Dueling U.S. Agendas As U.N. Climate Change Summit Enters Crucial Final Week The U.S. hosted an event on coal and refused to endorse the findings of a dire climate science report. And yet, in official negotiations, the U.S. is working out how to implement the Paris agreement.
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Dueling U.S. Agendas As U.N. Climate Change Summit Enters Crucial Final Week

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Dueling U.S. Agendas As U.N. Climate Change Summit Enters Crucial Final Week

Dueling U.S. Agendas As U.N. Climate Change Summit Enters Crucial Final Week

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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

It's the final week of a major international climate summit. Officials from nearly 200 countries are meeting in Poland, and they have until Friday to agree on rules for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. And, of course, that's complicated. NPR's Rebecca Hersher is at the summit where she's noticed this year the United States is not the leader it used to be on climate change policy.

REBECCA HERSHER, BYLINE: Most countries at the summit agree on the basic scientific facts. Greenhouse gases are causing climate change. And every country is feeling its effects, which is important because politically the negotiations about who does what to reduce these greenhouse gases can get hard. And in the past, the U.S. has been a real leader. Take the Paris climate meeting in 2015 when President Obama showed up in person to show he took the issue really seriously.

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BARACK OBAMA: Nearly 200 nations have assembled here this week - a declaration that for all the challenges we face, the growing threat of climate change could define the contours of this century more dramatically than any other.

HERSHER: This year's climate summit is the most important one since then. This is the year when countries have to create a set of rules for how they'll track greenhouse gas emissions and hold each other accountable. But the U.S. is in a really different position than it used to be. Under the Trump administration, the U.S. is an outlier - a major industrialized nation whose leader doesn't acknowledge climate science. Today in Poland, the U.S. hosted a side event moderated by the administration's Head of International Energy Policy Wells Griffith. Seated next to him were panelists including executives and analysts from fossil fuel companies.

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WELLS GRIFFITH: So with that, I'll get started. Thanks again for joining us.

HERSHER: He began by reminding the audience that the U.S. is not planning to honor its commitments under the Paris Agreement.

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GRIFFITH: The United States is now the number one combined oil and gas producer in the world.

HERSHER: The theme was how to make fuels like coal and natural gas cleaner. But before the panelists could speak...

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GRIFFITH: Fossil fuels will continue to play a leading role.

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Unintelligible chanting).

HERSHER: There were more than a hundred people in the room. It seemed like most of them were actually there to protest. They stood up and started chanting.

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UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Chanting) Keep it in the ground.

HERSHER: Many of the protesters were young people affiliated with American climate activist groups. Elliot Diringer leads the nonprofit Center for Climate and Energy Solutions in the U.S. He's been following climate negotiations and the events that happen alongside them for decades.

ELLIOT DIRINGER: This is a side event - so literally kind of a sideshow - and one of hundreds taking place at this conference.

HERSHER: There are in fact dozens of events being put on by U.S. governors and mayors and businesses who are worried about climate change. Diringer says such events are more about domestic politics than they are about the climate negotiations underway.

DIRINGER: You can distinguish between the messaging operation of the administration and the actual negotiating posture. The side event is about messaging. And it's probably meant as much for the political base back at home as it is for the folks here at the conference.

HERSHER: However, he says, the Trump administration's dismissal of climate science has made the U.S. less of a leader in the negotiations.

DIRINGER: Well, I think that the administration's posture - its threat to withdraw from the agreement, its rollback of domestic climate policies - certainly it has weakened the U.S. influence in this process. At the same time, I'd say the U.S. does remain a player. Other governments are interested in meeting with U.S. negotiators to hear what they have to say.

HERSHER: In the coming days, U.S. negotiators are working behind closed doors and are expected to be a big part of writing the rules for the Paris agreement, even as their public-facing counterparts continue to disparage it. Rebecca Hersher, NPR News.

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