High Stakes As International Climate Conference Begins The U.N. climate meeting underway in Poland is the most important climate conference since the 2015 Paris Agreement set emissions reduction goals for nearly every country on Earth.

High Stakes As International Climate Conference Begins

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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

World leaders are meeting in Poland for the next couple weeks to make sure nations reduce greenhouse gas emissions. This is the first big follow-up meeting after the Paris climate agreement was adopted in 2015. Here's NPR's Rebecca Hersher.

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UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (Speaking French).

MARTIN: In December 2015, almost every country in the world agreed to set specific targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Rachel Cleetus of the Union of Concerned Scientists was there.

RACHEL CLEETUS: It was an amazing accomplishment. Many of us who were there frankly wept with joy.

REBECCA HERSHER, BYLINE: Did you cry?

CLEETUS: I did. I did. I did. When that gavel came down, we were hugging strangers, crying, just ecstatic.

TODD STERN: Paris was a big, big deal.

HERSHER: Todd Stern was the Obama administration's special envoy for climate change. As part of the Paris Agreement, the U.S. promised that by 2025, we'd reduce our greenhouse gas emissions by 26 to 28 percent compared to what we were emitting in 2005. It was ambitious. It would require among other things no more coal-fired power plants, more efficient cars and trucks and more support for solar and wind.

STERN: And then boom, the U.S. election. And a little bit over four months after he got into office, President Trump - he announced his intention in the Rose Garden to withdraw the United States.

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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: From the Paris climate accord.

HERSHER: Since then, the Trump administration has systematically tried to roll back the national regulations that would keep the U.S. on track to reduce emissions. Another major player, Brazil, has signaled it might back out of some of its emissions goals. European and Chinese leaders say they remain committed. And this is the backdrop for the climate conference now underway in Poland.

STERN: I think that the stakes are quite high.

HERSHER: They're high because everything up until now has been promises. This is the moment when countries have to come up with the rules to back up those promises. Over the next two weeks, representatives from 195 countries, including the U.S., will have to agree on answers to questions like, how will we all know if a country has met its emissions targets; where will the money come from for poorer countries to switch to clean energy?

CLEETUS: You know, in one sense, it's very straightforward. We know what we have to do. We've known for a while what we have to do to curtail our carbon emissions, make a global transition to a clean energy economy and make sure that we're investing and protecting communities that are bearing the impacts of climate change.

HERSHER: But that requires new laws, major changes in the economy, big political questions. And all the politics will happen in the shadow of the scientific reality. Climate change is already here, sea level rise, heat waves, fires and floods hurting communities, costing money and costing lives. Todd Stern says past climate negotiations might have felt abstract to regular citizens - not so anymore.

STERN: A failure in this meeting, an inability to get a rulebook done, you I think would have that much more sense among people that, geez, this is, like, really going in a very, very bad direction.

HERSHER: The meeting is scheduled to run through next Friday. Rebecca Hersher, NPR News.

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