“This is the beginning of a new era”: Al Gore talks climate change at Skoll 2016

Former vice president of the United States of America Al Gore kicks of the 13th annual Skoll World Forum in Oxford with a rallying cry about the urgent need for climate change to be taken seriously. 

Nobel Prize? Check. World renowned activist? Check. All round inspirational leader? Check. The Skoll World Forum is known for adding a bit of sparkle to the world of social entrepreneurship and this year is no different as Jeff Skoll welcomed back former vice president of the United States of America and climate change warrior Al Gore.

Standing on the stage of Oxford’s packed out New Theatre, Gore embodied the theme of this year’s forum ‘Fierce Compassion’. He told delegates: “Every great world challenge confronted by humanity has involved people resisting it and people pushing for the reform and amendment against a seemingly endless series of nos… On the climate crisis we know what’s right, we’ve seen what’s wrong, there are still some people with doubts… but always remember the will to act is a renewable resource.”

Al Gore close_USA_climate change

Al Gore at the New Theatre, Oxford. Photo credit: Skoll World Forum

2015 was the hottest year measured to date – during the month of August the city of Bandar Mahshahr in the Persian Gulf recorded temperatures of 74 degrees celsius, which is believed to be the second highest temperature recorded in history. Severe drought magnified by climate change is reaching crisis point in Zambia, in turn impacting the country’s previously positive economic story. From Miami to Osaka, cities around the world are facing the threat of rising sea levels.

These were just some of the points hammered home in Gore’s powerful presentation of what is increasingly seen as the biggest threat facing humanity – climate change. But despite the size of the challenge, Gore explained that he was hopeful:

“This is the beginning of a new era… Almost 4,000 people marched through the streets of New York City before the UN special session on climate. Many demonstrations similar to this happened around the world. It reminds me of one of my favourite poets Wallace Stevens in the previous century. He was a businessman who became a poet and he wrote a line that went like this: ‘After the final no there comes the yes, and on that yes the future of the world depends.’”

Al was met with critics, sceptics... and downright naysayers but he didn’t quit

The Skoll World Forum is an annual event co-produced by the Skoll Foundation and the Skoll Centre for Social Entrepreneurship at the Saïd Business School. It's founder, and also the first employee of Ebay, Jeff Skoll is a good friend of Gore. At this year’s opening plenary he reflected on the time the pair spent together whilst making the Academy Award winning documentary 'An Inconvenient Truth', which was born out of a presentation Skoll had seen Gore deliver on climate change. He recalled an encounter when the two had faced a swarm of mosquitoes and the moment when, without thinking, he slapped the former Vice President’s leg in an attempt to squash one of the insects. “It brought us closer together,” he joked.

Skoll also revealed that “the day Al was awarded the Nobel, he was actually in the Skoll Foundation offices in Palo Alto”. In similar vein to Gore the Ebay entrepreneur said he was optimistic about the planet’s future: “We now have the technology and tools for change. We have an army of people who have been trained to understand the implications, the science, the data and for the first time we have an historic international agreement in place. None of this came easy… Al was met with critics, sceptics, manipulators and downright naysayers but he didn’t quit. Al fought against extremely well financed opposition who didn’t necessarily play fair but he didn’t quit.

“Our job on climate change is by no means done but I’ve never been more optimistic that not only will we survive but we will thrive. Much of my optimism comes from the fact that Al Gore has not and will not quit.”

Compassionate climate action

Also welcomed onto the stage during the opening plenary were Mary Robinson, the first female president of Ireland and the former United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, and Selima Leem, a student environmental activist from the Marshall Islands. Robinson is also the founder of the Mary Robinson Foundation, which was set up to provide thought leadership, education and advocacy for the people most vulnerable to climate change.

“Reach those furthest behind first,” Robinson urged. “We need compassion for those living day to day on the front lines of climate change… We can can lift people out of poverty through climate action,” she continued.

Mary Robinson and Selina Leem_Skoll World Forum_climate change

Mary Robinson and Selina Leem talk climate action. Photo credit: Skoll World Forum

Holding her own in a line up of such prominent leaders, Leem explained the injustice of the extent to which climate change is affecting the population living on the Marshall Islands in comparison to the contribution of those people actually causing this climate change.

“Our country is trying to fight for 1.5 degrees, a number that many call unrealistic and yes, at the rate we are going it seems unachievable. Yet the idea of having to lose our home for something we hardly contribute to, the idea of having to start all over again in a foreign country, becoming climate refugees, enforces our fight in this battle,” said Leem.

At the Paris climate summit last year a commitment was made to keep global temperatures “well below” 2 degrees celsius, with all countries also agreeing to “endeavour to limit” them even more, to the 1.5 degrees Leem and others are fighting for.

Climate change is just one of the themes running through the 2016 Skoll World Forum programme over the next two days. Gender equality, poverty and migration are also on the agenda.

Stay tuned for more coverage of the forum throughout the week and follow us on Twitter for live updates.


Header photo credit: Skoll World Forum