Updated Sep 14, 2023 - Energy & Environment

Al Gore: "Mistake" to think big oil, gas are part of a climate solution

Photo illustration of Al Gore next to various shapes and a photo of an oil field

Photo illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios. Photo: Fabrice Coffrini/AFP via Getty images

Al Gore has a mix of optimism and hope at the pace of decarbonization but seethes with frustration over the players he thinks are blocking faster progress.

The big picture: In a wide-ranging interview with Axios, the former Vice President and longtime environmental advocate discussed his investment firm's latest insights on the state of the world's transition to a low emissions economy.

  • He also detailed his increasingly confrontational stance toward the fossil fuel industry.
  • Gore said there are increasing signs of a tipping point for clean energy, but the necessary ingredients are not there yet.

Zoom in: "The crisis is still getting worse faster than we're deploying the solutions. But the new momentum that is being built up is continuing to increase. And there's reason for believing that soon we will be able to gain on the crisis itself," he said optimistically.

  • But there were also flashes of the fiery, call-it-like-you-see it, clear-eyed side to Gore, which he displayed during his July TED talk. On that occasion, Gore sharply shifted his public stance toward the oil and gas industry.
  • He denounced as-yet unproven technologies at scale (like direct air capture) designed to address greenhouse gas emissions, potentially without rapid transition to cleaner energy sources.

Between the lines: The fossil fuel industry plans to continue to rely on fossil fuels as its core business, Gore argued. He blasted their talk of becoming more diverse energy players, or moving beyond their oil and gas divisions, as mere greenwashing and distraction.

  • Meanwhile, these companies continue to hold political sway, creating policy roadblocks, Gore said.

Despite the increasingly clear effects of climate change, "the fossil fuel industry still has a degree of control over the conservative movement, the Republican Party, their allies in various sectors. And I have to believe that that's going to, to begin to fade," Gore said.

  • "We're not far away from a genuine political tipping point."

The intrigue: Gore hasn't shied away from criticizing the oil and gas industry. He criticized the selection of Sultan Ahmed al-Jaber as the president-designate of the upcoming climate summit in Dubai.

  • Al-Jaber heads the United Arab Emirates' national oil company, ADNOC, as well as the country's renewables efforts.
  • Gore sees al-Jaber's appointment as a sign that industry has captured the U.N. climate diplomacy process.
  • He didn't say whether he would attend COP28 but does support a push to change the voting rules so that no one country can have veto power over all others.
  • Saudi Arabia and other oil-producing countries have frustrated efforts during recent climate summits in Scotland and Egypt to agree on language calling for a fossil fuel phaseout.

What they're saying: The UAE COP28 leadership argues that inviting all parties to the talks, including oil and gas firms, is a move toward getting meaningful proposals from all players.

  • To that end, Gore suggested that fossil fuel companies commit to putting money toward a $75 billion fund, "which would represent less than one-half of 1% of their profits expected from now through 2030" to squelch the biggest methane emissions sources, such as abandoned wells.
  • Methane is a powerful planet-warming gas.

Yes, but: Gore sees fossil fuel companies as locked into their current business models.

  • "It has probably never been realistic to expect the fossil fuel industry to play a genuinely meaningful role in helping us decarbonize society," Gore told Axios.
  • "No matter what they have said, no matter what thoughtful men and women in the industry know is ultimately the right thing to do, they are powerfully incentivized by their shareholders to continue" drilling for oil and gas, thereby adding to human-caused global warming, he said.
  • "Their culture, their skills, their network, all drive them in that same direction. The bankers that finance them are making handsome profits from it," he said.

On Tuesday, Bernard Looney abruptly resigned as CEO of BP. Asked for his (hypothetical) advice to Looney's successor, Gore responded: "Well, I would say...stop trying to portray your policies as climate friendly when they're clearly not."

  • "I would certainly welcome a positive surprise from any of them. I would welcome a positive surprise from the president of COP28. I would welcome a surprise from OPEC and the petro states," he said. "I don't expect one."

In a statement provided to Axios, COP28's leadership said that "tackling the climate crisis requires unity and collective action. COP28 is focusing on keeping 1.5C within reach and delivering our action agenda. We must fast track a just and orderly energy transition, fix climate finance, and focus on lives and livelihoods."

  • "At the same time, we are committed to hosting the most inclusive COP to-date. We must all together, focus on bringing solutions to the table and deliver a successful COP28 for all," the statement added.

The bottom line: What animates Gore is a perceived disconnect between how fossil fuel companies portray themselves on climate, and what they're actually doing.

  • "They have had an incentive to portray themselves as the the prime source of the advice we need to solve this crisis. And they have apparently, parlayed that perception into a series of strategies to delay and block action," Gore said.
  • "It's not fair to ask them to do it if they're not capable of doing it. But it is fair to ask them to stop the blocking of everyone else's efforts to solve the crisis," Gore said. "If you can't help and if you won't help, get out of the way!"

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