Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Al Gore Presentation at Poznan Poland Dec. 2008

Thank you very much. Thank you. Thank you very much for that warm welcome. And Yvo de Boer, thank you very much for your very generous introduction. And thank you for your leadership and tireless efforts in combating this crisis. Thank you so much. To all of the ministers, delegates, members of the NGO community, scientists, especially members of the IPCC who are gathered here, to my good friend who has shown such leadership and courage Wangari Maathai who is also here somewhere, and to all of the distinguished guests, this is an unusual moment during this long journey that began 16 years ago in Rio de Janeiro. To all of you who have worked here in Poznan and to the many of you who have worked at conferences throughout this process, thank you for your extraordinary efforts and for your remarkable achievements. We, the human species, have arrived at a moment of fateful decision. It is unprecedented and in some ways even laughable to imagine that we could actually make a conscious choice as a species. But that is nevertheless the challenge that now faces us because our home, Earth, is in danger. What is at risk of being destroyed is of course not the planet itself but the conditions that have made it hospitable for human beings I will not dwell on the science but I want to state a few facts if only to underscore the urgency of our task. We are, after all, in a process of negotiation with one another around the world but it is important to remind ourselves that we cannot negotiate with the facts. We cannot negotiate with the truth about our situation. We cannot negotiate with the consequences of unrestrained dumping of 70 million tons of global warming pollution into the thin shelf atmosphere surrounding our planet every 24 hours. Scientists have for several years now warned us that we are moving dangerously close to several so-called tipping points that could within less than 10 years make it impossible to avoid irretrievable damage to the planet's habitability for human civilization unless we act quickly. As many of you here know full well, in virtually all of the mountain ranges of this planet, the glaciers are now melting rapidly in the Alps in the Andes in the Rockies and most ominously in the Himalayas which contain number 100 times as much ice and snow of all of the mountains here in Europe. The leading Chinese scientist who studies ice, professor Yao Tandong calls the Tibetan plateau the water tower of Asia. As you know it feeds the great rivers of Asia, the Indus, the Ganges, the Brahmaputra, the Salween and the Irawati, the Mekong, the Yangtze and the Yellow. 1.4 billion people depend for more than half of their drinking water on the rivers and spring systems that flow from the ice of the Tibetan plateau, which is now melting at an alarming rate. Because the climate crisis has also increased the rate of soil moisture evaporation around the world and concentrated rainfall in shorter periods of time, shifting the seasons during which it falls, there is increased desertification and longer droughts, increasing stress on all of the people who live in the dry land regions of our world. Many shallow lakes, including prominently lake Chad, have disappeared. The Great Lakes of Africa are undergoing dramatic change, the Great Lakes of North America are losing their ice cover, and the water level is dropping dramatically. Last year 2000 scientists gathered at the food and agriculture organization in Rome to discuss their fear of an impending crisis in the Mediterranean as it becomes saltier and as warmer water reaches its depths, threatening in the future to turn it into a stagnant sea if this process continues. The dumping of 25 million tons of CO2 into the oceans of the world every day, and the increasing acidification of the ocean water along with rising temperature is putting stress on the ocean Fisheries throughout our planet. And as you know, the warming ocean waters are also causing stronger typhoons and cyclones and hurricanes. Typhoon Saomai was the strongest to hit China in more than 50 years, two of the three strongest histories in history hit south Asia within the last 3 years, one of them killing 20,000 people in Myanmar. We have had such strong storms in North America as well, and in South America where Brazil had the first hurricane in recorded history. Massive flooding has resulted at record rates on every continent. Last year more than a dozen countries in Africa suffered the consequences of such flooding. Last year Mexico had record flooding. We have seen comparable events in Europe and throughout the world. Heat waves continue. Two winters ago was the hottest winter in the history of recorded atmospheric measurements. 20 of the 21 hottest years in recorded history have occurred in the last 25 years. The university of Tel Aviv recently published a new study predicting that with each 1 degree increase in temperature there is a 10 percent increase in lightning, along with man-made causes, we are now seeing record fires as dryer soils and dryer vegetation leads to spreading fires in Greece, for example last year and in many other countries as well. The extinction crisis is tearing at the fabric of the web of life, and the scientific consensus that we must take action was strengthened by the IPCC yet again earlier this year. So the science is clear, and we are faced with a sharp contrast between two notional rates of change, first, the rate at which we are approaching a point of no return in terms of systems collapse, and second, the slower rate at which we have been addressing the problem of how to reduce the emissions that are causing this crisis. We are moving up against a physical standard that doesn't give credit for a good try. We will succeed or we will fail. At every time of great challenge, we as human beings first must resolve a struggle in our own hearts between hope and fear. That struggle is palpable here during this meeting at Poznan. The causes for fear, pessimism, discouragement and doubt have been discussed in whispered conversations among the delegates here. The global recession, we are told, makes the task of solving the climate crisis more difficult. The businesses lobbies in the developed nations we are told have too much power and may divert leaders from their obligation to safeguard our future. The prices for oil -- the prices for oil and coal have, in a cyclical and destructive pattern, once again risen to new highs in the first half of this year, contributing to the causes of the economic downturn, only then to once again plummet to levels that threaten to discourage investments necessary to develop renewable sources of energy and effective measures to improve conservation and efficiency. We are also told that even though people throughout the world are more aware of the unprecedented threat posed by the climate crisis, many still seem not to feel the appropriate sense of urgency that should cause them to demand the emergency measures that the scientists have so clearly told us governments must take as quickly as possible. The gap between rich and poor as we are all aware is not being closed with sufficient speed to build the unity of purpose so desperately needed as a basis for supporting global action. These are all causes for doubt, for fear, for pessimism. But in spite of these fears and doubts, you have continued your work and have continued to make steady progress in resolving many issues that once seemed intractable. Thank you. And even though the steps that you have taken and that have been taken by nations around the world sometimes seem small and even though the progress seems painfully slow, it is worth taking stock and recognizing that this great enterprise that began 16 years ago has now taken us to a vantage point from which we can see the basis for success because in spite of the remaining obstacles and difficulties, I believe that the causes for hope and optimism are greater than the causes for doubt and discouragement, and I believe the road to Copenhagen is now clear. Let me outline for you the basis for the hope and optimism that I feel in my heart. In the midst of this synchronized global recession, there is an emerging consensus throughout the world that the best, indeed the only way to effectively combat the recession is with a synchronized global stimulus and in nation after nation, leaders have concluded that they must design a green stimulus and build the infrastructure for renewable sources of energy and put people to work retro-fitting homes and buildings with CO2 reducing insulation and windows and lighting and more efficient technologies. China, a second cause for hope, China once seem by many as a looming obstacle to the world's effort to reduce CO2 emissions has itself announced a green stimulus of $600 billion over the next 2 years. Chinese leaders are mobilizing a national effort to introduce CO2 reduction initiatives and have already begun the largest tree planting program the world has ever seen. And in contrast to it 2 years ago, no one at this conference has said China is standing in the way of progress. China is ready to join in leading the world toward a solution for this crisis. Much more needs to be done, of course. Much more needs to be done even in countries that have in the last few years provided leadership. The struggle between hope and fear is taking place even today here in Europe. And yet we hear the reports that leaders once resistant to fiscal stimulus are now calling for massive new initiatives to create jobs in ways that also reduce CO2 and the Secretary general of the United Nations who has provided such tremendous leadership for the world in this process has himself called for what he terms a green new deal in the world. Developing countries that were once reluctant to join in the first phases of a global response to the climate crisis have themselves now become leaders in demanding action and in taking bold steps on their own initiative. Just last week Brazil proposed an impressive new plan to halt the destructive deforestation in that nation. Thanks to your efforts in Bali and in the continuing discussions, we now know how to integrate the protection of forests in a global agreement that also sharply reduces industrial sources of global warming pollution. Yes, much more work needs to be done, but you have created the basis for integrating the different kinds of solutions that must come together to solve this crisis. Another source of optimism, scientists and engineers and entrepreneurs in every part of the world have been busy and productive in developing exciting new ex-technologies that will dramatically improve our ability to create renewable energy, they are creating the basis for increasing living standards while simultaneously reducing pollution. In my country there have also been promising and optimistic changes. State governments, including the State of California, our largest state, have shown leadership by passing binding laws requiring the mandatory reduction of CO2. 884 U.S. cities have now embraced the principles of the Kyoto protocol without waiting for the Federal Government to act. The United States -- dozens of proposed coal firing generating plants have in the last 2 years been cancelled because of grassroots opposition and public pressure to adopt renewable sources of energy. The United States Supreme Court, which I must tell you in my opinion does not always reach the right conclusion, decided earlier this year in a ruling that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is required by law to regulate CO2 emissions. No new coal fired generating plant can be approved without a decision by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

1 year ago this week in Bali at another extraordinary moment during this process, I asked you to anticipate the possibility that there would be significant changes in the approach of the U.S. national government to the climate crisis because of our oncoming elections. Just prior to coming here to Poznan, I went to Chicago for a meeting with president-elect Barack Obama and he emphasized that the climate crisis will be a top priority of his administration. We discussed how to create millions of new jobs in a new clean energy economy, and he emphasized that once he is president, the United States will once again engage vigorously in these negotiations and help lead toward a successful conclusion. I would like to read to you some of the public statements that president-elect Barack Obama has made since the election. He said, “…the time for delay is over. The time for denial is over. We all believe what the scientists have been telling us for years now, that this is a matter of urgency and national security and it has to be dealt with in a serious way. That is what I intend my administration to do. “He said in another statement, “The science is beyond dispute. The facts are clear…. Washington has failed to show leadership. That will change when I take office. My presidency will mark a new chapter in America's leadership on climate change… That will start with a Federal cap and trade system... It will not only help us bring about a clean energy future saving our planet, it will also help us transform our industries and steer our country out of this economic crisis. Solving this problem will require all of us working together. Once I take office, you can be sure that the United States will once again engage vigorously in these negotiations and help lead the world toward a new era of global cooperation on climate change. “Don’t discount these words. Will there be difficulties? Of course. Not only in my country but in every country. You know that better than most. Mahatma Gandhi, one of the most inspirational leaders in the history of the world said halfway through the last century that the most powerful force in global politics is what he called "satyagraha" which I am told translates into my language roughly as "truth force". The reason why you have been able to continue moving forward is because you understand the truth about the crisis that we face. One of Mahatma Gandhi's -- one of those inspired by Mahatma Gandhi, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once said in discussing human rights, injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. In that very same way, we now face a crisis that makes it abundantly clear that increased CO2 emissions anywhere are a threat to the integrity of this planet's climate balance everywhere. As a result, the old divide between north and south; between developed countries and developing countries is a divide that must become obsolete. We must link poverty reduction with the sharp reduction of CO2 emissions, including reduced emissions from deforestation with reform of the clean development mechanism and adequate funding for adaptation that is essential and must be financed even though obviously mitigation and prevention are the primary task because without them adaptation would ultimately prove to be impossible. We hear a lot also about capacity building. A phrase that is almost exclusively used with respect to the developing countries and indeed capacity building is important there. But I want to talk about the need for capacity building in the developed countries as well. The political systems in the developed world have become sclerotic. We have to overcome the paralysis that has prevented us from acting and focused unblinkingly on this crisis as opposed to spending so much time on OJ Simpson and Paris Hilton and Anna Nicole Smith. In this struggle between our hopes for success and the doubts that constantly complicate this task, we have to call upon the people of the world to speak up more forcefully, to put their weight in the balance of the scales that are measured by world leaders. The truth is that the goals we are reaching toward are incredibly difficult, and even a goal of 450 parts per million, which seems so difficult today, is inadequate. We will soon need to toughen that goal to 350 parts per million. We understand that. But we have to understand as delegates in this process understand all too clearly the difference between stating the goal and reaching the goal. As governments come to grips with the very difficult work that has to be performed in order to reach even a goal of 450 parts per million, the task can seem very daunting. But for those of us who do understand that the goal should be tougher still, let us remember that the early steps in a process of reaching a goal of 450 parts per million and a process to reach 350 parts per million, the early steps are very similar, and we know from experience that once the process of change begins, once the momentum shifts, once the decisions are arrived at, then the task often becomes easier in the doing. As we start making these changes, we will see that they do strengthen our economies, they do create millions of new jobs, and they do improve the standard of living. To those who are fearful -- to those who are fearful that it is too difficult to conclude this process with a new treaty by the deadline that has been established for 1 year from now in Copenhagen, I say it can be done. It must be done. Let us finish this process at Copenhagen. Do not take the pressure off. Let us make sure that we succeed. Ultimately this really is not a political issue. It is of course a moral issue, and even a spiritual issue, however you understand that word. And our different traditions lead us to different ways of describing a spiritual challenge. But this one affects the survival of human civilization. It is simply put, a question of right versus wrong, and we have to bring to bear that truth force and that moral courage necessary to do what is sometimes seen as impossible. Very simply put, it is wrong for this generation to destroy the habitability of our planet and ruin the prospects of every future generation. That realization -- that realization must carry us forward. Our children have a right to hold us to a higher standard when the future of all human civilization is hanging in the balance. They deserve better, and politicians who sit on their hands and do nothing to confront the greatest challenge humankind has ever faced. This crisis does offer us the chance to experience what few generations have had the privilege of experiencing, a generational mission, a compelling moral purpose, a shared cause and the opportunity to put aside the pettiness and conflict of politics and narrower concerns to embrace a genuine moral generational mission. I believe that it is time between now and the gathering in Copenhagen 1 year from now for heads of state to become personally involved in meeting several times between Poznan and Copenhagen. I don't think that they can stay disengaged from this process any longer. I am very optimistic about the leadership of the new Danish chair that will preside over the meeting in Copenhagen, and even though I do not have the opportunity to speak formally for the people of my country, I would like to relay to you a message that I heard from the people of the United States of America this year, that I think is very relevant to the task the world is facing over this next year. Yes, we can. Thank you.


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