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Cambridge University Professor Lord Martin Rees co-authored a report with leading scientists and economists showing how wealthy nations only need to spend 0.02% of GDP on research into renewables

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JESSICA DESVARIEUX, PRODUCER, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Jessica Desvarieux in Baltimore. So you may have seen the report from an esteemed group of UK scientists and economists who have come up with a plan to transition the entire world over to renewable energy by 2025. It sounds like quite an ambitious plan, and we wanted to find out how they plan on achieving this goal. Now joining us to discuss the Global Apollo Programme is one of its authors. Joining us from Cambridge is Lord Martin Rees. Martin is a professor of astronomy at Cambridge University, and a member of the UK’s House of Lords. Thank you for joining us, Martin. LORD MARTIN REES, FOUNDING MEMBER, GLOBAL APOLLO PROGRAMME: Thank you, good to be on the program. DESVARIEUX: So Martin, how will this plan actually get us to renewable? Who’s financing it? REES: Well, the aim is to stimulate public finance from governments around the world to accelerate research and development into clean energy, in particular into solar energy, energy storage, and grids to transmit energy around the continent. And we feel that a modest increase in the [overinvestment] could accelerate the time when the cost of this kind of clean energy drops to be competitive with other kinds of fossil fuels. DESVARIEUX: So that modest increase, what are we talking about, exactly? REES: We’re talking about going up from about $10 billion a year to $20 billion a year worldwide. And some countries are already spending at their proportion at this level. The main point is to have coordinated research and development so as to speed up this transition. We see this as something positive. In the context of energy everyone talks gloom and doom, and says that we’re going to depend on coal and it’s going to be dangerous to the climate, et cetera. We want to accelerate the transition so that the cost comes down, so that this clean energy is competitive with fossil fuels. You weren’t quite right in saying we want it to completely take over by 2025, that’s clearly not realistic. But we want the price to become competitive by 2025. DESVARIEUX: Okay. So from my understanding, every country would have to contribute at least about 0.02 percent of its economy over a period of 10 years to finance the research, development, and demonstration. Is that right? REES: Yes. They wouldn’t have to, but we hope that many countries will join, and we’ll start with the G20 at their next meeting. I should say that we in the UK are already spending at this rate, and several other countries are, and so it’s not really a huge increase in the amount of money being spent. It’s still only about 2 percent of what the world is spending in R and D. And the line I would take is that the need to provide clean energy is an imperative for the world, and we ought to be spending somewhere on the same level as what we’re spending on medical research. It’s far lower, so there’s plenty of headroom. And so what we’re talking about is not very ambitious. It’s just a better-coordinated program to push further ahead with these exciting developments in more efficient solar energy connectors, more efficient ways of storing energy and transmitting it. DESVARIEUX: So Martin, with this plan one can assume that you’ll be met with a lot of resistance. I mean, if you’re in the fossil fuel industry this plan of making renewable energy more competitive, you don’t want something like this to happen. So how do you plan on actually fighting that resistance? REES: Well again, John Brown, who is associated with fossil fuels, is a big supporter, as are many of the major companies. They are investing in clean energy. So I think all the fossil fuel companies accept that in the long term they’re going to have to go over to clean energy and leave in the ground some of the fossil fuels. I think that’s accepted by most of the major companies. So once again, I don’t think we’re saying anything that would be wildly controversial. And perhaps I would add that I did an interview a couple of days ago with Bjorn Lomborg, who is well known in the U.S. as being someone who’s skeptical of many climate policies, and he was 100 percent supportive of this scheme. DESVARIEUX: Okay. I mean, some of our viewers might be asking you for more specifics when you say the fossil fuel industry would be behind a plan like this. Can you support that with some real evidence? REES: Well I mean, I know senior people at BP and Shell, for instance. And they’ve [inaud.] letter in the Financial Times just this Monday signed by CEOs of six major fossil fuel companies arguing the need for a shift towards clean energy. DESVARIEUX: Okay. So their idea is that they need to be more socially responsible, or at least environmentally responsible. That means keeping carbon in the ground. REES: Well that’s right, yes. DESVARIEUX: Okay. So I would just say though, do you guys have any specific plans, though, on trying to get this on the agenda, for example, in the UK? Are you proposing any bills, are you working with any members of parliament? REES: Well, the UK is pretty well onside already. We have a climate change act which commits us to cut our own fossil fuel emissions by 80 percent over the next 35 years, so we are very much on board. And we are already spending roughly this very modest 0.02 percent of GNP on clean energy research, and we hope that other countries in the G20 will make a similar commitment to spend this amount, over the next ten years, anyway. And more important, that they will coordinate. And perhaps I should mention, in case you ask me about issues of intellectual property, that there is a precedent in the semiconductor industry where the major countries collaborate on pre-competitive R and D, and in the same way this would be pre-competitive R and D in the hopes that the ideas would be taken up and commercialized by major companies. DESVARIEUX: All right. Lord Martin Rees, thank you so much for joining us. REES: Okay. DESVARIEUX: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.


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Lord Martin Rees is Professor of Astronomy at Cambridge and former Master of Trinity College. He has been president of the Royal society (the UK's academy of sciences) and is member of the House of Lords. He has written extensively both about space science and about challenges of the 21st century, including energy and climate change. Rees is also a founding member of the Global Apollo Programme, a major global research programme to make carbon-free baseload electricity less costly than electricity from coal, and to do it within 10 years.