly available since last June, but I think that too is beginning to have an impact. Maybe some of numbers on air pollution were not trusted before, or may be trust is maybe a wrong word or maybe the people just still know how accurate they were. But I think that if these new scientific measuring instruments can be used widely, people have realised that they are accurate and then react accordingly.
NDTV: You know when President Obama was here Bloomberg did a story saying that his time here has taken six hours of his life. That's how stark it is even to all of us who live here. You must have dealt with denial when it comes to talking about issues related to climate change, pollution? It's almost like people feel that it won't happen to me, it will happen to somebody else, it's little bit like telling us smoke and to give up cigarettes. So how do you wrap your head around that denial in nations and people?
Al Gore: Well that's a great question and it's, we know the answers. I am not the expert but the experts have given us the answers to these questions. But it's not the simple answer. First of all us as human beings would prefer not to think about anything that's assumption, so if there is any excuse that we can find, say I will take a bath another time, we naturally push it off. Secondly the fact is that this is the climate issue, the global issue makes even hotter to wrap our heads around it. And of course if it seems that the solutions will be difficult, or possibly painful, then yet there is another reason why people would not want to think about it. Here is one think that has changed though. The rapid reduction in the cost of sold electricity and when the electricity and the exciting ways for businesses and how much money is saved with new energy-efficiency technologies, these things are now making it very exciting to cut the pollution and build the economy at the same time. And look at the hundreds of millions who don't have any electricity. You know now for the first time with the solar collectors on their rooftops, the solar panels; then electricity for lights, computers and so forth can be shared with 300 million people who have none today. So it's a very interesting development.
NDTV: But you know, while you are celebrating the possibilities that emerge from solar powers that are getting cheaper, what else got cheaper is oil. So now with oil prices going down, are you worried that, in a sense, that the fight for alternative sources of energy it has got that much tougher? It may have economically across the world, but it makes the entire debate around the renewable and non-renewable sources of energy that much more complicated because the oil is cheaper now.
Al Gore: I don't think it's actually going to have that effect for two reasons. First of all, the cost of solar electricity is now cheaper then even these low oil prices, and cheaper than electricity from coal in many parts of the world. Secondly, India is partially an exception in this, but in most of the world coal is not burned to make electricity. And when the price comes down in many countries, including India, PM Modi announced the removal of subsidy, the government subsidy for these, so in lots of countries you are saying the removal of those subsidies with this temporary decline in the price of oil, and finally the price of solar electricity is a little bit like the price of computer chips or mobile telephones, it has only come down. It is continuing the good, year by year by year, and so people can see the future and if you switch to solar electricity, your incremental cost is zero, whereas if you are burning diesel or coal every year you have the feel of that cost coming over and over and over, and people know that the prices are up again. Once you make the initial investment on solar power then it pays over many times in the years ahead.
NDTV: You had a proposal that the world spends about 90 trillion dollar just to make all the major cities free of vehicles, do you believe that is realistic at all? We can't even get people in our cities to take the subway or the metro or the tube or whatever you call it instead of their cars, so you're thinking of cars free world....
Al Gore: That wasn't really my proposal. That was a United States sponsored proposal, headed by the former president of Mexico, and secondly the 90 trillion dollar figures was the amount being spent on the urban environment in decades has become, whether it is being spent wisely or not. So I think their proposal was a little bit misunderstood. But to get the substance of your question, yes we should change the urban transportation systems. Many cities are designed as if the guiding principle is make sure that all urban areas are almost happy, but we should also try to make people happy, we don't really need to take a few thousands pounds of metals with us everywhere we go. And the new development, electric vehicles is a very exciting development. And rapid bus trams, some Indian cities have already got this, is a great way to cut down the traffic jam and the air pollution that we were talking about before. And with the trends toward urbanisation in the world, which are lesser in India, in China it is a very big trend, and worldwide it is a big trend, then more people have started living in cities for the first time in the human history, on the way up to 70%, and so making our cities more efficient is really important. Cities, energy systems, agriculture, forestry, these all are the big systems that we need to make more cleaner and more efficient
NDTV: When President Obama was here there was an Environmental Action Pact and a Climate Change Pact. If Washington was hoping for the kind of China's style of pact or reducing emissions that did not happen, how do you assess the movement on climate change issues in India so far?
Al Gore: Well I think the most exciting developments in the world today, where the renewable energy technologies are concerned, is Prime Minister's Modi's plan to dramatically expand for solar wind and energy efficiencies. This is really exciting and of course people around the world know that when he was the Chief Minister in Gujarat state, I believe more than two thirds of solar plants in India were installed when he was headed up Gujarat. So he has credibility when he makes such kinds of plans publicly. Also I think that's quite significant because when market place changes, it can have sometimes a bigger impact than government policies, and if government reduces subsidies for the dirty energies and encourages the cleaner energies, then the market direction is pushing in that direction anyway. For example the cell phones' energy, there was the time when people said, oh we have to build the landline and telephone networks of all the developing countries of the world, but when the mobile phones came they said we don't need the landlines and these are better. And now in developing countries there is more commerce on mobile phone than in the regions of United States.
NDTV: So you are saying that technology has altered the nature of debate?
Al Gore: Yes, yes. It has absolutely. Do you, there is a difference between the temperatures at 0 degrees and 1 degree, so what I mean is it is not a difference of 1 degree, it is difference of ice and water. And in markets there is a difference between cheaper than and more expensive, is the summer threshold, and when the new technologies become cheaper than the old ones then you might just get out of the way, because the market is going to push toward the more cheaper and efficient and affordable technologies.
NDTV: But are you disappointed that it wasn't the kind of pact that the United States could have able to sign with Beijing; that in India the debate around the common footprint or reduction in emission is very much linked to the perception of equality viz a viz the developed world? You know the arguments, you hear again and again, with an emerging economy, were still developing. It is a developed world that is already industrialised that should take the burden now, the financial burden and the moral burden of climate change of reducing global warming.
Al Gore: Well, it is sure that I was not disappointed because my expectations and those of others have long since been set on a realistic course well in advance, and secondly, we sometime hear these two categories developed and developing, as if the every country falls under one category or the other. China and India are under very different circumstances. The per capita emission of global warming pollution in China, per capita, now exceeds those of Europe and it is uses almost twice as much of the raw as the United States. India is a fast growing country, growing faster either already, or soon faster than China. The base of its overall economy is still not what China is and so it's only realistic to take a good careful look at what the real circumstances are, and bet on a future that India is going to be in this significant measure in this century. It's likely to become the biggest market in the world at some point in this century; the human resource, the technology, the science; I am not saying this to flatter your audience, your audience knows it to be true. We in the United States know what percentage of CEO's in Silicon Valley have come from India, and now you're seeing such exciting developments here. There's no question about the fact that partway through this century, India is going to be modern, dynamic in every possible respect, and then you are going to see a different perception.
Al Gore: No one is saying bear any burden, the West, or put it another way, the wealthier countries, have long since come to groups, with underlying principles of justice, and have applied to any kind of global undertaking like that to solve the climate crisis. But at the same time if you take all of the developing countries as a group, their global warming pollution is more than the wealthy countries as a group and all of the growth is in the developing countries. So having robust economic growth on a sustainable basis is the absolute right, nobody quarrels with it whatsoever, but avoiding the kinds of mistakes that were made in the past, by the countries that developed at an early historical time, is in everyone's best interest.
NDTV: How do you get past the rich poor dynamics in this debate? For example I read somewhere that you spoke about the damage caused by kerosene stoves in India, in terms of generating pollution, now these are really used by our poorer people, so it's very difficult for political establishments, for people to care about issues such as pollution when they are struggling to make two ends meet. So how do you get around that?
Al Gore: Well here again technology can help us find good solutions to that problem, Indians engineers and scientists have developed stoves that are far more efficient, cheaper for the householders to use, that generate not only less global warming pollution, but less indoor air pollution and are associated with fewer hospitalisations, fewer deaths and diseases from the air pollution that is inside the homes, you know yourself what serious problem that is in India. So in my country, as yours, old patter and traditional customs take time to change. Everyone understands that, but again if you can save money and be healthier at the same time, to give children a better opportunity to study at night time hours without the fumes going into their lungs, then over time people say of course that's better, let's do it the new way.
NDTV: What about the carbon footprint of the United States of America, how much resistance do you face from the fossil fuel lobby? How powerful that lobby continues to be in your own country, because a number of people would say hey tell first about the United States.
Al Gore: Well yes I am embarrassed to have to answer to that question because I must, because you are right, the oil and coal and gas companies in the United States have far too much political power. But in spite of that we have come to a point in the US where our actual global warming pollution, under President Obama, has reduced more than any other nation. There are virtually no new coal plants being built in the United States today and all of the ones that were proposed, almost all of them have been cancelled, many of the existing plants have been shut down, approximately half of the energy investments in the US now are in solar and wind.
NDTV: We, of course, know you from among many things. What have you found tough in your crusade to get the world to stand up and notice climate change, on global warming, on pollution, what is that you encounter? Is it lobbies? Is it ignorance? Is it struggling to find a language, which to an ordinary person is not technical? What is the toughest thing you faced?
Al Gore: Well, first of all I feel an essence of excitement and joy and optimism, we are going to solve this crisis; it has taken us too long, but now the world is moving, we are going to solve this so now. I am happy about it, I am excited about this
NDTV: You are not grim and pessimistic?
Al Gore: No, not at all. Partly for the reasons we discussed earlier, that new technologies are becoming so cheap, this helps a great deal, but also because the average person in India, in the United States, all over the world, has noticed, the weather is changing dramatically, the monsoon is changing here, the floods and heavy rainfalls are changing, the sea level is rising, the ice in the mountains is melting, all of these and other changes are visible now. So to the extent that we have come to the point that we're really past the time, where we were stalled, I think mother nature gets the most credit for it, because her voice is very difficult to ignore and all over the world people are saying oh yes, my parents and grandparents have told me that this didn't used to be like this.
NDTV: But do you find that there is now a greater awareness of what's at stake or do you find in many ways you were ahead of the curve and that you continue to be ahead of the curve? That when you put forth ideas, people initially used to think your ideas were outlandish, like I remember early on you used to talk about observing climate change from space, today that's actually happening from the zombie satellites as it's been called; so do you find the world is still playing catch up with some of the ideas people may have laughed at you for once upon a time, but today are forced to confront?
Al Gore: Well all I have done really is listen carefully to the best scientists and ask them to be patient with me and repeat themselves enough time so that I can understand as a lay person, and then I have tried to communicate what they have taught me. They are the ones who are ahead of the curve and what they are saying now is that this crisis is still far more serious that most people realize. It's so big that it's intimidating, though it is sometimes easier not to think about it. But now, like me, they are now encouraged, there is movement in political systems, we are still moving too slowly, we did start late but the momentum is building and we are going to solve it.
NDTV: Now, because I know you follow the news in India, it's quite evident in this conversation, are all concerned on a personal note, that the climate change panel, with which you shared the Nobel, the head of the panel is today embroiled in such a big controversy, with a sexual harassment charge, that he has to skip the next climate change panel in Nairobi? So do you have any thoughts on that because a lot of Indians are talking about it?
Al Gore: I have no comment on that. He has made many good contributions to the leadership of the IPCC so I have no comment on that.
NDTV: I just want to end with you addressing Indians, who are in perhaps denial, about whether it is air pollution, global warming, and why just Indians, your message to everybody, why should we spend more time thinking about climate change than we do?
Al Gore: Many people have already felt in their own lives the changes in these extreme weather events. They are becoming far more frequent, far more excessive in their impact. And this is just the beginning, because the scientists did predict this and now we have seen this happen. They are telling us that if we do not act, much, much worse will lie in the future.
Al Gore: Thank you.