February 20, 2008
Gerd Leipold

Ipek Cem was recently in Amsterdam to meet with Gerd Leipold, Executive Director of Greenpeace International. They discussed very pressing issues, including climate change, nuclear energy, deforestation and what constitutes sound environmental policy.

Ipek Cem: My guest today is Gerd Leipold. He is the Executive Director of Greenpeace International. Welcome to Global Leaders.


Gerd Leipold: Welcome. Glad to be here.


Ipek Cem: You know, Greenpeace has in it two ideals: a "green" world; and a "peaceful" world. But when you look at the world today, we see that it is neither green, nor peaceful. How do you rate the state of the world today when you look at the knowledge and resources we have, where we are and where we could be?


Gerd Leipold: Well, we are very blessed having a name like "Greenpeace", because our name says already what our mission is, and I agree with you, if we look at the world, it is not a good picture. On the other hand, I think we also had had never so much awareness in the world. How important it is to protect the environment. How our future depends on protecting the environment; and that if we want to have a decent life, if we want to have a future we have to live in peaceful societies. So I see two parts. A reality that gives you lots of concern, and also that people all around the world – and I want to especially emphasise that this is no longer sort of just rich people who care about the environment – all around the world, in all continents have woken up to the fact, and say "What can we do? This is something I want to do.", and asking their Governments, asking corporations that they behave more responsibly than in the past.


Ipek Cem: One of the top issues in the world today is global warming, climate change. There is a lot of scientific study behind it. There is a lot of controversy surrounding what could happen, when it could happen, to what level, and in what parts of the world it can happen. Given your knowledge, and your access to data, if we don't reverse, or change our course, what are the kinds of things that can actually happen?


Gerd Leipold: Well, I think there is still some controversy, but we shouldn't forget that the UN has brought together the biggest gathering of scientists, and that they have produced a consensus report saying "we are in the middle of global warming, it is caused by human action, and we will see an increase in global temperature" and actually, most of us experience it also. We have these unusually warm years; we have winters here which are not winters anymore; we have more storms, so we experience it already. And this is only a foretaste of what will be coming if we do not change the cause of global warming which is the emission of greenhouse gases. And as much talk as there is at the moment, we should not forget at the moment these emissions still go up, instead of reversing the trend and going down. And that will be the big job over the next 10 years. Do we manage, instead of having higher emissions, do we manage to reduce them again? And that is a big responsibility, and a big job.


Ipek Cem: There is a lot of policy coordination. There is a lot of consensus building, and also there is the developed nations who have been contributing to the pollution, to carbon dioxide emissions etc. etc. and then there is countries like India, China, who are just growing, and they feel they have the right to grow. How to balance this dichotomy?


Gerd Leipold: I think, just as in human life, we have a responsibility for the future, but we have also the responsibility for what was before us; and the industrialised world is responsible for more than 80% of the greenhouse gases which are there now, and they did that in order to become rich, to have a growing economy. So there can be absolutely no doubt that those countries who have caused the problem until now will have to reduce, and they will have to cover some of the cost of dealing with the consequences. I mean it is deeply unfair that there are countries – islands in the Pacific, for example – who may not exist in 20 years time because the sea level will be rising. This is so unfair, and there can be no question, the rich will have to at least offer financial compensation, but they also have to give their technology so that countries which are in development, instead of going through a phase of having inefficient industry, having the most efficient industry, having the most modern energy system so that they don't increase their emissions, but have developed to a modern society while not contributing to climate change.


Ipek Cem: In 2009, in some sources I read that China will overtake the US in terms of emissions, and will continue to grow, with all the population and all the economic prospects. And China is often viewed as a bad parter boy for pollution, for lack of environmental policies, and in fact there are many deaths related to pollution and other related issues. Do you see any willingness on the part of the Chinese Government, or more activism on the part of the Chinese people regarding these issues?


Gerd Leipold: Yes, I do. And I think that is a positive sign. You could, for example, in the negotiations in the Kyoto Protocol, in Bali recently…. I think the Chinese Government was much more open to negotiations, and is acknowledging that they are part of the problem in the future. They are also… they know that climate change, no matter what was in the past, it will hit China at some point. It's a densely populated country; it is a country which already now suffers enormously from air pollution, and a lot of that air pollution is caused by burning coal, for example. So they have a self interest to have a better energy supply system, and actually China has very ambitious targets when it comes to renewable energy. So they know they have to do something about it. They know they can not just say that is a good argument, well in the past it was the rich countries who did it. And if we talk about China overtaking US, we should not forget the US has 4% of the world's population, China something like 20 – 25%.


Ipek Cem: That's right.


Gerd Leipold: So in the US, the per capita - what every single person emits - is so much more than in China, so we if we say there should be fairness on Earth, then I think our finger still needs to be pointed at the United States, and especially the Bush Government, because even in the United States we find some very, very good developments. The only one, the Bush Government… George Bush has been a man of the oil industry, and he has remained a man of the oil industry. He hasn't understood climate change. He hasn't taken it seriously. He hasn't listened to his own scientists. He has insisted on an old fashioned way of dealing with energy, with energy independence, and neglecting climate change, and I think that was a behaviour which the history books will report as a deeply irresponsible behaviour from what is the leader of the most… most powerful country in the world.


Ipek Cem: We know that the US elections are coming up and each candidate is also talking about their policies, including for the environment. Which candidates seem, in your view, to have the best programmes, the most viable programmes, in your view?


Gerd Leipold: Well, in this… certainly challenging situation we have, this is probably a positive sign. Two years ago, three years ago, no one would have thought that climate change could even feature in a US election. Now we have John McCain who actually, within the Republican Party, is probably the one person with the most interest and dedication to climate change, and we have the two Democratic candidates, Obama and Clinton, both of whom say "We need to take on climate change. We need to take it seriously". So, as the elections are done in the United States, whoever party will win, one knows it will be a big difference to the previous President. And it has to be because I think it is not just that the United States is responsible for so much of the emissions itself, but that it also, it sets a very, very bad example by saying, "Well, we do what ever we want to do. Our wealth is not under discussion". How could one even go to poor country and say, "In the interest of the future, the interest of your children, you need to take climate change seriously". So it is what they do in their own country, but also the example they set in the world. And I think that seems to go into the right direction and the change has not come from the politicians, and I think that is quite important, the change has come from the people who knew that – and it has come through organisations like Greenpeace, because we have tirelessly said it is an important issue: do something about it.


Ipek Cem: That was going to be my next question, especially in the US: I mean I know that especially young people, and of course related to these issues, they take a keen interest in the environment, and in the US as well there is a lot of activism. How do you see activism vis-à-vis environmental protection, and protecting the ecology of the world.? Is it also progressing in the US in the same way that that it is progressing in Europe?


Gerd Leipold: I think it clearly is, and we actually see a whole new generation of activism in the United States. When you go to Universities, you find huge interest in many, many students to be active on the climate change issue, and it's a wonderful example actually how democracy can also work. That the people can say, "This is important", that they learn faster than their politicians do, and they bring the politicians to either take up the issue, or to change the politicians. And what I find inspiring, and what is inspiring for us as Greenpeace is that this awareness about climate change is a global phenomena. I know from many travels to India or to China, for example, that three, four years ago, it was not easy to raise the issue of climate change. Nowadays the situation has changed. Three or four years ago, say, Indian academics, Indian politicians, Indian media people would say, "This is nothing for us. We are a poor country, we have to deal with other issues". Now there is an awareness of… that the Ganges, the Ganges' water supplies already changing; that the glaciers in the Himalayas are melting; that sea level rise will influence India as well; that with this growing demand of electricity, looking for ways of better using electricity, being more efficient, is in the interests of the country.


Ipek Cem: Yes.


Gerd Leipold: All of that has grown so strongly, and I really hope, and I expect that would… and it came from young people, students, as well. That this will actually feed back, and we Europeans shouldn't be so sort of blasé, and think "We know it better", and… it is happening world-wide. And I think that is an excellent development.


Ipek Cem: When we talk about reducing the greenhouse emissions, we are also talking about renewables. You mentioned a couple of minutes ago, renewables. And there is much debate about renewables, their effectiveness, how much of a trial and error state we are in, how can we zero in on some possibilities that can become standards. In your mind, what are some of the winning technologies that people should focus on? And people are using, beginning to use.


Gerd Leipold: Well, one is clearly wind energy. Last month, there was one day in Spain when 25% of the total electricity production came from wind energy. 25%. No one… no one believed that 20 years ago. I remember when we talked about wind energy 20 years ago, that was the best way to get people from the power sector to laugh. You just had to say "wind energy", and they would laugh. Now it is a serious sector. You have… we have countries where it makes seven, ten, 12% already of the electricity production. That is still a minority, but if you look at the growth rate, it is enormous. So wind is one of them. We have solar technologies. The new discussion about concentrated solar power, where in sun-rich countries you would use new types of power stations, not just on the roof, but you concentrate it, you produce electricity, we see a huge explosion of the market. I think last year we had investment in renewable energies were more than 100 billion a year. Much more than in nuclear power, for example. So if we see the development… if we see how much even the financial sector wants to put in to it, but also see the benefits that more and more countries are realising, that if you have wind power, if you have solar power, if you have bio-mass, then you do not become dependant on the oil or the coal market. And if you look at the countries that provide the main suppliers of oil, then I think every country that has a reduced dependency is better. And therefore I think it is better for the environment, but it is also better for the independence, for the security of countries to build up their renewable energy.


Ipek Cem: Large energy companies – especially focusing on oil of course you are very much in clash with them – they also, at least, have declarations that they are looking into renewables, and they are committed to making the world greener. I know, as Greenpeace, you make an effort not to affiliate yourself, definitely not with oil companies, but in companies in general, and to keep an independent outlook. Do you see any sincerity in some of the energy companies trying to bring renewables in the picture? Is it a marketing ploy, or is there something going on there?


Gerd Leipold: I think, for many especially of the oil companies, that it is a marketing ploy, and some of them, Shell, and BP, have even reduced their investment in that respect. They buy into tar sands, these are sands that which mostly in Canada, of…. From which one tries to extract oil. Hugely dirty and destructive technology. They are going out for the Arctic which is just far too sensitive an environment to do that. So they would go into the Arctic for it, and what you see in the advertisement and what you see in their real…. what they do as a company… there is a wide discrepancy. And they seem to… they have not found a way of transforming themselves, of thinking how as a company they could have a sustainable… a responsible model for the future. It can not be that we continue to burn fossil fuel on and on. It is not responsible for the future of our planet. It is not responsible for the next generation. It is not responsible for the environment.


Ipek Cem: You just mentioned the Arctic ice cap, and we know that it is actually rapidly… more rapidly than envisioned… melting away, and this opens up a large array of issues, whether territorial rights by certain countries, whether you can do transport through there, or whether there can be oil and gas exploration. What would be an ideal way to approach it from your point of view? How to protect that precious place against all these, almost, aggressions?


Gerd Leipold: Well, part of the proud history of Greenpeace is the protection of Antarctica. There were discussions twenty, thirty years ago that Antarctica should be used for mineral exploitation. And there are lots of minerals in Antarctica. And then, when the public became aware of it, we campaigned very strongly to say, "This is such a delicate environment. Human beings have colonised most of the world. Why not keep some of it in its own beauty?", and the result of it was the protection of the environment. We call it "A World Park: Antarctica", and I think that's what we should aim for, for the Arctic. Protect it. Leave it. Leave it to the people who live there now. Leave it to the animals who live there now, and don't think how to exploit a dirty, a destructive industry like mining , like oil explorations. Don't look forward on how you can take advantage of the melting ice. But keep it as it is. Put it under protection. That is what Greenpeace would say.


Ipek Cem: You know there is this argument that the world needs economic growth, and for the economic growth we need energy. And if we start implementing some of the policies that will help against climate change, then we will inevitably go into a recession, people will lose their jobs, people will lose their livelihood. I mean, how much of a scare scenario is this? Are there in the middle points where there could be some sort of win-win?


Gerd Leipold: Look. I'm not an economist, (Yes) but I think what some of big banks have been doing in recent years is probably more of a scare scenario than trying to protect the environment. But we have already… we have quite a number of examples that there is not a straightforward link between economic growth and energy consumption. You have countries like Denmark who for many, many years have managed to have economic growth without energy growth. Because what we can do, and what is probably the single most important thing to do: we can use energy much more efficiently. We can. It is not a question of how much energy we need. The question is "How do we use it? How do we use it to the best possibility?"

I'll give you a simple example. If you take a refrigerator nowadays, and you compare it to a refrigerator 20 years ago it uses one third of the electricity. One third. So with the same amount of electricity, you can run three times as many refrigerators. The challenge we have is that the refrigerator, in the last 20 years also became bigger. And that more and more people have it. But, it just shows how much if we use the energy we have already much, much better, that in the rich countries, we can even reduce energy consumption, and still have economic growth. And the… what is less used in energy in the rich countries is then available to protect the climate, is available for the developing countries who undoubtedly will need more energy than they have now.


Ipek Cem: So energy efficiency, you're stressing.


Gerd Leipold: Absolutely. Yes. Absolutely, there is so much scope in it, and it starts at home when you can go to energy efficient light bulbs, when you turn off the standby, when you close the windows at the right time. If you do better insulation of this houses. But it also continues with how we use our cars. What kind of equipment we are buying, and it's something where governments can do a lot, because they have to set the framework. They don't have to prescribe how we live, and what we should do, but they can set the framework. They can say, for example, "Every new generation of a television set, whatever development you want to do, do. But it should use less energy than the previous one". That's the only condition to set. Every new generation of car needs to use less petrol than the previous generation does. So if one sets these standards, then the market itself can react to it. And as Greenpeace we can not stress that enough. We need the energy efficiency, but the big challenge is that the energy efficiency is not used for more cars, for faster cars, is not used for bigger houses. We need to find a way that what we gain in efficiency helps the climate, and helps the poor people. And that's a big challenge worldwide.


Ipek Cem: Yes. The EU started an initiative to reduce greenhouse emissions and switch to renewables, by 20% by 2020, and then, this was hailed as a very important initiative, etc, but then now we are seeing individual countries perhaps not necessarily acting in adherence with this previous commitment. How do you think this will play out in Europe?


Gerd Leipold: Well… The policy was good in Europe, and is good in Europe. And Europe undoubtedly, the EU, had a leadership role in the world. However, often the words and the plans were better than the reality. To just name two of the countries who are far off what they should achieve. Greece, for one, who had an allowance of increasing their emissions, but they are far beyond that. And Austria is another example. You have some better examples. Germany was doing quite well, partly because the East German industry collapsed, so that is an element of it, but it was also Government policy "We will bring in alternative energy, and we will do a lot". And I think that is really the next step. Not just to announce a big plan, but to make it happen.

And especially on energy efficiency, we have to do much more, that's where governments have to do much more. And again, Europe, together with the United States, was mostly responsible for the mess we are in, and therefore they have the responsibility to reduce… we have the responsibility to reduce our emission. We have the responsibility to share the technology. We have the responsibility to lead by example, so that the whole world can tackle the climate change problem together.


Ipek Cem: When you look at a country like Turkey, of course we are concerned about the global warming, we are a Mediterranean country, we are surrounded by seas. There is the issue of nuclear energy. In terms of climate change, our part of the world is going to be affected in the next five, ten , twenty, thirty years. What changes can we expect, and how can we motivate our people to make a change, because we know so much of it comes from big users outside of ourselves?


Gerd Leipold: Well... the temptation in this climate change debate, is that you can always point to someone bigger. So you can point to the United States, or you can point to China, or you can point to the car industry, and you can point to the airline industry… there is always someone who is bigger than yourself. And if we all do that, each sector, each country, each individual, nothing will happen. And we will all suffer from it , which is the terrible thing. So there's others who are bigger who we may not be able to influence is only a reason to do more. Now, for a country like Turkey, I think if you look at climate change only as a challenge to look at it as a cost factor would be the wrong thing to do, because we have to change our energy systems anyhow. Many countries have a higher demand of electricity are industrialising, building up industries. Many countries have a dependency of foreign oil and gas. A lot of the energy infrastructure world-wide is quite old, and needs to be replaced. So this is happening anyhow, and we can do it in the right way. We can do it, and one of the many advantages of renewable energy is it is a more localised industry. That it is one that is not dependant on oil and gas or other substances from outside of the country. And because it is smaller scale it means also more jobs. So we create jobs. We create a local economy. If you have renewable energy, and you need to put something on the roof, or you have to build up a windmill, for example, you have a local company who will build the foundations of the windmill. You will not have a multinational company from another country. You have it locally. You create the jobs. You have to service it. All of that will be done locally. So it's jobs that are being created. It is the security of supply that comes with it, and if you look at the development of international energy crises, of the oil crises, then it is not hard to predict that in the long run, everyone who produces electricity from wind, from solar, will be laughing, compared to those who still rely on oil, because oil prices are going up and up.


Ipek Cem: Nuclear is a very controversial issue, and you know some countries in the Middle East, and Europe, they are using it, and they say they are going to continue to use it. And there is the issue of nuclear waste. So, is nuclear a viable? I know your position, but I just want to hear it from you.


Gerd Leipold: Well, the Greenpeace position is we are against nuclear power, and it's not that – I mean we have held this position for good reasons for a very long time… the unresolved issue of nuclear waste. The danger of nuclear accidents – Chernobyl, which affected Turkey very, very strongly one of the strongest affected countries of it. The fact that when you have nuclear power, you always have a link to nuclear weapons, and I think we see it in the Middle East. If one is completely honest, to be completely honest, why would some of the countries be interested in nuclear power when they have lots of other resources. I think no one can deny that there is not an after thought of nuclear weapons. And everyone has to be clear: the decision for nuclear power is also a decision of more nuclear weapons, and more nuclear weapons states in the world. This alone, I think, should be a reason to be very, very sceptical about it but even from an energy perspective, I think there is very good reasons to say "let's not go down this road" it is too expensive, it is too dangerous. We have… as I said before with alternative energy, you create a local economy, we create the energy services which we need, instead of loss of it. With alternative energy we provide energy for the people who don't even have access to electricity at the moment. No one should imagine we will build lots of nuclear power stations in Africa, and then the people who don't have electricity will get it. They won't. It just will not happen. So, it's an investment in a very dangerous technology which will be much better if we put into energy efficiency, and renewable energy. So if one takes it all together, I  think there is far too much discussion about nuclear power. It is not important for the climate, and all its dangers still continue to exist, and I think that applies to Turkey, as well. I mean, Turkey is a country that has to be prepared for earthquakes. Turkey is a country that has to build up its economy, and it does it better with an energy source that is domestic, that comes from the earth, from the sun, that does it where a local economy is, and where it doesn't have to deal with the waste. One of the reasons why Greenpeace is opposed to nuclear power is that we think that it is unfair, because the benefits go to the present generation, but the costly risks are on the future generations. And we think that's deeply unfair. Especially since we look at the world, we do so much damage to the environment, then we… the legacy we leave for our children is not a very good one at the moment, and that's why we think nuclear power is also morally not a responsible choice.


Ipek Cem: As Greenpeace, you are involved in many different aspects of the ecological balance, including the oceans, including the ancient forests, and the many other different projects. In terms of deforestation, this is a very sad issue in the world, and it's going on, and there is illegal logging, and there is many aspects to it. What kind of strides have you taken? What kind of progress do you see? What kind of threats do you see?


Gerd Leipold: Now, first of all I should say that even deforestation is linked to climate change. Because it is a key part of… deforestation, especially of tropical forests in Brazil, in Congo, in Indonesia, makes up nearly 20% of the whole climate change problem. So that's a lot. (Yes) And that also means we have a tremendous opportunity is we stop deforestation, we reduce the climate change impact, but we also protect these wonderful forests, we protect the people who live in there, and we protect the animals who are there. So, this is again a threat, but an enormous possibility where if we manage to protect the forests, we do so much more for the climate than with many other things which are much more expensive, and much more difficult to achieve. For us, as you said, it's a really important issue.

We have been operating in the Amazon. We have a big operation in the Amazon for 10 years now. Two - three years ago Greenpeace had a very, very great success two years ago, to be precise, that through a very intelligent campaign where we targeted McDonald's, who was taking soya from the Amazon (yes) and we then got McDonald's on our side to negotiate with the erain traders, and out of that came a two year moratorium on deforestation for soya plantations. And this moratorium is now coming up for renewal, but it will be renewed, and so we have some hopeful signs, and what I think in the case of the Amazon is a hopeful sign is this is no longer just an international issue, this is not an issue where Western environmentalists want to protect trees and animals. It is something where Brazilian people are just as much involved in it, where indigenous people who live in the Amazon are saying, "It doesn't help us to cut down the trees, and disrupt the water supplies, and have not what we normally need for our living. So that… this is a truly universal issue, and that local people – people that are not often very rich – care about the future. I think there is often this misunderstanding that if you are poor you will do everything. This is completely wrong. Maybe often poor people care more, as they care more maybe sometimes for relationships, for family, for children. I think they sometimes care more without being rich for nature, care for animals, because they have a relationship, a natural connection.


Ipek Cem: Government policy clearly affects a lot of the issues that we are talking about, and some governments are… and some countries… are far ahead and others are far behind. What are some of the countries that you feel are good models, to take for countries like Turkey, or countries aspiring to have better environmental policy going forward.


Gerd Leipold: The good thing is that in times of globalisation we can learn fast, and we have the comparison. So if different countries have different models, we can look at it, compare it, and take it up. And this is happening. One good example of good government policy was what Germany did on renewable energy – the so-called "feed-in" law, where it guaranteed that if you produced electricity from renewable sources, from wind, from solar, you would have a guaranteed price for that. Therefore you invested, you had a safe investment, and you build up the sector. This feed-in law has been copied, adapted, in more than 50 countries already. I don't know the specific situation in Turkey, but it would be very much one to look at. So that's an example of a very good law that many others, after seeing the experience took over, adapted, to their situation.

We had recently, and I think it shows the double sided nature of course, President Sarkozy did some interesting things in France that he said, "Sustainability is really… the most important thing for my Government, because our country needs to live in the future". So he brought together a sample of people from society, from the trade unions, from the business community, from the NGO communities, like Greenpeace, and the agricultural sector, and said, "You discuss what the most important issues are, and what solutions there is". And they debated for three, four months and the Government announced then some surprising things like an end to genetically modified... moratorium on genetically modified organism; reducing the plans for highway construction; increasing public transport; reducing pesticide use. Some very strong, unexpected measures. Now, at the same time, of course, he is a big believer in nuclear power (Yes), and does absolutely ridiculous things like selling nuclear power to Libya, and to other countries who are simply… which a few years ago have been considered hugely unstable, and even a source of terrorism. And it's just irresponsible to do that. And I think he knows it, but it shows also what nuclear power means. It is linked to an industry, and once you have the industry, you want to make money. And once you want to make money, all your other considerations… is this a good business partner? Is it responsible to go to this country? That goes out of the window.


Ipek Cem: Climate change and global warming has also started its own vocabulary. We hear of "carbon trading", "carbon offsetting", a lot of different ideas, some of which are viable, others are questionable. What do you think about this new terminology, these new ways of dealing with carbon emissions?


Gerd Leipold: Well, I must admit, I find it sometimes confusing, myself. And often one has to be very careful because what sounds like innocent words, maybe sort of covers up in reality, in Bali, for example, it was shocking to see how many "carbon traders" were out there, and they were not interested in protecting the environment or reducing climate change. They were interested in making money. But, it is simply a fact that carbon is an important currency of the 21st Century. In some respect it is, indeed, its own currency. And we measure how destructive we are towards the climate, but also how good we are in reducing the effect on the climate, in carbon. So, we need a new terminology, and as complicated as the whole climate issue is, it has one simplicity. And this is that we know where climate change comes from, namely from greenhouse gases, and that we can measure the greenhouse gases emissions, and because we can do that, we know what each individual, what companies, what countries, what industry sectors contribute to it. Or, if we turn it in a positive way, what they have reduced, what they have taken away. So it's hugely complicated, but if we want to, we know where the solution is, and we can find a solution, and we can even measure it. And as individuals, as companies, as countries, we can say, "We have done a good job", "We have to improve", or "We are terrible", and we hope, of course, at Greenpeace that we will all improve very much.


Ipek Cem: On that note, thank you very much for this candid interview.


Gerd Leipold: Thank you.


This transcript was typed from a transcription unit recording and not copied from an original script. Because of the possibility of mis-hearing and the difficulty, in some cases, of identifying individual speakers, NTV networks and Ipek Cem cannot vouch for its accuracy.