Heating Up: An NPR News Special Report
ARI SHAPIRO (HOST): This is Special Coverage from NPR News. I'm Ari Shapiro. We're going to spend the next hour talking about something really important that's happening in Paris right now, something totally unrelated to the violence there. Leaders from almost 200 countries are meeting to address climate change and agree on a plan to tackle it. We call the special Heating Up. During this hour, we'll get a crash course in science, diplomacy and the state of the planet. First, let's take a little tour of the world to see how climate change is already having an effect. Our tour guides are some of my colleagues. First up, science correspondent Chris Joyce. Hey, Chris.
CHRIS JOYCE (BYLINE): Glad to be here.
SHAPIRO: You've literally been covering climate for decades.
JOYCE: Frankly, longer than I've known my kids.
SHAPIRO: In a few moments, we'll go to Brazil and hear from Lourdes Garcia-Navarro. And we've also got Ashley Ahearn from member station KUOW on the line. She's in the Pacific Northwest. Hey, Ashley.
ASHLEY AHEARN (BYLINE): Hey, Ari.
SHAPIRO: We don't want to overhype things, but let's just say the stakes here are really high. Scientists agree that if we don't stop global warming, or at least slow it down, then the world as we know it could change forever. Chris, this is some heavy stuff.
JOYCE: Well, it's no longer in the future, Ari. The world is warming up now. And you don't have to go very far to see what's happening as a result. South Carolina, for example, they just got slammed by the heaviest rainfall in over a century. The snowpack in the Rockies, it's shrinking. This is where ranchers and farmers get their spring water. And then the fires - the western wildfires, they're getting bigger and more frequent than before. As Ashley has seen, they're even burning in places that are really frankly weird.
SHAPIRO: So, Ashley, what are you seeing out there?
AHEARN: Well, we have these amazing old-growth rainforests here in the Northwest. You know, we're talking 700-year-old trees dripping with moss. Not the kind of place you picture going up in flames very often. But the truth is these forests do burn. But it happens every 500 to 1,000 years. Well, scientists are starting to see that pattern shift a little bit. In the past 60 years - 60 years there have been three fires in the Olympic rainforest, and the biggest one was just this past summer. So I wanted to see what this looks like. What happens when an old-growth rainforest burns? So I went out with this scientist Mark Huff who's been studying rainforest fires for decades. And he took me to a part of the forest that burned 150 years ago to see what it looked like.
MARK HUFF (NATIONAL PARK SERVICE): These are the monuments of the previous forests that we're looking at here. And it's almost like ancient ruins that are at their last stage of crumbling and in another 100 years will completely disappear and be very difficult to see that this once was an old-growth forest.
AHEARN: So that big stump in there that we're looking was maybe 500 years old when it burned in 1870?
HUFF: Correct, correct, yes.
These trees take forever to grow. So if the fires start happening more and more frequently, scientists are worried the trees won't grow back and we could lose these old-growth rainforests.
SHAPIRO: Wow, thank you, Ashley.
AHEARN: No problem.
SHAPIRO: That's reporter Ashley Ahearn from member station KUOW. And Chris Joyce, does the fact of these horrible massive fires becoming more frequent necessarily mean that the world is getting warmer right now?
JOYCE: Well, Ashley said there an important word there - patterns. We're talking about patterns. We get extreme events now and then, you know, and always have. But when you see patterns change, that's when you know something is up. For example, there've been a lot of big fires over the past 20 years in the Southwest in New Mexico and Arizona and Colorado.
SHAPIRO: And how do you know that those are happening more than they would've 100 or 200 years ago?
JOYCE: You look back in history. I mean, you can actually find this out. I went to see a scientist at the University of Arizona. He's got these amazing storerooms full of old slices of tree trunks. His name is Tom Swetnam, and he studies these slices.
SHAPIRO: Oh, so you can see the rings of the tree.
JOYCE: Yeah, he looks at the rings in these slices going back centuries. He sees fire scars that were left by ancient fires. And he can compare the frequency in the past to the fires that we're seeing now. And this is what he's got to say about it.
TOM SWETNAM (UNIVERSITY OF ARIZONA): Now the fire behaviors are just off the charts. I mean, they're extraordinary. I actually think in some cases they're fire behavior that probably these forests haven't seen in millennia or maybe even tens of thousands of years.
SHAPIRO: And is that a clear sign that the climate has already begun to change?
JOYCE: Yes, it's hotter. So forests dry out, and they burn faster and more violently.
SHAPIRO: OK, if that's the impact that climate change has on fires, let's go from fire to water. Is climate change making storms more intense?
JOYCE: OK, well, think about heating water. You put energy into water when you heat it. So, OK, we heat the oceans. You create conditions for more energetic and more powerful storms and wetter ones that dump more water when they hit land.
SHAPIRO: Well, New Yorkers just marked the third anniversary of Superstorm Sandy - a huge storm. Let's go back to the day after Sandy hit and listen to what that sounded like. This is our colleague Steve Inskeep talking with NPR's Robert Smith.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST) STEVE INSKEEP (BYLINE): Robert, we saw video of water that was going up to the door handles of cars. I trust that the water has receded somewhat at this point.
ROBERT SMITH (BYLINE): Yes, very much so. In fact, I've tried to make my way over here to the Hudson River so that I could see - because that's where a lot of the flooding was particularly bad. And now the West Side Highway is mostly clearer. It's pretty easy to get through. I know on the other side of Manhattan, the FDR, the East River, there's still some standing water.
SHAPIRO: Chris Joyce, how does this reflect a warming planet?
JOYCE: Well, Robert talks about standing water. And that's water in New York from the Atlantic Ocean because the sea level is higher. When you warm the ocean, it expands. The sea level rises. So you get storms that push more water onto land.
SHAPIRO: So you're saying the sea level is already higher which means if there's a small- or medium-sized storm it will have a much bigger impact, a much wetter impact than it might have 100 or 200 years ago.
JOYCE: Right, it's punching up above its weight, so to speak.
SHAPIRO: All right, well, let's go to Brazil now and Lourdes Garcia-Navarro. She has been covering droughts in that country. Hey, Lulu. LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO (BYLINE): Hey, Ari.
SHAPIRO: Drought is threatening Brazilian agriculture. Tell me specifically how that affects corn.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Yeah, that's right. There is a massive drought that's hit the breadbasket region of Brazil. And Brazil is dependent on several crops for food, for its economy, and corn is among them. And very little rain is having a devastating effect. You know, I was in the rural part of the state of Sao Paulo last year. So I'm in the middle of a cornfield, and I'm walking down it with corn farmer Juliano Jose Polidor. And he's showing me what's happened because of the drought here in this part of Brazil. JULIANO JOSE POLIDOR (FARMER): (Speaking Portuguese).
GARCIA-NAVARRO: So he's showing me the roots of the corn stalks, and there basically aren't any, he's saying. And indeed you can see that.
POLIDOR: (Speaking Portuguese).
GARCIA-NAVARRO: He says, "what's happened to this crop is a total loss." So last year there was this 49-day stretch with less than half an inch of rainfall in that part of the country - 49 days. This farmer doesn't harbor, you know, strong political views. He doesn't follow the climate change debate. But he gave me this take from the ground. Listen.
POLIDOR: (Speaking Portuguese).
GARCIA-NAVARRO: "I think we are getting to the hour where it's not just me who needs to be worried," he says, "but the whole world. We have to decide what to do about what's happening," says Polidor.
SHAPIRO: That's NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro in Brazil. Thanks, Lulu.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Thank you.
SHAPIRO: All right, Chris, pull this together for me. We've heard about fires, floods, droughts. How does climate change come to bear on all of them?
JOYCE: There's a common thread here, Ari. It's a warmer world. That just means that the weather is super-charged. It's like having a bigger bat in baseball. You get more home runs than you used to, and those home runs - those extreme weather events - they're all connected. I got a sense of this actually when I went diving with a marine biologist in Australia. He was named Ove Hoegh-Guldberg. And we were on this reef on Heron Island, this tiny speck in the Pacific -and I was looking down at this bleached-out, white coral because of the warmer water. And he said to me, look, there's a lot more at risk in this world than a bunch of coral in the middle of the Pacific. OVE HOEGH-GULDBERG (UNIVERSITY OF QUEENSLAND): What happens next? I think people are waking up to the fact that it's not just about people that like the coral reefs. It's about a very fundamental change to our children's future as well as our own. It's about flooding in Tuvalu. It's about landslides in California, and it's about the loss of things like the Great Barrier Reef and the kelp forests across the Pacific. So it's all of these things connected.
SHAPIRO: All right, Chris, all these examples show that climate change is not something in the future. It is here. The climate has already begun changing.
JOYCE: Yes, in a word, yes.
SHAPIRO: And so I guess my question is, how do we know that this is because humans pumped greenhouse gases into the atmosphere?
JOYCE: Scientists have been working on this since the '60s. I mean, decades - thousands and thousands of scientists. They realized in the '60s, they saw this signal in the atmosphere - more carbon dioxide up in the atmosphere, and they figured, well, it looks like it's coming from burning fossil fuels, burning coal, burning oil, burning natural gas. By the 1990s, it was clear that all these greenhouse gases were making the earth warmer, and it was beginning to affect the climate. NPR spoke to a leading climate scientist in 1995.
SHAPIRO: Twenty years ago?
JOYCE: Yes, 20 years ago. His name was Tom Karl. He worked at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and this is what he had to say.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST) TOM KARL (NATIONAL OCEANIC AND ATMOSPHERIC ADMINISTRATION): Overall, we're finding increase of temperature of the order of about a degree Fahrenheit over the course of the 20th century. Now, that may not sound like much when you take an average, but you have to remember how this warming takes place is usually through events that persist a little bit longer. So, for example, you may have a heat wave that might have lasted three days, and now it's lasting four or five days.
JOYCE: That was 20 years ago and the evidence has just gotten stronger and stronger.
SHAPIRO: Well, as it turns out Dr. Tom Karl is still working at NOAA on climate science. And we can check in with him again and see how things have changed. Hi, Dr. Karl. Welcome back to NPR.
KARL: Thank you very much, Ari.
SHAPIRO: How would you describe what changed in the scientific consensus over the last 20 years? What made scientists more confident?
KARL: Well, today we have the benefit of observations from the oceans that previously weren't available from buoys. We've got additional satellite information. We have better records on changes in sea level, changes in sea ice concentrations, changes in snow-cover extent, vertical changes in the atmosphere, water vapor, among other factors. And when scientists put together all the data that we've collected over the last several decades in addition to what we had previously and compare it to what we'd expect in our model experiment, we find a uniquely distinct human influence on the climate.
SHAPIRO: Was there a moment in the last 20 years since this last interview that we played with you that you had an oh-my-God realization, something you observed firsthand?
KARL: You know, it would be nice to say you could put a finger on, say, this was the defining moment. But in this business, it's been the gradual and continual accumulated pieces of evidence that when you assemble it, put it all together, it's inevitable that one comes down to the conclusion that the changes we're seeing could not have happened without humans playing an important role, predominantly in the release of greenhouse gases.
SHAPIRO: That's climate scientist Tom Karl with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Thanks for joining us.
KARL: Thank you, Ari.
SHAPIRO: We've just heard about the impact climate change is already having. Coming up next, how scientists know what the future may bring and how diplomats in Paris are trying to prevent those worst-case scenarios. I'm Ari Shapiro, and this is Heating Up, an NPR News special. This is Heating Up, an NPR News special. I'm Ari Shapiro. We're talking about the climate summit happening now in Paris. Nearly 200 countries are trying to reach an agreement to keep global warming in check. To make this happen, the world is being asked to make huge changes in how we power the global economy. So one big question is, how do scientists know for sure that heating up the world past a certain level will have such dire consequences? The answer can be found in this windowless room in Maryland. UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: OK so it is very noisy in here.
SHAPIRO: It holds a supercomputer, one powerful enough to let scientists create virtual versions of our planet. Nell Greenfieldboyce NPR science correspondent, you were there. What's happening in this room? NELL GREENFIELDBOYCE (BYLINE): Well, you know, scientists want to know. So if we go on burning fossil fuels for a certain length of time, a certain amount of fossil fuels, what will happen to the Earth? But it's not like they can run experiments to find this out. We don't have extra planets that we can experiment on. So their only option is to basically re-create the Earth's climate in a computer like the one at NASA's Center for Climate Simulation in Maryland.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Computers generate a lot of heat. So there's a lot of fans, a lot of cooling and stuff.
GREENFIELDBOYCE: The room is just filled with all these big, black, hulking monoliths. And I met the center's alpha geek, Dan Duffy. That's what he calls himself. He says that actually these black racks hold lots of computers just like the ones on your desk at work.
DAN DUFFY (NASA'S CENTER FOR CLIMATE SIMULATION): We have thousands of computers linked together, OK? And the simulation of the Earth is so big, you can't run it on a single computer. So you what you do is you take the simulation of the Earth, and you break it into individual parts. And you pass those parts to all these different computers.
SHAPIRO: Now, is there a way for me to get my head around how much these computers in this room can actually accomplish?
GREENFIELDBOYCE: Well, here's how Dan Duffy puts it. DUFFY: If you took everybody on the face of the Earth - all 7.3, 7.4 billion people - and you had them multiple two numbers together every single second for 145 hours total, that's what this entire computing center can do in one second.
GREENFIELDBOYCE: And it can take months of that kind of number-crunching for scientists to make a prediction about what's likely to happen to our climate decades from now.
SHAPIRO: OK, so now let's take this to Paris, where the mantra is 2 degrees. Keep global warming under 2 degrees Celsius. That's about 3 and a half degrees Fahrenheit. Why is 2 degrees the magic number?
GREENFIELDBOYCE: Well, scientists say that's essentially what it will take to avoid catastrophic consequences. To understand how they know that, I hopped on a train to the Big Apple.
Here I am in New York City. And if you ever watched the TV show "Seinfeld," you'll know exactly where I am. I'm standing right outside that corner restaurant the gang used to hang out at. Right above this restaurant are the offices of one of the world's foremost climate modelers.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: Hi.
GREENFIELDBOYCE: Is this Goddard Institute for Space Studies?
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: Yes.
GREENFIELDBOYCE: Hey, I'm here to see Gavin Schmidt.
Gavin Schmidt uses that supercomputer we visited earlier to create unbelievably detailed simulations of the Earth's climate. He and his colleagues start by gathering up everything they can actually know.
GAVIN SCHMIDT (GODDARD INSTITUTE FOR SPACE STUDIES): Right, so we can go and measure how much sunlight reflects off the sea ice. We can go and measure how much water you need to have in the air before you form a cloud. You can go and measure how the winds affect the ocean currents, right? Those are physical processes that we've been observing for hundreds of years.
SHAPIRO: Now, when you take all those measurements and plug them into that massive supercomputer, how close does this virtual Earth's climate get to the real thing?
GREENFIELDBOYCE: Pretty darn close.
SCHMIDT: If you look at the large-scale patterns, if you look at the weather patterns, you look at the wet-and-dry cycles in the tropics, you look at the variability, you look at the polar ozone hole, you look at the stratosphere, what you see are patterns in the models that reflect what you see in the real world. We know that we must be getting something fundamentally correct in order for that to happen.
SHAPIRO: Now, once they've got that model, can they kind of just play God with climate - amp up the fossil fuels, melt the polar ice caps and just see what impact that has?
GREENFIELDBOYCE: Exactly, and in fact Gavin Schmidt showed me different versions of the future of this planet. He sits me down in front of this big computer screen. And he pulls up an image of the globe that's color-coded to show the temperature. There's this counter that shows the years ticking up as we continue on with business as usual. And the whole globe just gets redder and redder. You see New York has the climate of Miami. There's very little ice left in the Arctic.
SCHMIDT: And so you'd be looking at pretty large changes to the maps.
GREENFIELDBOYCE: So how confident do you feel about those kinds of predictions?
SCHMIDT: That's a great question. So there's ways that you can build confidence in these things. So do these models manage to hindcast what we've seen before? Yes, they do. Do they produce the right amount of change for something like the last Ice Age? Yes, they do. Do other models that have been coded independently by other groups show similar magnitudes of change with similar patterns? Yes, they do. Have subsequent generations of these models changed those patterns in any significant way? No, they haven't. Does adding in this extra complexity that we think is important, does that change these kinds of...
GREENFIELDBOYCE: We get the idea. They're good. He says they're good.
SHAPIRO: This is a science that's convinced nations around the world that we need to keep global warming below 2 degrees Celsius. The summit in Paris is all about trying to make it happen. It's not the first time the U.N. has tried to make the world reduce its greenhouse gas emissions. Summits like this one have been going on for more than two decades. So what makes people think Paris will be any different? That's the question we're asking next in NPR's special coverage of the Paris climate summit. I'm Ari Shapiro. I am joined in the studio by Elliot Diringer. He's with the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions, a nonprofit here in Washington, D.C. His group facilitated talks for negotiators in the run-up to Paris. Elliot Diringer, hey, how's it going?
ELLIOT DIRINGER (CENTER FOR CLIMATE AND ENERGY SOLUTIONS): Good, Ari.
SHAPIRO: Let's go back in time to 1997. You were at the very first U.N. attempt to curb greenhouse gases in Kyoto in 1997. Is that right?
DIRINGER: Well, actually, I was back even further in '92 in Rio. But, yeah, I was in Kyoto.
SHAPIRO: Give us a synopsis of what happened in Kyoto and why that agreement ultimately failed.
DIRINGER: Kyoto was an attempt to move in a more top-down direction where developed countries negotiated binding emissions targets amongst themselves. In the end, this was not a framework the U.S. could sign up to. And when it came time to negotiate a second round of targets beyond 2012, other countries fell away as well. So we created this really neat system with some really strong legal and technical rigor, but it's suffered shrinking participation, so now it only has about - covers about 10 percent of global emissions.
SHAPIRO: If we fast forward from the 1997 Kyoto meeting to 2009, the U.N. had another major climate summit, this time in Copenhagen. And that has been widely panned as a failure. What went wrong in Copenhagen?
DIRINGER: Well, first, I think it's been somewhat unfairly characterized as a failure because expectations going in were really just unrealistic. But there really was not much convergence about what kind of agreement we were trying to achieve in Copenhagen, and it got elevated to a summit of heads of state. And they flew in expecting that they'd be able to approve a nice agreement. But instead, that the negotiations were in a shambles, and it fell to them to really kind of pull together a few words at the end that became a political agreement, which was then promptly rejected by a number of countries.
SHAPIRO: Many people are more optimistic about Paris than they were about these previous summits. Why, what is different?
DIRINGER: Well, I think a lot has changed since Copenhagen. I think there's a much better sense of both the risks and opportunities presented by climate change. There's a much more vivid sense of the here-and-now impacts and the risks we face in the future as well as the economic opportunities presented by renewable energy and other low-carbon alternatives. And that's translated into stronger political will. The U.S. and China have issued a couple of joint statements showing their strong support for an agreement. When you have alignment there, it's much easier to get other countries on board.
SHAPIRO: Countries actually made public commitments before the Paris summit began saying what kinds of cuts they were willing to make.
DIRINGER: And we need to wrap all those together into an agreement that provides for some accountability and keeps strengthening ambition overtime.
SHAPIRO: OK, so more than 150 countries, including all the major greenhouse gas emitters, made these public pledges - they're actually online. Nell Greenfieldboyce, if I could lean over at your computer, it looks like you have actually pulled up the website where you can look at each one of these commitments.
GREENFIELDBOYCE: Indeed, the U.N. makes them all public. I'm just running down the list here. I'm looking at, you know, Fiji, Egypt, Burundi. I mean, basically, what countries offer depends on the country and its own perceived national interest. So for example, you can see that Switzerland is going to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by half below 1990 levels. And then you've got places like the oil-producing United Arab Emirates, which set no target for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. But it does say it will aim for 24 percent clean energy by 2021. It's a real mixed bag, and this is what happens when countries sort of put forth their own plans for what they want to do.
SHAPIRO: OK, so the United State has pledged to cut emissions by about a quarter compared to a decade ago. President Obama said this when he announced his new plan for clean power.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING) BARACK OBAMA (U.S. PRES): This is one of those rare issues, because of its magnitude, because of its scope, that if we don't get it right, we may not be able to reverse, and we may not be able to adapt sufficiently. There is such a thing as being too late when it comes to climate change.
GREENFIELDBOYCE: But other big emitters have put very different offers on the table.
SHAPIRO: All over the world, NPR reporters have covered the differences between various countries that are coming to this summit. Let's hear from some of them. We're going to start with NPR's Julie McCarthy. She reported from India when that country submitted its pledge to the U.N.
JULI MCCARTHY (BYLINE): Here in Delhi, the biggest form of pollution comes out of tailpipes. Eight million cars, trucks, buses, three-wheeled motorized rickshaws belch carbon monoxide, hydrocarbons and dangerous particulates - smog so thick on a winter day, it can block out the sun. But aspirational India wants cars. Residents are adding 1,400 cars a day to Delhi's already jammed roads.
GREENFIELDBOYCE: Ari, more cars in India means more greenhouse gas emissions. India has more than a billion people, and they want more than just cars. They want all kinds of economic growth. For now, India has said it's in no position to commit to an absolute reduction of its emission, but it has pledged to use more renewable energy.
SHAPIRO: OK, now let's turn next to Russia. This is a country that depends heavily on the production and sale of fossil fuels. Our colleague Corey Flintoff is on the line from Moscow. Hey, Corey. COREY FLINTOFF (BYLINE): Hi, Ari. How are you doing?
SHAPIRO: Good. What does Russia's pledge for Paris look like?
FLINTOFF: Well, back in March, Russia pledged to keep its greenhouse gas emissions at 25 to 30 percent less than the country generated in 1990. Now, that sounds like a good deal, but actually environmental groups say it's a con game because in 1990, Russia was still part of the Soviet Union. The Soviet Union was heavily industrialized but not very efficient. So it was putting out a huge amount of pollution at the time. Russia today is much less of a manufacturing country. So it's not going to take much effort at all to keep emissions 25 or 30 percent lower than they were then.
SHAPIRO: Tricky. So what does Russia want to get out of these climate negotiations?
FLINTOFF: It's mainly protection for oil and gas, which is the all-important sector. Russia is actually the world's fourth-largest producer of greenhouse gases. Environmental groups say that its climate pledge wouldn't do anything much to change that.
SHAPIRO: That's NPR's Corey Flintoff. Thanks, Corey.
FLINTOFF: Thank you, Ari.
SHAPIRO: So having heard from India and Russia, now we head down to Brazil. That country is clearing more and more rainforests as the economy grows. Rainforests are important to controlling greenhouse gases. NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro recently went to the Amazon and joins us now. Hey, there.
SHAPIRO: How do the aims of the Paris summit fit into Brazil's national interests?
GARCIA-NAVARRO: So Brazil is the world's seventh-largest emitter of greenhouse gas. And its pledge for Paris relies largely on stopping people cutting down trees. I was recently in the Amazon, and I saw deforestation there firsthand. It's slowed down from a decade ago, but it's still happening at a pretty alarming rate. A recent report called Brazil the biggest destroyer of forests in the world. And so we're looking at an uncertain future here for the forests because the economy here has grinded to a halt. It's in recession, and one of the bright spots is agriculture. And that's the very thing, as you know, that often leads to deforestation. A lot of the environmental community here has called Brazil's pledges for Paris inadequate, too little, not very much new. And I got a pretty good sense of Brazil's position from a politician I spoke to here recently. He basically said, hey, the developed world cut down all their forests on the road to prosperity. If you want us to lead in conservation, you need to pay for it. And so there's this big tension between the two sides in Paris. One side's saying, hey, you need to help foot part of the bill for conservation. And the other side's saying, this is now a global problem, and we all have to do our fair share.
SHAPIRO: NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro in Rio de Janeiro. Thanks.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: You're welcome.
SHAPIRO: Nell Greenfieldboyce, each country throws its plans into the pot. How do you add it up and figure out where the world gets to where it needs to be?
GREENFIELDBOYCE: So I've been talking to various people who have been tallying up all these different pledges. One guy I talked to is Andrew Jones. He is co-director of a nonprofit called Climate Interactive, and he said trying to add all this up is like trying to settle a bar tab.
ANDREW JONES (CLIMATE INTERACTIVE): It's like all these countries have been at the bar drinking at - for the afternoon or for the day or just showed up recently. And some people showed up in the morning. And some people just showed 10 minutes earlier. And then the bill comes. And a few people throw down some euros, some people throw down some coins, some in other denominations people don't even know. And then someone's got to put it altogether and see does it really add up? And you know that the moment with your friends when you add it all up and then you say, hey everybody, everyone needs to throw in 10 more, or, John, you had a little bit more, you should throw in 20. It's like that kind of process.
GREENFIELDBOYCE: He told me that depending on what assumptions you make when you do the math, the world is currently, with these pledges, on track for somewhere between 2.7 and 3.5 degrees Celsius in terms of warming over the next century.
SHAPIRO: Well, 2.7 to 3.5 degrees Celsius temperature increase is not where the world needs to be. It's higher than that two-degree threshold. Elliott Diringer from the Center for Climate Energy Solutions, you're still with us. Has Paris failed already?
DIRINGER: No, actually I think Paris has succeeded already because all these countries have come forward with contributions that move us closer to the two-degree goal. But the numbers on the table in Paris aren't sufficient, which is why the agreement itself needs to include a mechanism to keep the pressure on countries to raise their ambition, to strengthen their efforts over time. It will probably do that by pulling countries back to the table every five years and for everyone to put a new number on the table - time to ante up again.
SHAPIRO: Now, I want to come back to something we heard from Lourdes Garcia-Navarro in Brazil, which is that poor countries are demanding that rich countries pay for some of the changes that'll have to be made. How important is this question of money? And what exactly are they asking for?
GREENFIELDBOYCE: Well, the question is huge in the Paris talks. The rich countries have said they will give the developing countries money for things like new technology for clean energy or adapting to unavoidable aspects of climate change. The question is whether they're going to give enough and whether poor countries will actually believe that they'll keep their promises.
SHAPIRO: And there is a lot of distrust between these two groups, right?
GREENFIELDBOYCE: Yeah, I mean, it's built up over the years in climate talks. In fact, that's why there has to be not one but two co-chairs running the day-to-day negotiations, one from the developed world and one from the developing world. In Paris the co-chairs are Dan Reifsnyder of the United States and Ahmed Djoghlaf from Algeria. I actually asked Dan Reifsnyder about their different backgrounds.
Didn't you guys used to be basically part of groups that would be opposed to each other? DAN REIFSNYDER (U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE): Yes. But an interesting thing happens when you get elected to one of these positions. You know, you kind of are expected and you do, I think, kind of rise above your group. You cease to become an advocate. You become a broker.
GREENFIELDBOYCE: And, Ari, being a broker is a tough, tough job. You're trying to help all these countries find common ground. And then the actual negotiation meetings, like the one they're having in Paris, just sound nightmarish. Dan Reifsnyder said that when he was at a previous meeting, a would-be negotiator asked to follow him around to learn the ropes, but she didn't last long.
REIFSNYDER: She said, I need sleep, I need food, I need exercise, I need fresh air. I can't do this. I can't sit in rooms for 18 hours on end and not eat and not sleep and listen to these arguments and go at it. And I thought, well, it's a good thing you figured that out in three days. You know, I haven't figured it out yet.
GREENFIELDBOYCE: And all this talking and negotiating that's excruciating is all about editing a document. So what they're talking about is commas and brackets and whether we should use the word should or shall. They actually want to make a document.
SHAPIRO: Elliott Diringer, what does that document look like?
DIRINGER: Well, hopefully it won't be too long, maybe eight or 10 pages. But hopefully it says enough so that people leave Paris with a very clear understanding of the obligations that countries have taken on and we don't have to spend the next few years negotiating over what we meant in Paris.
SHAPIRO: Do you think we can expect a deal out of Paris - yes or no?
SHAPIRO: Oh, that was a firm answer.
DIRINGER: Well, I've been following these negotiations for a very long time. So I think the stars are better aligned than we've seen in many years in this process.
SHAPIRO: Elliot Diringer of the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions, thank you for joining us.
DIRINGER: Glad to be with you.
SHAPIRO: After the break, getting to the deal and what happens after. You're listening to Heating Up. This is special coverage from NPR News.
This is Heating Up, an NPR News special. So far, we've heard about the effects of climate change, the science that tries to predict the planet's future and the pledges countries have made to address carbon emissions and reductions. Now we're going to focus on the global summit happening right now in Paris and its goal - to produce a short, clear agreement on how nations will fight climate change. So what needs to be in that agreement, and can a piece of paper really keep the world's climate where it needs to be? Those are the questions we're exploring now. Shortly before the summit began, I sat down with Todd Stern. He's the lead U.S. climate negotiator. And I asked him, what is at stake? Is this the last best chance for the world to act?
TODD STERN (U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE): Well, I don't know if it's the last chance, but it's definitely the best chance. I think that this is an opportunity to finally get an agreement that is applicable to all parties, that's strong, ambitious, effective, transparent and that really puts us on a path toward the low-carbon transformation that is essential if we're going to deal with climate change. So I think the moment is now, and we have to try to seize it.
SHAPIRO: We're going to come back to Todd Stern a little later. First, to dig deeper into what actually has to be in this deal, I spoke with Jennifer Morgan. She runs the climate program at a think tank called the World Resources Institute.
JENNIFER MORGAN (WORLD RESOURCES INSTITUTE): I think there need to be three things in the deal at the end for it to be a success. Number one, clear, long-term and short-term signals that countries are going to come back to the table regularly to increase their ambition until the job is done. Number two is transparency, verification, clarity that countries are going to fulfill those commitments, or it will be quite clear that they're not. And number three is a support package for the poorest, most vulnerable countries of the world to be able to adapt to the impacts of climate change that are already happening.
SHAPIRO: What's the long-term goal? I mean, does the world really need to make energy in a way that amounts to no greenhouse gases at all eventually?
MORGAN: It does indeed. It does indeed. We need to get global emissions - so the way we use energy - down to zero by the middle of the century.
SHAPIRO: By the middle of the century, like, in 35 years?
MORGAN: In 35 years, we need to be at zero for our carbon dioxide emissions and by about 2070 for all the greenhouse gas emissions in order to avoid just really catastrophic impacts.
SHAPIRO: We're talking about cars, airplanes, home heating - moving things all over the world, basically everything that humans do - no emissions within 35 years.
MORGAN: Yeah, well, 35 years - midcentury, you know, the sooner the better. The sooner - I mean, as far as 2050, 2070 we can talk about those decades. I think the question of the timing is, how expensive do you want the transition to be? The earlier we start this transition, the less expensive it will be, not only because you'll avoid the cost of the impacts, but because then you can have an orderly transition. You can reduce emissions, oh, 2, 3 percent a year which is what we're, you know, doing right now, instead of 6 or 7 percent a year if we wait. And this is the critical decade that those types of reductions need to happen now. The atmosphere isn't going to wait. I mean, it's not as if it's negotiable with the atmosphere.
SHAPIRO: Jennifer Morgan runs the climate program at the World Resources Institute. Jennifer, thanks for talking with us.
MORGAN: Thank you.
SHAPIRO: Now, just to clarify, zero carbon doesn't mean no emissions at all. It just means that any greenhouse gases have to somehow be canceled out, whether that's by planting trees or through new technologies. It's governments that will sign off on the agreement. But ultimately, businesses will have to make a lot of it happen. Corporations have a huge stake in this climate summit. So what's industry thinking about the future? To get a sense of that, NPR's economics correspondent John Ydstie joins me now. JOHN YDSTIE (BYLINE): Hi, Ari.
SHAPIRO: Lots of businesses are actually in Paris for this summit.
SHAPIRO: And in the past, industry has often stood in the way of climate change initiatives. Is anything different this time?
YDSTIE: Yeah, I think for the most part, businesses now believe that the science is settled. Climate change is already happening. And they've figured out that the cost of inaction, not doing anything about climate change, is greater than the cost of action.
SHAPIRO: Well, you've been looking at a bunch of the world's major industries. Let's go through a few of them and talk about what they're doing. How about food and agriculture to start?
YDSTIE: The food and agriculture industry is probably the most engaged. Just the other day I talked to Ken Powell, the CEO of General Mills. He says the reason is pretty obvious. If weather gets more unpredictable, it's harder to grow the crops that they need to make Cheerios and Lucky Charms. Now, the first step the company took was to try to reduce its own carbon footprint. And Powell said that's been good for business. KEN POWELL (GENERAL MILLS): We've eliminated about $250 million of energy cost over the last 10 years. And so our experience has been very positive from a business standpoint.
YDSTIE: Ari, that's a big theme at this Paris conference, pushing the idea that addressing climate change is actually good for the bottom line.
SHAPIRO: All right, if that's food and agriculture, how about the finance industry? To some extent, the big banks are pushing and pulling the levers on the global economy.
YDSTIE: Right, this is one of the most interesting sectors. Big banks and investment firms are looking over the horizon and saying, we see a low-carbon future out there. That means we should start moving out of carbon-intensive investments like oil and gas and start putting our money into companies that will thrive in a low-carbon environment. Val Smith, an executive with Citigroup, told me recently that, as a good global citizen, the bank wants to do its part to curb climate change. But this is also a great business opportunity.
VAL SMITH (CITIGROUP): I think it is very much about looking at the business opportunity and profits that can be made in the environmental finance and climate finance space.
YDSTIE: And profits attract investors. That means you will end up with much more money on the table to move the economy to a low-emissions future and some climate stability. Instead of just the billions governments will be committing in Paris, we're talking about potentially trillions. And Citigroup itself has committed to increasing its green investment by $100 billion over the next 10 years. Other banks have made similar goals. And more than 250 companies have set up investment and energy efficiency goals that they're bringing to Paris, too.
SHAPIRO: That's NPR's John Ydstie.
So with all this talk about climate change, global warming, carbon emissions, where does this leave oil and gas companies, the names you see above every gas station on the corner? NPR's Jeff Brady is here; he follows the environment and energy. Hey, Jeff. JEFF BRADY (BYLINE): Hey, there.
SHAPIRO: Are these companies actually ready to talk about climate change in a different way than they used to?
BRADY: They certainly are. So recently, I interviewed the CEO of Royal Dutch Shell, Ben van Beurden, and he brought up climate change right away.
BEN VAN BEURDEN (ROYAL DUTCH SHELL): We believe that climate change is real. We believe we need to deal with CO2 emissions as we have to deal with the world's need for more energy. And we've always said, you know, it's not just a matter of putting a number of targets in place and then hope for the best to get there. We need to come up with sensible policies that drive sensible behaviors of companies to do things.
SHAPIRO: It sounds like they're not planning to get out of the oil business.
BRADY: No. They plan to be in the oil business for decades to come. And I saw that kind of thinking on the ground recently at one of Shell's oil sands projects in Canada. The company has turned this dense forest into a huge 20-square-mile open-pit mine. There's kind of this constant hum of massive trucks moving 400 tons of oily sand at a time. And Luke Killam - he's with Shell - he described one of those trucks.
LUKE KILLAM (ROYAL DUTCH SHELL): The tires themselves are 13 feet in diameter. The operator sitting in the cab is actually 21 feet off the ground. And when the truck is dumping, when you see up the top of the canopy, is 50 feet from the ground. So they are enormous trucks.
BRADY: Each one of these trucks costs about four and a half million dollars. And there are more than five dozen of them just at Shell's mine. There are billions of dollars invested in oil sands. And companies expect to mine them well into the next century. And the stuff that they're mining, it comes out of the ground kind of the consistency of sandy Play-Doh. And melting that into crude oil, it takes a lot of energy, which means producing this oil - it's harder on the environment than even traditional drilling is.
SHAPIRO: OK, help me reconcile this, Jeff. On the one hand, I'm hearing you say they believe climate change is a problem; they want to be part of the solution. On the other hand, I hear you say they're investing billions and billions of dollars into this extraordinarily dirty form of fossil fuel energy production. What's going on?
BRADY: Well - and they are invested in renewable energy, too. But on the oil side, executives say technology is the answer. Shell just finished this big plant in Alberta that captures carbon dioxide and then stores it underground. It's connected to its oil sands business. But that project needed about $650 million in subsidies. So viable solutions on this front, they look like they're years away. Still, oil companies say they're serious about addressing climate change. One Shell executive said if the oil industry is not part of the solution, the solution will not include the oil industry. So they see getting involved in climate change as a way to survive.
SHAPIRO: That's NPR's Jeff Brady.
You're listening to NPR's special coverage of the climate talks taking place in Paris. I'm Ari Shapiro. We have been hop-scotching around the world, and now we're going to come home to the United States. For President Obama, these climate talks are a big opportunity and a big challenge. NPR's White House correspondent Scott Horsley is with us. Hey, Scott. SCOTT HORSLEY (BYLINE): Good to be with you, Ari.
SHAPIRO: President Obama has talked a lot about climate change, especially in this second term. What has he actually done?
HORSLEY: Well, Ari, on the president's watch, the federal government has invested in clean energy. It has set new standards for energy efficiency. The biggest step the federal government has taken on Obama's watch is to set new rules on the carbon pollution from power plants, especially coal-fired power plants, which are the biggest source of greenhouse gases. And now the president is pressing other countries to do their part in the run-up to the Paris talks. He said the U.S. is now a global leader in taking serious action against climate change.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
OBAMA: If we're going to prevent large parts of this Earth from becoming not only inhospitable, but uninhabitable in our lifetimes, we're going to have to keep some fossil fuels in the ground rather than burn them and release more dangerous pollution into the sky. As long as I'm president of the United States, America's going to hold ourselves to the same high standards to which we hold the rest of the world.
SHAPIRO: Scott, what's the political sentiment on this issue in the U.S. right now? Do most Americans support the kind of climate action that we're talking about?
HORSLEY: Ari, as with a lot of issue in this country, it's polarized. According to the Pew Research Center, big majorities of Democrats see global warming as a serious threat, and 8 in 10 are in support of government efforts to control carbon emissions. Among Republicans, only about 1 in 5 see global warming as a major worry, and support for government action is barely at the 50 percent level. Now, not all the fault lines are political. Some of them are geographic. Some Democrats who represent coal-producing states also voted to roll back the administration's rules. And the Republican Senate leader, Mitch McConnell, hails from the number-three producer of coal in the country.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING) MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY, SEN): In Kentucky, these regulations would likely mean fewer jobs, shuttered power plants, higher electricity costs for families and businesses.
SHAPIRO: And, of course, this is an election season. Republican presidential candidates are arguing against the kinds of measures that people are seeking in Paris. Congress is taking steps against some of President Obama's actions. If a Republican controls the White House, how much of a change in direction do you expect we'll see?
HORSLEY: Keep in mind, Ari, that Obama was not able to push climate legislation through Congress, even back when Democrats were in control. So most of what he has done, he's done through the executive branch. And that means these rules could be undone fairly easily by some future president. And Republican White House hopefuls have promised to do just that.
SHAPIRO: That's NPR White House correspondent Scott Horsley.
OK, so I wanted to know if there is political change in the United States or any other country for that matter, how can the world count on an agreement that the current political leaders reach in France? So I asked Todd Stern, the U.S. special envoy, before he left for this Paris Summit. STERN: Well, you know, countries take their international commitments - whether they are legal commitments per se or political commitments, they take them very seriously. You know, leaders tend to follow what their predecessors have done. It would be a very difficult international system if every time a n ew administration came in - in Spain or Morocco or Japan or wherever - the leaders said, well, what we just agreed to - the bets are off and we're going to start over. So it's really quite rare that countries walk away. They shouldn't walk away; it's important that you have that kind of respect and that kind of deference to what's been done before. And I expect that that'll happen.
SHAPIRO: Thousands of people are now in Paris trying to shape the final document. It's still too soon to know what the deal will look like - if there's a deal at all - and whether some countries might just flat out reject it. This is the culmination of a process that's been going on for months, for years. The Pope has weighed in, government leaders, scientists, corporations, mayors, environmental activists, all with the outcome still uncertain. Now let's turn to the person leading this whole effort. She is Costa Rican diplomat Christiana Figueres. Welcome. CHRISTIANA FIGUERES (UNITED NATIONS FRAMEWORK CONVENTION ON CLIMATE CHANGE): Hi, Ari. Thanks very much for having me.
SHAPIRO: OK, your official title is executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.
FIGUERES: Isn't that a terrible title? I really apologize.
SHAPIRO: It's a mouthful.
FIGUERES: It really is. Completely unpronounceable even to me.
SHAPIRO: What have you been up to in the run-up to Paris?
FIGUERES: I have visited now most countries of the world. I have talked to all the different sectors and corporations, all the way from, you know, fossil fuels to renewable energy. I've talked to the insurance companies, finance sectors. I have talked to pension funds.
SHAPIRO: Does talk to mean held their feet to the fire and said, what kind of a commitment are you going to make?
FIGUERES: Yes, that is exactly what I do. You know, the fact is that we are already in the middle of a very, very deep transformation. And the direction toward low carbon and high resilience society is very, very clear. But it is not enough. We all have to do more. And that is my main mantra.
SHAPIRO: There was a line in a profile of you in the New Yorker Magazine that really struck me. It said, (reading) of all the jobs in the world, yours may have the very highest ratio of responsibility - that is to say preventing global collapse - to authority, practically none.
FIGUERES: That is actually true.
SHAPIRO: Does that sound true to you?
FIGUERES: Yes, it's very good because it really captures the situation that we have here that was built intentionally to be so. But it really is quite vexing, perhaps, to some to know that we have an incredible responsibility but we have no authority because the authority remains with the 195 governments who are in this process to come to the final agreement.
SHAPIRO: For the last century or so, the developed world has gotten to where it is by emitting lots of greenhouse gases. And at this point, the developed world is saying to the developing world, you're going to have to take a different path. And the developing world is saying, OK then wealthy countries, pay up.
FIGUERES: And support us with technology.
SHAPIRO: Do you think they will?
FIGUERES: Yes, I do think they will because, you know, we are all being impacted here. And, you know, the math is pretty clear. We have - as humanity we have already used up two-thirds of the budget of the greenhouse gas emissions that we can put up there in our atmosphere for the rest of the history of mankind. And there's only one-third left. So we have to be incredibly efficient about that one-third. We have to be able to increase the economic development and the benefit that we get out of every single ton of carbon. So, yes, developed countries need to put in some public money support in order to accelerate this process and in order to buy down the risk. But most of this funding will come from the private sector because this is an incredible growth opportunity.
SHAPIRO: I'd like to dig more deeply into this idea of accountability. The United States, for example, has said that by 2030 it will cut its greenhouse gas emissions 25 percent compared to 2005 levels. If the United States falls down on that commitment, if a new president with a Congress that doesn't support this plan says forget it, we're scrapping the plan, where is the accountability?
FIGUERES: The accountability is first to itself but also to all of the other nations. So this is very much of a shared accountability. The mechanism that is being put forward is a pretty robust reporting, monitoring and verifying system where all countries will be reporting to each other and they will all be holding each other accountable.
SHAPIRO: So does it just mean public shaming?
SHAPIRO: I mean, there's no international court of, you know, greenhouse gas, you know...
FIGUERES: No, there is no, you know, environmental police running around with a pistol, you know, pointed at anybody's head. That is definitely not the case.
SHAPIRO: OK, Christiana Figueres, you have been at the center of this effort for five years. And now the Paris climate summit is here. What keeps you awake at night?
FIGUERES: Well, what keeps me awake at night is this inherent paradox that we have that we have to grapple with, which is every single, you know, transformation that we have had in history shows that the advance of policy is a gradual advance. On the other hand, and paradoxically, that gradual advance of policy needs to respond to the urgency of the problem. So that paradox...
SHAPIRO: So you're saying that kind of change humanity has to make is a kind of change that humans have never made in the history of our existence as a species?
FIGUERES: I know that that sounds pretty awesome.
SHAPIRO: Well, I asked what keeps you awake at night, so that makes sense.
FIGUERES: But, yes, yes. The answer is yes.
SHAPIRO: That's Christiana Figueres, the U.N.'s climate chief. And thank you for joining us during this hour of Heating Up, an NPR News special looking at the U.N. climate summit in Paris. I'm Ari Shapiro. My colleagues and I will keep you updated as the talks continue. This has been special coverage from NPR News.
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