Tony Blair at GGCS2 on How to Spur Innovation

Earlier this month in Los Angeles, former Prime Minister of Great Britain Tony Blair joined Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger of California and Dr. Rajendra Pachauri of India, the Nobel Prize-winning Chairman of the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) for a lunch discussion at GGCS2 the Governors’ Global Climate Summit 2: On the Road to Copenhagen. The discussion was moderated by Chief Environmental Affairs Correspondent of NBC News Ann Thompson.

One of the major themes that kept popping up throughout GGCS2 was the question of what’s really needed to drive measurable change in global society, meaning measurable, verifiable reductions in greenhouse gas emissions worldwide. The answer is in innovation and the creation of a low carbon economy.

Low Carbon emissions (which includes other greenhouse gasses that can be expressed in a carbon equivalent) are widely considered by scientists around the world to be the key element to combat and reverse global climate change, and the way to reduce carbon emissions is to spur a low carbon economy, and that takes innovation.

The issue of innovation was expressed by Governor Schwarzenegger and echoed by Tony Blair as a “multiple-level” approach involving both “bottom-up” and “top-down” action, involving grass roots organizations, media campaigns, individuals making lifestyle changes, inventors and investors creating new technology, and most important at this time, sub-national and national governments creating mechanisms that provide incentives for investors to create the technologies that will then be adopted by business and consumers. A low carbon economy needs to be created on all levels.

Ann Thompson asked the panel, “Is part of the problem here a marketing issue, and I think Governor you alluded to this, is that when we think of improving the planet, we always think of things we can’t do rather than things we can do. I mean, shouldn’t this be the time when we unleash a whole new time of innovation?”

Blair responded that “Innovation’s got to happen, and that’s the purpose of the “bottom-up” and the “top-down” approach at the same time.” He then continued with a brief diversion, nodding to Governor Schwarzenegger for his creative use of analogy by commenting, “I mean first of all, let me say if you told me before I did this panel, that anyone would manage to get Climate Change and Saturday Night Fever in the same sentence… I’m still uh… only Arnold can do that.” The Governor and crowd busted up laughing.

Blair then continued, saying, “But it’s absolutely right, it is the combination of these things. The reason why in the end though, you need the commitments nationally and globally, is it will accelerate the development of this technology, that’s the point.”

In another part of the discussion, Ann Thompson asked, “If we look at what’s going on between the United States and China, and even India, it seems like there’s an international game of ‘chicken’ going on, if you will, when it comes to committing, to making specific commitments to reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Mr. Blair, how do you get past that? I mean, one of the discussions with the UN last week was, ‘who’s going to jump first?’ So how do you get the US and China and India to stop waiting for the other and make a serious commitment?”

Blair responded that he recently met with the United Nations Environment Ministers and he said the Indian Minister of the Environment particularly was signaling a shift in policy there, as was China, but went on to say it was complicated, saying even if the individual countries like the US, China and India achieve measurable, verifiable reductions by 2020, on the one hand the scientific community wants more than that, but at the same time, “that is still a major advance.”

Blair mentioned other solutions, particularly addressing the issue of deforestation which accounts for up to 20% of all greenhouse gas emissions, saying “the fact is, if it’s 15-20% of the issue, you’re gonna have to have a program for that.” He then went on to say, “and if it is true that many of these new power stations are gonna be coal fire, you’re gonna have to find a way of developing clean coal technology.”

In short, Blair is into practical solutions and said where the top-down approach is critical right now is in the development of practical, policy-making solutions that can spur the innovation required to see real, measurable change across society.

Specifically, Blair mentioned an ongoing debate he has with former US Vice President and Nobel Prize winner Al Gore, about what’s more important, the will or the way. “You know,” Blair said, “I have this debate often with Al Gore, and Al always says to me, quite rightly, he says, ‘You know, where there’s a will, there’s a way.’ And I always say, ‘Yes that’s true, but if there is a way, then my experience in politics is, it’s slightly easier to develop the will.’”

Blair concluded saying that there is a way, and the solution as he sees it, lies in a psychology shift “from a campaign, to a policy-making solution.”