April 14, 2021

Ep38: Tony Blair 'A Masterclass in Climate Geopolitics'

Tony Blair, UK Prime Minister from 1997 to 2007 and Executive Chairman of the Tony Blair Institute, joins Michael Liebreich for the first episode of Season 3.

Bio

Tony Blair was the UK Prime Minister from 1997 to 2007 and is now the Executive Chairman of the Tony Blair Institute, a not-for-profit organisation established in 2016 with staff of 200 spread over more than 20 countries. The Institute’s mission is to ‘to equip leaders with what they need to build effective Governance and deliver open, inclusive and prosperous societies in a globalised world’.

Since establishing the Institute, Tony Blair devotes ‘at least 80% of his time’ to running it. The Institute’s efforts are focused on improving governance in a number of African states and also supporting electrification on the continent via its ‘Power Africa’ programme. Recently, the Institute has done extensive work on COVID-19 response – from the role of digital technology to vaccination plans.

Tony Blair’s time in office saw a growth of importance of energy and climate change: in 2003 Energy White Paper was published, calling for creating low carbon economy and developing renewable energy sources in the UK. In 2006, the Stern Review, a study commissioned by the government was made public –the first comprehensive attempt to compare costs of mitigating climate change to no action scenario. In 2007 the Climate Change Act, a landmark legislation requiring the UK to cut its emission by 80% by 2050 was put forward.

Tony Blair was an MP for Sedgefield for 24 years, between 1983 and 2007. He became the Leader of the Opposition in 1994 and won three consecutive elections in 1997, 2002 and 2005 – the only Labour leader to achieve that. He was also the longest serving Labour PM. After he stepped down as PM, Tony Blair became the Middle East envoy for the United Nations, European Union, United States, and Russia. He worked with a number of companies as an advisor and keynote speaker.


Further reading:

Official Bio  

https://institute.global/tony-blair  

Blair says collaboration on Covid could have cut three months off crisis (March 2021)  

https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2021/feb/26/blair-says-collaboration-on-covid-could-have-cut-three-months-off-crisis  

Treat pandemic preparedness as a national security issue (March 2021)  

https://www.globalgovernmentforum.com/pandemic-preparedness-national-security-issue-former-uk-pm-tony-blair/  

Why Vaccine Passports Are ‘Inevitable,’ Explained By Tony Blair (February 2021)  

https://www.forbes.com/sites/suzannerowankelleher/2021/02/13/why-vaccine-passports-are-inevitable-explained-by-tony-blair/  

Tony Blair Insititute for Global Change  

https://institute.global/  

A Journey: My Political Life – Tony Blair’s Autobiography  

https://www.amazon.com/Journey-My-Political-Life/dp/0307390632

Transcript

Click here for Edited Highlights

Michael Liebreich: 

Before we get started, please remember to like or subscribe to this video/podcast. It really helps others to find Cleaning Up. Cleaning Up is brought to you by Liebreich Foundation and the Gilardini Foundation. Hello, I'm Michael Liebreich. Welcome to Season 3 of Cleaning Up. My guest today is Tony Blair, Prime Minister of Great Britain and Northern Ireland from 1997 to 2007, and now Executive Chair of the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change. Please welcome Tony Blair to Cleaning Up. So, Mr. Blair, thank you very much for joining us here on Cleaning Up. 

 

Tony Blair:  

It's a pleasure, Michael. Thank you. 

 

ML: 

So, we are hopefully, at the moment, in the second half of this terrible pandemic. And if I may, I'd like to take that as a starting point because you've done, through your Institute, an enormous amount of work on COVID. And I want to talk about the intersection between COVID and climate, if I may. 

 

TB: 

Yeah, so I think that there's two points of intersection. The first is that climate change itself is going to give rise to many more potential pandemics for the future, because it's changing the biodiversity of the planet. And, in fact, some people identify climate change as the single biggest risk factor in the potential for further pandemics. So that's one point of intersection. And the second thing is, think what we've learned through the absence of global cooperation in the pandemic - we've not cooperated globally nearly to the extent we should - is that we made it worse for all of ourselves. So, I reckon if there had been the right global cooperation around research and development, development of vaccines, production of vaccines, right at the very beginning, better cooperation around the development of rapid testing, we could have probably shaved three months, maybe more, off the course of the pandemic. So, it's a big lesson then when you take it to climate change as to why you need that global coordination and cooperation, and why that is in the enlightened self-interest of all countries. 

 

ML: 

I find the second of those two sort of touch point more convincing, very convincing, and the first one - my jury is still out because, you know, so much of the pandemic spread was driven by things like airline travel. And you know, I worry that people want to kind of hook too much baggage to the climate train. But the second one, the governance issues, I'm absolutely convinced by and I wonder whether, you know, is it possible that we've now marked a sort of low point, and from here on we will actually see improvements in global governance and speed of reaction to these sorts of issues?  

 

TB: 

Yeah, it’s a good question. Just on the first by the way, it's not so much in the spread, it's in the actual pathogens and how they develop and how disease is created. That's apparently the… that's what people say to me, though I'm not an expert on it. But no, you're absolutely right. What should happen out of the pandemic is that people understand that global cooperation is necessary. Will they do that? I don't know. But, you know, we've got to get to the point where we're able to shorten the time between discovering that potential pandemic - because we've had many, many near misses in the past decade or so - but this one, we should have discovered much earlier, we should have developed the right protections much earlier, and we should have had the capacity to increase vaccine production hugely, in order to avoid the situation we're now in, where, you know, a large part of the world is scrambling for vaccine. So that lesson for global cooperation for climate it's absolutely clear, because climate, classically, it's the situation where, you know, unless all countries are doing their best to help this fight against climate change, then you know, the struggle is going to be lost. 

 

ML: 

And the parallel also, of course, that we, you know… it would be a whole lot easier to deal with climate change had we started more aggressively earlier. I mean, I work on the solutions side, whether it's energy, whether it's transportation, whether it's industry, and eventually it's going to have to be things like net-zero aviation and shipping, you know, had we started in 1980, 1990, or if I could be cheeky to say 1997. Maybe this would be an easier path? 

 

TB:  

Yeah, sure. I mean, look, you know, for our time we were a government pretty much, you know, ahead of the game. You know, we passed the first climate change legislation and set out really what, at the time, was quite a bold and ambitious framework. But no, you're absolutely right. I mean, the truth is, if we had, back some years before, incentivized in the right way the development of the science and technology, we would have been a lot further along the path. But you know, we should learn that lesson, do it even now. Because, I think I’m right in saying you know more than me, but if we want to reach our goal on, you know, reducing the effect on our climate, the 2030 ambitions that we have at the moment, are a cut of around 2%, whereas we actually need to be cutting about 40 or 45%. So, you know, we're a long way short of where we need to be, even though we've, you know, of course, there's been enormous gains. But the lesson for me when I study it and, you know, I’d be interested to hear what you think about this is, in the end, the only way that we're going to deal with the climate issue is if we accelerate the development of the science and technology that allows us to consume sustainably.  

 

ML: 

Yes. So, there are sort of two schools of thought of how we deal with this. There’s the degrowthers, who say we just have to stop, we want to stop the planet, we need to stop the economy. You know, it used to be stop the planet, I want to get off. But it kind of… stop the economy, I want to get off. And then the other school of thought, which is very much the one that I subscribe to, which is the only way we'll do this is through innovation. We need massively distributed innovation, right across our economic system, all activity, because everything has to change. But we actually have a pretty good machinery for innovation, it's just that it's kind of gone off in all sorts of directions, hasn't respected planetary boundaries. And now we need to use that machinery, but it needs to be targeted at innovation that avoids those boundaries. 

 

TB: 

Yeah. And I think what's interesting is if you take, for example, solar or wind power. When I was in office, a lot of people said, well, look, this is just crazy, I mean, it's never going to be commercially viable, it's never really going to work. You know, you fast forward to today, there are a whole lot of things that the mainstream is saying in politics today that they would have derided 15 years ago. And solar energy, obviously now is much, much more competitive. So, I think, you know, if we look at it, and you take for example electric vehicles, now you look at the market cap of Tesla, compare it with traditional car companies. I mean, there's no doubt where the world is moving. So, I think we've at least got a situation today where it's possible to accelerate this development of science and technology. And your point about the growth issue. I mean, a lot of the work my Institute does is in the developing world, particularly in Africa. The population of Africa will double over the next 30 to 40 years. All of these people need to consume, you know, they need electricity and power generation, they need ports, and rail, and airline links. And they're not going to… If I go to these countries and say to them, well, I'm sorry, but because of climate change you guys have got to hold back economic growth. I mean, they'll chase you out the country. So that's why the responsibility that's there now on the developed world, is how do we accelerate the science and technology? How do we create the right frameworks? How do we encourage the innovation that's going to give us the solutions to things like airline fuel? 

 

ML: 

You're certainly right, that, you know, the solutions that we've got now are a world ahead of what we had, you know, a decade ago. And when you said that you would have been derided for talking about solar and wind, the way we now…. It's not just that you would have been, I was. I was saying that there are these learning curves and this is a transformation. And I did get derided and I did get… not laughed out of the room, I got sort of kept in a little, you know, in a box aside, at things like the World Economic Forum. It was sort of, interesting, provocative, but let's get back to the real stuff. And that's totally changed. My worry is that there are sectors that absolutely were over the tipping point. So, I see transformation in electricity, transformation in land transport, you know. This will take us a long way and it will certainly see us capping emissions, but what I don't see it doing is driving them down on track for zero at the speed that we need. And there are some difficult sectors that just won't follow that. Where it's easy to say, well look what happened to solar. So that can happen to, I don't know, glass manufacturer or cement or steel or aviation. And I look at that and I think actually, there's got to be some pretty heavy handed interventions, either to accelerate technologies, or frankly, just to say, we can no longer, you know, fly as cheaply as we are used to. We are simply going to have to accept that that had an externality that's not priced in, and we can't get over that with technology. 

 

TB: 

Does your study of technology lead you to believe … - I know it sounds very crude - but if you throw enough money at trying to provide a solution, for example for aviation fuel, that it's likely you will get one? 

 

ML: 

Oh, so I think you will definitely get one. You know, I was an engineer, I can't claim to be an engineer now. But I have huge faith in engineers – in technologists - but also engineers. And also in the role of the private sector is to take all this clever stuff and actually get it to customers and match it to all those niches and so on, we will get those solutions. That's the first point. Second point is to get it to an affordable cost. You get these kind of fake discussions where some people say, oh, it's all about the lab. And other people say, oh no, it's all about rolling out what you've got. And actually, it's three things. It's the lab, it's rolling out and scale and logistics, and also costs of capital, vitally important. And therefore, things like political stability really matter. Because if your cost of capital goes up, these things don't work. That's the second point. The third and final point though is that there are things that will just remain more expensive for thermodynamic reasons, for microeconomic reasons. You know, natural gas in heating is just really, really cheap. And there's no solution coming that will get to that price point within 20 or 30 years, I just don't… And of course, adaptation, you know, technological advance will not build, you know, sea walls in Bangladesh, that is just going to be a cost that we have to meet. 

 

TB: 

But if you take something, like for example carbon capture and storage, which, you know, we put money into when I was in government and people have always been, you know, skeptical about, can you see that advancing significantly? 

 

 

 

ML: 

Well, it will advance because like anything if you do more of it, you'll drive the costs down. But you cannot get around, in that case, the thermodynamics. There is a big…. You know, you're doing work. You're separating two mixed gases into pure gases, and then you're having to stick one underground or do whatever with it. And so, there's going to be first a capital expenditure, and there's going to be a parasitic load. You can't get around that, you just can't. So, if you want people to take the same power station and do that versus just letting it run, then there has to be a policy framework around that. 

 

TB: 

Right. Presumably, though, things like battery capabilities and storage, I mean those things are going to accelerate significantly.  

 

ML: 

Yes, those ones are sort of, in a sense, different. They produce the product of either electricity or flexibility within the electrical system. But also, those are just manufacturing and material science technologies, they go down these incredible experience curves. Batteries - they’re 10 times cheaper now than a decade ago, and they'll go down another 70-80% in the next decade. But batteries will never get us through two or three weeks of a wind lull in the North Sea, we have to be, you know, really cold about some of these things that I just… It's the kind of… You know, we've done it in wind, and solar, and batteries, so we can do it across the board is a bit like, well, you know, we broke the speed of sound and now we're going to break the speed of light, you know, they're just some physical constraints. 

 

TB: 

Here’s the interesting thing because, you know, in the work we do in Africa, we do a lot of work around the energy sector. And obviously, for many of the countries we work in, you know, maybe 30%, 40%, sometimes 50% of the country has electricity, the others don't. And that causes enormous problems, not just to people's daily lives, but things like health and education, and so on. So, you know, we're developing off-grid solutions, mini-grid solutions, and so on. But you also have, just to take two projects that we’re involved with, two mega projects. One of which is the Inga Dam in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The other of which is the African Development Bank's solar project for the Sahel. Now, there are multiple issues with those two projects. But on the other hand, there's no doubt the capacity is there: solar in the Sahara, and the Inga Dam, there's no doubt the capability, the hydroelectric capability is there. It's all things to do with financing, you know, laying the grid, getting the political conditions right, and so on. How much could be done if the world sort of came together and put some infrastructure financing, real political focus around getting some of these mega projects done, that would obviously hugely relieve the pressure on these countries otherwise to be burning, you know, never mind natural gas, but coal, heavy fuel oil, because they're desperate for electricity and in a world where you've got to get connected and you know, with the internet, if you don't develop electricity, you're lost. 

 

ML: 

The work you're doing is incredibly important, I think you're talking about the Power Africa activities. I was on the high-level group of Sustainable Energy for All working with Bank Ki-moon. And you are working at the two ends, the sort of rooftop solar and the mega project there. And both are needed. I think the challenge is that so is everything else, you know, you don't have distribution grids, you don't have the financial infrastructure and what we've seen, country after country, the speed of electrification, giving energy access to people just correlates with capital formation, you know, things like the rule of law and local financial institutions. And so you've got to work on the political governance at the same time as the sort of technical solutions, because, you know, it would be tremendous to use that Inga Dam instead of just saying go and produce bulk electricity, think about how it could be deployed to enable vast amounts of very cheap, variable renewables, solar and wind, across the continent. So, you know, think of it as a battery rather than a producer. But then also the finance, I would say that the World Bank, the African Development Bank, they've actually been quite good at projects, Inga Dam is just separate. Because, first of all, hydro got a bad rap for doing some appalling environmental damage and having incredible social consequences, you know, moving people away from, you know, where they live. But in terms of sort of medium sized, not the Inga Dam, but most projects, the financial infrastructure, the mechanisms are pretty well understood; blended finance, etc, etc. It's just it all has to happen at once. It all has to come together at once. 

 

TB: 

But here's the thing that's really interesting to me when you go back then to the pandemic. Right, if you go back two years ago, and you said to people, right, we're going to have to produce billions of doses of a vaccine at scale, we're going to have to do it the development phase, the test, trial and testing phase, the production of the vaccine, the distribution, we have to do the whole thing in 18 months. People would have said, well that just can't be done, I'm afraid. Right. And now I'm talking about doing all of that in three to four months. Right. So, it depends, I think, politically, the challenge is, it depends what you mean by emergency. Because the truth is, we have decided the pandemic is an emergency and therefore that process that would have taken you years and years and years, has now shrunk to 18 months, and you're not laughed out of court if you say it's got to shrink to three months or four months. If you decide politically that climate is this type of emergency, what is it you need to do? Because then all of these issues that we're talking about with some of these large projects, with putting money behind the development of science and technology, all of that then becomes, yeah, well, of course, we got to do that. You know, so, for example, people, governments backed vaccine development, in circumstances where, again, a few years back, if you'd said to the government you've got to put x billion into vaccine development, can we tell you if it's going to work? No, we can't really… They would have said you're crazy, get out of here. We're not putting any public money into that. So, my point is, I think the real lesson out of the pandemic for climate change is, if you mean what you say and it's urgent, it requires a different political attitude to it. And this is where, you know, politically it's very challenging, because you've got the America-China relationship, without these two countries working in some sort of cooperation together it’s very hard to see how it works. Then you've got the developing world of which, you know, as I say, the continent of Africa, to me is the most important part of this because of the doubling of the population and the vast amount of energy they're going to need and want to consume. But, you know, if you decided this really was an emergency, you could probably solve those political problems. 

 

ML: 

You could solve one set of problems. But I think the concern is… you've put your finger exactly on the dilemma. Because I think for all the people declaring climate emergency, the fact is they're not behaving like it is truly an emergency. And I think that may be, I hate to say it, but it may be correct, because what we've also seen is the failure of things like, you know, collectivization in the Soviet Union, the failure of the Great Leap Forward, you know, top down command and control. Because this isn't taking over perhaps the production facilities of a few pharma companies, this is absolutely everything. This is how you heat your home, this is in the industry, this is your holidays, this is your car, this is, you know, right across the board, you know, it's the whole… it's agriculture, nothing is untouched. And if you want a command and control response to that, I think quite rightly, you know, as a conservative, I'm sitting there going, okay, this climate change thing can't possibly be bad enough to justify that.  

 

TB: 

Yeah. But here's what I would say. I mean, the Third Way is a bit out of fashion nowadays, but let's bring it back for this purpose. You know, you've got two different traditional models. One is, it’s up to the market to develop the solutions. The other is, look, government has got to sort of take over industry and do it. But if you actually look at what's happened in the pandemic, what happened is governments set a framework, provided incentives. But, you know, the vaccines have been developed by the private companies… you’ve got public companies, but you know, the private sector. So, I think there is a way in which government can set a framework, you know, can put the political structures in place that are necessary to provide the stability and predictability that people require for investment. And look you've got, it's not as if, for example, if you're talking about investment today, I mean, you will know this better than me, I mean, there's masses of cheap money swirling around the world. So, diverting some of that into projects that governments shouldn't choose that they can set the framework, you know, for those projects that otherwise might not be investable, to be investable. I mean, this seems to be a sensible role for government. And, you know, if it is really urgent, well, what are the things that are going to move the dial where at least you say, even if you're not picking individual companies. And you may, in certain circumstances, not be picking individual technologies, but you're at least setting a framework in which the development of the technology that will resolve this will be incentivized. I mean, I guess that's, you know, if you translate that across from the pandemic, that would be kind of the lesson of what's worked out of the pandemic. Right? 

 

ML: 

And, you know, I can't go as far as to say that I'm now a big fan of the Third Way. I can't do that. But I am a regulated markets guy… I agree with you entirely. My read of the dynamics of how quickly we can turn the supertanker is that we can get to the sort of 2 degrees. You know, if you look at the where we are headed now is around 3, and you talked about, sort of, we're on track to cut by a couple of percent by 2030. That's before all of those net zero pledges are translated into Nationally Determined Contributions with legislative frameworks and so on. So, we can do better than 3, I think we can get to 2, I'll be honest. I don't think that that approach is going to get to 1.5. And to get to 1.5, the problem with the approach is that at some point, you have to knock on somebody's door and say, your house is now, you know, you now have to move out for three weeks, because we are going to insulate it, because you haven't. And that's where people probably check out of the process because it is just very fundamental that you've got to sort out people's… and it's not a question of lifestyle, they can move back in and they'll have a house that's probably, you know, warmer and better, etc, etc. But there is a level to move at that speed. There's a level of coercion that would be needed if you really wanted to get to 1.5. 

 

TB: 

Yeah, no, I mean, I see that. I mean, the one thing that is interesting about climate change is that, you know, I mean, this may be a too British a perspective, but, you know, the polling that my Institute did a short time ago, showed it's pretty much across generations and across parties actually. So, you know, there's a much greater consensus around the need for urgent action than before. And I think that does give you, you know… Okay, there may come a point at which people feel it's just too much of a heavy hand. And the difference with the pandemic is that, you know, when people think their actual health is going to be affected, they're prepared to accept restrictions they would never accept in normal circumstances. On the other hand, I think there's much greater impetus behind this. But I think the one difference politically, I think, with climate change, is that with the pandemic, I mean, there's never been a crisis, in my experience, not 9/11, not the financial crisis, not if you go back in time. Probably not even if you go back time to the World Wars of the 20th century, there's never been a crisis where literally everybody's life has changed as a result of it, I mean, this is unique. But what it means is, from a political position, you know, you can get things done in your own country, because everybody is affected. With climate, you can tell people this is, you know, this is a big problem for the world. They can even see in their own country, I think most people see in their own country, their actual lived experience is that the climate has changed in some degree or other. But it's not your daily life; your daily life is not affected by climate change. And therefore, what that means is, I think, that there is a greater reluctance to take national measures, unless it's part of a global picture. Now, we haven't… this argument hasn't surfaced in a big way in the UK, because the Conservative Party, to be fair, is basically in favor of action. But I can see a time coming, in which if we do have to take that type of tough action that you're talking about, Michael, then, you know, some people will say, so what percentage of emissions are we? Tell me what China is doing then. Don't ask me to change my life here, when we're a tiny part of the problem overall if you can't get the Chinese to do really radical action. So, this is where I think the global politics of this will be very, very important and are going to be very challenging, particularly given the position that America and China have with each other today. 

 

ML: 

That debate that you describe, where people start to push back, I mean, it is happening… For my sins, I continue to follow the Global Warming Policy Foundation on Twitter. So, I'm not completely disconnected with that strain of kind of grumpy old man thinking. But also, if you look at Australia, if you look at the politics in Canada until the Trudeau administration, it was absolutely what can we possibly do, we’re so small, this is ridiculous… look at China, adding this much coal and so on. Much of it, by the way, based on just factual inaccuracy, it’s about how much coal, you know, and whether coal is still growing, and so on. But it's a very powerful… You look at the yellow vest protests, you know, because what you said, was very, you know, very in line with Mr. Macron, you know, policy, and then the yellow vests came. And we've got the same around our protests against fuel tax increase. I think that pushback is much closer to the surface than you may have portrayed there. 

 

TB:  

In which case my point is even stronger. That without that global cooperation where people think, look, the pain and the gain is being equally spread, it's going to be difficult. And I think that's why this upcoming summit in Glasgow at the end of the year will be really, really important. I mean, I think that the challenge will be to get the key countries to not just to agree it's an important issue. And sometimes, you know, you can agree these faraway targets because they’re so far away. I think one really important thing for the government to do with this COP26 summit in Glasgow is going to be to take certain areas of activity and have something quite specific that's going to happen around it because if it's all at these very high level targets. You know, the political traction on a target for a politician that's way beyond their time in office is limited. 

 

ML: 

I think that's right. Although I suspect that, you know, because you've got… we've just had these pledges, if they're turned into National Determined Contributions, then you've kind of got time, that's the COP process over the coming years to push it into steel and cement and shipping and so on, maybe. But let me just share, because I'm just conscious of time, I'm worried that we will get lots of very good pledges turned into… we’ll get a good framework coming out of Glasgow, I think that's clear, Glasgow is going to be a big success. I want to hear your thoughts on the sort of the countries that have not pledged or are currently outside that. So, India and Africa, the sort of 20% of the global economy. I go back to 1997, the Kyoto Protocol, everybody thought it was a huge triumph. Enormous celebrations. But it didn't include China, and the subsequent two decades showed that was just the biggest possible gap. And in a way, it’s not just a worry, because I hope it happens, I hope Africa becomes, you know, enormously wealthy in the next two decades, and India. But how do we ensure that's not at the expense of the climate? 

 

TB:  

Yeah, well this is the absolute challenge. But the difference, I think, Michael, which is interesting today, is that back then, at the time of Kyoto… Remember, the American Senate voted 98 to 0 or something against it, with a couple of abstentions. India was opposed to it. Saudi was opposed to it. China wasn't part of it. Now, if you fast forward to today, there's no country that’s saying, no, we don't think it's a problem. There's no one in the climate denying space, of any significance. So that is a big step forward. But the problem is, and this comes back to the point I was making about science, technology, and financial investment, the problem is, if you're say the president of Nigeria, and you've got a population that's rising all the time, with an average age of, you know, less than 30, over 200 million people at the moment rising by 2030 maybe to closer to 300 million, in time. You can't say to your people, we're not going to develop, you're not going to have access to electricity. So, you've literally… In Nigeria, if you provide them with the opportunity to develop sustainably, they'll take it. But what you can't say to them is, you can't develop. So, this is the challenge. And this is where you've got to, you know… the world's got to deal with this question of how you provide power generation and connectivity for the developing world. You've got to deal with it as its own topic, because otherwise, you're going to find a situation where as that part of the world that's not connected gets connected, you literally just switch your problem, you know, the developed world, okay, deals successfully with its own emissions. But this is the whole point about it being a global problem. I mean, the climate doesn't care where the emissions originate from, you know. So, I think this is why I think you've got to… One of the things I've been saying to people about this COP process is you've got to bring these developing countries into the dialogue. And you've got to be offering them the solutions that allow them to consume sustainably. Now, there are such solutions, because obviously, they've got, for example, capacity on renewables of an immense amount. But you've got to help them. And you've got to look also at, I mean, I think you probably need to look again at things like nuclear power as well. I mean, you can't exclude any of these things from the mix. The bottom line is, there's nothing that you're going to do that will persuade the leaders of those countries to tell their people not to grow. I can just tell you, that is not going to happen. 

 

ML: 

Absolutely. And I think that the word I don't see used enough in all of this is leapfrog. They've got to leapfrog to whatever technology is… it's going to be renewables, I actually agree, I wouldn't take nuclear off the table, it turns out to be very expensive, you know, to build new, as you actually noted in your 2003 White Paper. It looks uneconomic, but we can't take it off the table. I mean, the old songs are the best ones. But those leapfrog-capable countries, that's one challenge. And the other one is, you do a lot of work in the Middle East. You've got obviously oil-dependent nations, not just in the Middle East, but they are concentrated around the Gulf, quite a rough neighborhood. These are countries that are going to find climate action, actually, well, they're going to be among the losers. It's very hard to see how they remain amongst the sort of economic elite of the world in a post-carbon economy. How do you deal with that? How do you keep them on board? 

 

TB: 

It’s a very interesting point because I, you know, I do a lot of work out in the Gulf. But here's what's interesting. If you take the UAE and Saudi Arabia, for example, both of them are now moving into the climate space. Both of them are wanting to diversify their economies. And recognizing that in the end, if they remain dependent on oil, they're dependent on a declining industry. So, the UAE, for example, has got a huge push into technology. One of the things that was part of their thinking on the rapprochement with Israel, which is something I worked on, you know, one of the reasons why that is such an extraordinary development is that it isn't just about security and the threat of Iran, and so on, and so forth. It's also a desire to work with Israel in developing some of the technology of the future. And I can see the same process going on across the Middle East. But again, this is where, you know, we need to be thinking, how do we make the oil companies part of the solution to this? Because you know, in the end, they're going to have to be…It requires as well as these high level commitments that are translated into each country's plan, you need to look at certain parts of the world, certain sectors and say, how specifically do we assist these in, you know, changing the way that they work and grow? And I think the possibilities are much bigger than, you know, we might think because, again, you know, many of these countries… it's a young population. You know, 70% of the population of Saudi Arabia is under the age of 30. You know, these people are, I mean, they're aware of what's happening in the world. So, I think there are a whole set of changes here that we need to look at together. And I mean, I'm optimistic that there are solutions. But I do think it's going to require a lot of leadership from America and from Europe, the UK, in order to get there. 

 

ML: 

Well, it's certainly an extraordinary year with everything coming together in a way I don't think any of us would have predicted. In terms of technologies, in terms of the meetings that the UK is hosting, G7, and then COP, and so on. So, it could not be more fascinating. But your team have told me that I need to wrap it up, and you need to wrap it up, apparently. So, we need to do that. But I would really like to thank you for spending some time with me today. And hopefully, you know, if there's anything that we can do on these issues to kind of accelerate the good parts of those trends, then obviously, I'd be delighted to try to help.  

 

TB: 

Thank you, Michael, we'll take you up on that. And, you know, we've now put a whole section of our Institute onto the climate question and really dealing with, because this is where I can make a contribution I guess, on the political frameworks that are going to help us resolve it. But it's a fascinating and exciting challenge for the world, as well as a difficult one. And, you know, we need the best brains and contributions from whatever source and quarter we can get them. So, thank you for all the work you're doing all this too, much appreciated. 

 

ML: 

It's a pleasure and like you I'm optimistic, guardedly optimistic that we will actually take a big bite out of the problem in this coming decade. 

 

TB: 

Yeah, I know. I'm guardedly optimistic as well, but I never know whether that's based on reality or simply my natural exuberance. Many thanks. 

 

ML: 

Very good. Thank you very much. 

 

ML: 

Okay, all the best. Thank you. 

 

ML: 

So that was Tony Blair, helping us to read across lessons from the pandemic response to the area of climate action. Our episode next week will be a different format. I'm going to be joined by two very dear friends, both deeply committed to nature and biodiversity. Gareth Wyn Jones is a sheep farmer from North Wales, the farm has been in his family for 370 years. Ben Goldsmith is a financier, philanthropist, and environmentalist, and deeply committed to the cause of rewilding. Please join me this time next week to hear those two battling it out for the future of the British countryside.