"New JFKs" needed to lead climate change fight

Business and politics must provide “visionary and ambitious” leaders to drive dramatic shift to decarbonised economy, expert warns

Leaders with the "courage and vision of John F Kennedy" will need to emerge
from both the business and political spheres if work to decarbonise the economy
by 2050 is to secure the popular support it requires, one of the UK’s leading
sustainability experts has claimed.

During a discussion at The Carbon
yesterday, Dr Gary Kendall, executive director of think-tank
SustainAbility, said that only "
visionary and ambitious" leadership would reduce the world’s reliance on oil,
drawing parallels with former president Kennedy’s drive to put a man on the

Fellow panellist Rodolphe d’Arjuzon, director of green analyst firm
Verdantix, argued that economic factors
such as rising fuel prices and dwindling oil supplies would motivate a shift
towards low-carbon technology.

But Dr Kendall insisted that relying on a peak in oil supplies to drive
investment in low-carbon technologies would have disastrous economic effects.

"When the oil price gets to a certain level, the economy collapses," he
warned. "When oil got to $147 per barrel, what happened? The economy tanked. A
few years ago in the UK oil shortage… within five days we were fighting over
loaves of bread in the supermarket."

Dr Kendall went on to outline the massive challenge of completely
decarbonising the economy over the next 40 years. He said that for the last 150
years "we have only known a world where oil supplies have grown to meet demand"
, an assumption which would have to be "turned on its head" over the next decade
as the global economy enters a phase where demand must fall in line with falling

Transport, the foundation for global economic activity, is entirely dependent
on oil, he said, arguing that, consequently, economies needed to move
immediately to a "radically different" system instead of hoping that steady
progress towards a low-carbon economy would counter the risk presented by
peaking oil supplies.

"The challenge for Britain is to take an assumption that is so deeply
embedded and tear it up and throw it away," he said, adding that policy and
business decision-makers needed to adopt a mindset that oil supply will be

According to Kendall, only bold and decisive leadership will prove sufficient
to convince the public that the costs of this transition are worthwhile.

"Why settle for realism and pragmatism from politicians? With realism and
pragmatism we would never have put a man on the moon," he said. "We need courage
and vision without knowing how we’ll get there. We need a grown-up conversation
about realities – this is going to cost money."

He added that the same leadership was required in the corporate realm. "It’s
about the power of the individual to inspire a body of people," he said. "It’s
that person who drives the company, just as a prime minister or president drives
a country."

However, Russel Mills, global director of energy and climate change policy at
Dow Chemicals, challenged Kendall’s hypothesis, arguing that businesses should
continue to make incremental improvements in low-carbon technology while waiting
for a great leap forward.

"I believe we keep working on the breakthrough, but keep on improving at the
same time," he said. "There is an awful lot Britain can do and should do in the
interim. [For example] if we can truly drive down solar costs, then we would see
solar in all parts of the world increasing."

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