Obama To Name Climate, Environment Team
RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
This is Morning Edition from NPR News. Good morning, I'm Renee Montagne. We've heard some of the more prominent names, but President-elect Barack Obama is expected to formally introduce his climate change team today. The politicians and scientists who will deal with global warming face enormous challenges. Just last week, diplomats from around the world concluded climate talks in Poland. They held two weeks of negotiations, but made little progress on a new treaty to control greenhouse gas emissions. NPR science correspondent Richard Harris joins us to talk about all these issues. Good morning, Richard.
RICHARD HARRIS: Good morning, Renee.
MONTAGNE: So, Mr. Obama has said working to prevent climate change is one of his top priorities. Is that reflected in his choices for his climate change team?
HARRIS: Yes, it does appear to be. The two folks that he's expected to announce today, or among the folks he's expected to announce today, are Steven Chu, who's a Nobel Prize-winning physicist, who is very, very interested in energy efficiency and so on, which is key to addressing climate change. And also he's expected to create a climate czar job at the White House, and that will be filled by Carol Browner, who used to run the EPA under the Clinton administration - also a very strong political operative. So folks who are concerned about climate change think that this is a good start, among other people too.
MONTAGNE: Give us a sense of what they've got in front of them.
HARRIS: Well, they've got a really tough task. Scientists say that emissions need to be cut by about 50 to 80 percent by the middle of the century. That's just hard to even imagine. Mr. Obama's goal is to return to our 1990 levels by about 2020. And that's also pretty hard because we're already about 16 percent above that today. And emissions have a tendency to grow, not shrink. So it's tough. And really what he needs to do is convince businesses as well as ordinary people that they need to spend money today, essentially, to save energy tomorrow.
MONTAGNE: Well, it goes without saying that we're in an economic crisis. So how do you see this playing out?
HARRIS: That is a very hard question. In the short run, actually, emissions could decline because oil consumption is falling, and that's, of course, one of the sources of emissions. And it is also possible that the Obama administration could use this crisis as, essentially, an opportunity to pump billions of dollars into infrastructure and other things that can increase energy efficiency. For example, they've been talking about weatherizing public housing, and so on.
But globally, developing countries need something like 50 to 80 billion dollars a year to adapt to climate change. And it appears that that funding is really hurting, particularly now as the economic crisis sweeps the globe.
MONTAGNE: What role could the Obama administration play in prompting other nations around the world to act?
HARRIS: Well, the industrial world is looking to Obama for more leadership. Europe has been carrying that mantle for the last eight years. But at the same time, Europe is feeling the pinch of both economics and some of the climate actions that they've taken. Last week, the European governments got together and actually, kind of, watered down their climate plans, to reduce the amount of their goals for the year 2020. And that's - you know, that's tough.
And also, other countries are also somewhat backing away. Japan, Canada, Australia don't seem to be entirely aggressive on this issue. And of course the real tough ones are China and India, which are, with the United States, the biggest emitters. And so far they're pretty non-committal about what they're going to do.
MONTAGNE: Well, just briefly, what sort of timelines and deadlines are we looking at here?
HARRIS: Well, the international negotiations are trying to figure out how to replace the Kyoto Treaty, which - most of which - its provisions expire in 2012. And they're aiming for about a year from now to have a replacement for that. But that's going to be a really tough deadline to get to.
MONTAGNE: Richard, thanks very much.
HARRIS: My pleasure.
MONTAGNE: NPR science correspondent Richard Harris.
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