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Al Gore's policy checklist for reaching net zero

The former vice president spoke to GreenBiz at a Climate Reality roundtable in New York City.

Al Gore speaks in New York City at the 55th Climate Reality Project Leadership Corps training in April 2024.

Al Gore speaks in New York City at the 55th Climate Reality Project Leadership Corps training in April. (Credit: Climate Reality Project)

Companies have the power to reach "true net zero" by midcentury, according to former vice president Al Gore, if they "stop using the sky as an open sewer. We've got to get to true net zero, and then we will solve this crisis."

Gore, who since his controversial defeat in the 2000 presidential election has chaired the ESG-focused Generation Investment Management firm that he co-founded, sat on Apple’s board for two decades and advised Google and Kleiner Perkins, spoke to GreenBiz at this weekend’s 55th Climate Reality Leadership Corps training event in New York City. More than 50,000 people have attended one of Climate Reality’s training events since he launched them in 2006.

"This is a moment unlike any other in human history," Gore told the crowd. "We are seeing the emergence of the largest grassroots movement around the world, [that] many groups are building, that has ever existed — in all of history. It is up to us."

No corporate CEOs headlined the three-day training. However, event organizers noted that representatives from Apple, Starbucks, Bank of America, Deloitte, EY, IBM, Mars, Patagonia, PWC and Salesforce were in attendance. Business sustainability leaders also engage with local chapters of the Climate Reality project, which says it reachees several million people globally. In addition, a Climate Business Working Group with 1,000 members in the U.S. and abroad seeks to help small businesses with climate efforts.

We have to guard against being fooled by flowery pledges and commitments.

Gore accused fossil fuel companies of using direct air capture technology as an offsetting greenwashing tool to allow them to continue to pollute the atmosphere rather than ending their emissions altogether.

"They are liars," he thundered to applause Saturday during a two-hour presentation, which expanded themes from his July TED Talk. "I shouldn't get hot like this," he said, breaking from the highly annotated style established by his 2006 Oscar-winning film, "An Inconvenient Truth."

In a wide-ranging roundtable discussion, the Nobel laureate spelled out a climate policy checklist for big business:

1. End fossil fuel subsidies. Petrochemical companies and their CEOs will continue to prioritize profit over everything else, Gore said, but he believes that the public can pressure CEOs and the government to end its support for them. "I think [they] can be influenced by people at the grassroots," Gore told GreenBiz, to demand politicians remove the subsidies buffering the industry. "When we have these massive subsidies for the burning of fossil fuels, that gives an incentive to burn more fossil fuels." Instead, he suggested support for a tax on carbon and methane.

2. Repeat the success of the Inflation Reduction Act. Gore praised the Biden administration’s act for stimulating "a race to the top" with nearly half a trillion dollars in investments, creating 42,000 jobs, reducing income inequality and drawing new green energy and sustainability-focused operations into the U.S. "Those kinds of big changes are going to be more important in changing the behavior of CEOs." The IRA’s 45Q carbon capture tax credit also subsidizes the air-capture industry.

3. Take advantage of technological tailwinds. As costs drop for solar, wind, battery storage and clean hydrogen, it will make the "sustainability revolution … as big as the Industrial Revolution, as fast as the digital revolution," he said. "But we’ve got to use it … If we do, when we get to true net zero, temperatures will stop going up almost immediately."

4. Use maps to identify sources. New technologies are enabling companies to see who is emitting greenhouse gases and where. The nonprofit Climate Trace, which he co-founded, in December issued a free global map of GHG emitters. Artificial intelligence wrangles data from 300 satellites an hour and other sources, color-coding even "fugitive" industrial methane pollution. "Now we know quite precisely where it's coming from," Gore said. "There are a lot of programs that are being built around this climate crisis data."

5. Climate pledges are not enough. "We have to guard against being fooled by flowery pledges and commitments; we have to insist on a follow-through and keeping those commitments." Russia’s invasion of Ukraine spiked oil prices, providing cover for some companies to abandon their pledges, according to Gore.

6. Don’t let Trump hold you back. "Progress will continue" if Donald Trump wins back the presidency in November, Gore said, most notably in the private sector. "But our chance to accelerate that progress to the levels that are necessary to really solve this crisis would be taken away if an anti-climate president came into office."

[Continue the conversation on climate policy at Circularity 24 (May 22-24, Chicago), the leading conference for professionals building the circular economy.]

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