At UN climate talks in Bonn, Gore is heading an unofficial group trying to stop climate change – in the face of scepticism from Trump administration officials
Al Gore has accused Donald Trump of surrounding himself “with the absolute worst of climate deniers” and said he has given up attempting to persuade the president to reverse his dismantling of policies combatting global warming.
However, both Gore, the former US vice-president, and Jerry Brown, governor of California, told the Guardian they were confident the US will regain its leadership position on climate change if Trump is defeated in the next presidential election.
Gore, Brown and Michael Bloomberg, the billionaire former mayor of New York, are heading a broad coalition of climate change hawks from US states, cities and businesses in Bonn, where UN climate talks are being held. This alliance is in sharp contrast to the official US delegation, which is representing the only national government in the world that doesn’t want to be part of the Paris climate accords.
“I haven’t had any conversations with [Trump] since his speech to withdraw from Paris. I tried my best and thought he’d come to his senses but I’ve been proven wrong,” Gore, who met with Trump during the transition to try to influence his thinking, told the Guardian. “I don’t feel I have the ability to change his mind. He’s surrounded himself with the absolute worst of climate deniers who seem to have captured his mind on the issue.”
Trump has aligned with Scott Pruitt, the head of the US Environmental Protection Agency who is a vocal critic of the Paris deal. Pruitt has cast doubt on whether carbon dioxide drives global warming, and claimed there is “tremendous disagreement” among scientists over climate change.
Several former and current members of the administration, including Stephen Bannon and Mick Mulvaney, have also previously dismissed evidence for climate science.
Gore, who is now one of the world’s leading voices on climate change, said other countries are “aghast” at Trump’s retreat from climate policy but said the backlash both within the US and abroad is encouraging.
“The US cities and states have made a tremendous difference and I think the reaction of the rest of the world has minimized the damage done by Donald Trump,” he said. “The reaction to Trump is if anything stronger than the actions Trump is taking.
“This experiment with Trump is less than a year old and in science, experiments are sometimes cut short early. I’m not saying this will happen this time, but this feels like a movie I’ve seen before.
“We went off the rails a bit in the last election. I think the rest of the world understands that the Trump period is an unfortunate departure from what the US is known for when we are at our best. Those who have appreciated US leadership grieve its loss and hope it’s temporary.”
Brown also said he sees little point attempting to sway the Trump administration. “The official policy of the US is that climate change is a total and complete hoax conceived by Chinese conspirators,” the California governor told the Guardian. “That is so preposterous that engagement on that basis is just useless.”
However, the California governor said mid-term elections in the US next year may pressure Trump to change position. “He’s an action orientated person, not a politician, so who knows,” he said.
“Ultimately we won’t have a denier in the White House forever. We are engaged in a great political struggle between the deniers who want to turn the world over to fossil fuel interests and scientists and concerned activists who want to see decarbonization.
“Donald Trump is a very small point in the overall climate factor. We are facing a moment of truth over whether we can decarbonize or see civilization itself decline over the next 100 years.
“We have a political sidebar we can tweet about but the existential problem is that species are being destroyed, ecologies are being degraded and mankind is on the chopping block. This isn’t the time for politics, it’s the time for courageous action.”
Brown has attempted to step into the vacuum created by US withdrawal by holding dozens of events and meetings with national leaders, UN officials and NGOs across Europe ahead of the Bonn talks.
The Democratic governor has taken on a role highlighting the impact of sub-national entities such as California, which would have the sixth largest economy in the world if it were a country and has implemented a ‘cap and trade’ emissions trading system that may soon be linked to a similar mechanism used by European Union countries.
“I want to strengthen the coalition of states and provinces in order to do everything possible to reduce carbon emissions,” Brown said.
“The great threat to the world is the radically changing climate and the level of indifference and inertia is so powerful that I find it incumbent to build a counterforce of mayors and governments to work together to protect our climate and get us off the carbon addiction.”
The Bonn talks, which will run until 17 November, are largely a technical exercize in helping countries implementing the goals of the Paris agreement, where nearly 200 nations agreed to limit global warming to 2C above the pre-industrial era.
Trump has vowed to pull the US from the agreement but under the pact’s rules he will be unable to do so until 2020. In Bonn, the US delegation is expected to follow the lead of the president, a vocal supporter of fossil fuels, by extolling the benefits of “efficient” coal, nuclear energy and natural gas.