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Kirsty Cockburn
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JEREMY LEGGETT and CATHY ZOI INTERVIEW - Wednesday, 21th March, 2007

GEORGE NEGUS: Cathy, Jeremy, thank you very much for your time. Cathy, if we could start with you. In 2007 it seems that the climate change bandwagon is really rolling. Is there any room for the sceptics in the argument any longer because they are still there - the people who say this is a gross exaggeration for instance?

CATHY ZOI, ALLIANCE FOR CLIMATE PROTECTION CEO: They are still out there but their voices are getting quieter and quieter and meeker and meeker. And thankfully the media no longer feels they need to do "on the one hand, on the other hand" all the time because the debate has shifted and the evidence is so overwhelmingly concerning that we need to act.

GEORGE NEGUS: Jeremy, do you think it might be the case, as some of the critics say, of too little too late, that the problem is so large it has gotten away from us.

JEREMY LEGGETT, ENVIRONMENTALIST AND ENERGY ENTREPRENEUR: Well those of us who worried that the warning was very clear way back in 1990 with the first report of the inter-governmental panel on climate change, have to swallow up a lot of resentment about just how long it has taken to get serious. This last few months, really three or four months it is almost as though there is a chain reaction going on. It is great to see. It is too late by now but it is here, let's just get on with it and make this happen. I think that is the feeling in Europe now.

GEORGE NEGUS: Why do you think in these last five or six months the world has come awake, if you like, that we have come out of our slumber and that the problem is being recognised even now by people who were previously critics or sceptics. Why now?

JEREMY LEGGETT: I do not have a good answer for that. It is like the Berlin Wall. You know, we were looking at it all those years of the Cold War, none of the pundits were really predicting it would come down, it looked so solid and then one night it just came tumbling down. And right now when you have got companies like Wal-Mart and Tesco and Marks & Spencers in the retailing sector not just ticking the box of "yes we're going to do 10% reduction in greenhouse gases" but saying "We are going to go all the way, we're going to have deeper cuts," you know you are making progress.

CATHY ZOI: From my perspective it has been a couple of things that have come together. Around the world there have been extreme weather events - Hurricane Katrina in the United States, the prolonged drought in Australia. That has been part of it. The economists and the Stern Review at of UK, that was part of it. Al Gore's movie 'An Inconvenient Truth' was part of it. The drumbeat has gotten louder and louder so the public at large has said we can no longer deny that this is an issue to deal with. And companies are getting on board and yes realising there may indeed be money to be made. But we still need to have policies settings that allow those companies to really go whole hog.

GEORGE NEGUS: In the US, where you are now and you have an Australian experience to go with that, George Bush and his administration are still regarded to a large extent to be flat-earthers on this whole question but the states, led by people like Arnold Schwarzenegger, are almost ignoring the federal government.

CATHY ZOI: They are. They are indeed. And thank goodness they are. I think we still have a long way to go in Washington DC but across America there has been an increasing amount of awareness by citizens and by state legislators who are doing really interesting things. However, still what we're going to need is legislation and policies coming out of Washington. There is no doubt about it.

GEORGE NEGUS: Jeremy, it seems that in America from what Cathy is saying that the people, if you like, are ahead of the government but in Europe and the UK it is almost the reverse. You have got a climate change bill introduced in the UK, you've got the Europeans going right off about their controls on emissions etc. Are the governments ahead of the people in Europe and the UK?

JEREMY LEGGETT: Well, I mean, it's just become a bit embarrassing here in the UK, the gap between the rhetoric that we have had for so long from this current government and what they are prepared to do materially with policy-making has become an embarrassment. What is interesting of late is we have a conservative opposition who seem intent on conserving something - i.e. the planet. And they have made the running and they have forced the debate and they have come up with some policy proposals. OK, they're still in opposition, they are not in government. But they have really smoked the current government out. And we now have a very interesting debate here that looks as though it may even decide the next general election, and they're kind of playing tennis with policy proposals.

GEORGE NEGUS: Is that right? Climate change could determine the result of the election in the UK?

JEREMY LEGGETT: That is the feeling. I mean, you cannot open a newspaper now. Every day, often many pages in the newspaper it is this about climate, that about climate.

GEORGE NEGUS: In the meantime, Cathy, we have got the largest emitter of greenhouse gases in the world, the US, dragging the chain, not signing Kyoto, like Australia, we have not signed Kyoto at all. How important is that for instance in terms of a leading nation like the US and Australia, an ally, not being seen to be in line with the rest of the world?

CATHY ZOI: It is incredibly important. One of the reasons that I have come back to the United States to work on this issue is that without the United States taking not just a passive role but a leadership role, it is going to be very difficult to solve this problem. We absolutely I think need the United States to start leading rather than being a lagger.

GEORGE NEGUS: Jeremy, you are attributed with being one of the people who actually raised this whole issue long before others. And now in fact you are in business on the solution level of this whole question. I mean, the Jeremy Leggett story is almost the progress of this whole story.

JEREMY LEGGETT: I worked all the way through the climate negotiations to Kyoto and I saw how badly the governments struggled and I did come to the view that to the extent that we can fashion our survival solution to this problem, really business leadership with consumers, ordinary people, that dynamic is going to be vitally important. So that is why I elected to pick within a scalable microcosm of what could be done one important member of the renewable energy family. I wouldn't put it any stronger than that. I think the government is going to be dragged to leadership positions. And right now I would argue that business is leading the way, not governments.

GEORGE NEGUS: You used the phrase 'renewable energy family'. Does that include nuclear power? Because our Prime Minister believes very strongly that this solution can... not only be found but nuclear power has to be in the mix of alternatives.

JEREMY LEGGETT: I am completely bewildered by anybody who thinks nuclear can materially contribute to this problem. In the UK now the company that's going to deliver this new generation of reactors that we were told about says that they can deliver the first nuclear to the grid not before 2017. That is the industry itself speaking. It is going to be game, set and match by 2017. We have got 10 years to turn this around according to NASA and many of the other centres of excellence in climate research. And even by 2017 they would only be replacing other nuclear power plants. We have got to do short-term stuff and energy efficiency and renewables.

GEORGE NEGUS: What do you think, Cathy? Is the nuclear option viable so far as you are concerned?

CATHY ZOI: I think I agree with Jeremy. As a practical matter I don't think it will enter into the mix because of the other ancillary issues associated with it. The issues of safety and proliferation and lead times and the fact that it is a very large central investment that somebody is going to have to underwrite the risk on, all of those factors will come into play and other things will make more sense to getting on with solving the problem.

GEORGE NEGUS: What makes more sense - clean coal? What is the answer?

CATHY ZOI: As Jeremy pointed out the first things we need to do is improve energy efficiency. And the International Energy Agency records that probably half the solution to getting deep cuts in greenhouse gas emissions can come from improving efficiency, the efficiency with which we actually use energy. Then beyond that you have lower emitting fossil fuels like natural gas and to the extent that we can figure out how to catch carbon from coal, that is another option. And we have abundant renewable energy resources. Conceivably what we need to do is make solar power so cheap that every single flat surface can become a power station. And that is something that we haven't got our heads around quite yet. It is doable.

JEREMY LEGGETT: I mean, I agree. With the clean coal thing, never say never. It is an important arrow in the quiver but the UK, here in Europe the utility industry, the coal companies are giving the impression this is a technology ready to go but if you look at the plans, what we have been told is we're going to have 12 pilot projects by 2015. It is not ready to go. It can work, it can be important and we have got to do it but really we will win or lose this problem on renewable energy efficiency and that is what we have to go for very quickly. In this country half the emissions come directly and indirectly from buildings and we can go out tomorrow in the renewables industry and reduce the emissions of buildings to zero within weeks.

GEORGE NEGUS: If that is the case Jeremy why aren't governments pushing the whole idea of renewables? Why aren't we going further down the track on the whole question of carbon trading. It is the term to throw around at the barbecue or a dinner party, if you're smart these days but do we really know what that is all about? Why aren't governments pushing all of these buttons at the same time?

JEREMY LEGGETT: I can I only talk about the UK because I had been on the government's renewable advisory board for three years. It is cultural. I think there are too many people who just don't really believe in their hearts you can get energy different ways. They think grown-ups get their energy from the boxes. You put coal and nuclear materials into it. It has always been that way, it always will be. Well it ain't. We have got to do it differently and we can.

GEORGE NEGUS: Cathy, mindshift is what we're talking about?

CATHY ZOI: We're talking about mindshift, we're also talking about a sense of urgency. You have heard Jeremy say a couple of times and I couldn't agree more. We have got to get on to this now. Government bureaucrats are tending to view this like any other sort of chronic long-term issue that needs to be dealt with. And we incrementally improve or deal with, with position papers a little bit over time. We need to start reducing emissions immediately. We can do that immediately. One of the things that I'm spending all day on now is changing that awareness that has increased, thankfully in the general public to a sense of urgency and solvability. So we get on to it tomorrow. We don't have time to wait till 2020 or 2030. And there are whole bunch of things we need to do now. Governments need to understand that. And for governments to understand that we need to have the public understand it is both urgent and solvable.

GEORGE NEGUS: We are in denial first to some extent. A lot of the world's population are still in denial that the problem is still as great as it is, that we are not facing the end of the world as we know it, that it is just another problem.

CATHY ZOI: I think that is right. Jeremy what do you think?

JEREMY LEGGETT: Absolutely. It is outstandingly the biggest problem we have and we have left it very late in the day. There are reasons to get out of bed. Plenty to be hopeful about and everything to play for.

GEORGE NEGUS: I'm giving you the opportunity to advise the government at the moment where they have had to be the prime minister for instance has gone from being a disbeliever almost to what he called a climate change sceptics to now a climate change realist. What would your gratuitous advice be to John Howard and his government, or Australia generally at this point at time when we seem to be dragging the chain.

JEREMY LEGGETT: I would say, man you have got a lot to make up for. You had been really blind to this end in denial for so long and now your country is drying out before your very eyes. And you have technologies. Take solar, just one member of the family, some of the finest researches in the world are in Australia and Australian universities. You have just not supported them all these years. You have not given them the breathing space, now the Chinese are racing away, the Japanese are racing away. And never mind about global warming you're about to miss out. You have not done your country proud at all in this.

GEORGE NEGUS: Other than that, no strong feelings. Cathy what would you say. We feel as though at least we are now having the discussion, the debate. At least we're on all right track but where do we go from here?

CATHY ZOI: The debate is not good enough. We need legislation in the next parliamentary session that puts a cap on emissions that allows countries to have companies to trade so the innovation that Jeremy mentioned that is in Australia on the ground can be harvested so that solar has a real contribution to the end next - bioFuels, wind power. Energy efficiency standards get put in place. I know there had been some interesting proposals that had been put forward in the last couple of months. They need to be enacted. They can't just be discussed.

GEORGE NEGUS: Cathy, thank you very much for your time it. It has been a great discussion. Jeremy thank you to yourself. I hope next time we are talking Australia has done some other things we are talking about.

CATHY ZOI: Fantastic. Thank you.