NEWS National Public Radio: Former U.S. Science Envoy: The Tone Of Climate Talks Is Now ‘Quite Grim’

For the audio of the sto­ry, click here.

For­mer U.S. Sci­ence Envoy: The Tone Of Cli­mate Talks Is Now ‘Quite Grim’

NPR’s Michel Mar­tin talks with Daniel Kam­men, for­mer sci­ence envoy to the State Depart­ment, about the U.N. cli­mate talks being held in Poland.


COP24 March For Climate In Katowice


Now we’d like to hear about that major U.N. con­ven­tion on cli­mate change. Ambas­sadors and sci­en­tists from around the world have been meet­ing in Poland for this. It’s being called the most impor­tant gath­er­ing on cli­mate change since the Paris Agree­ment was signed almost three years ago. Now, the pur­pose of this con­fer­ence is for coun­tries to take stock of how well they’re doing since that agree­ment was signed. Daniel Kam­men is a for­mer sci­ence envoy for the U.S. State Depart­ment, and he has attend­ed many such gath­er­ings, called COP, or Con­fer­ence of the Par­ties. And he’s with us now. Pro­fes­sor Kam­men, thank you so much for talk­ing with us.

DANIEL KAMMEN: Oh, thanks for hav­ing me on.

MARTIN: What is your sense of how this con­fer­ence is going so far?

KAMMEN: Well, not good. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, because the U.S. backed out, that’s left a num­ber of holes. Essen­tial­ly, the Paris con­fer­ence was such a suc­cess because coun­tries have been ramp­ing up clean ener­gy and becom­ing less expen­sive. But the U.S. and Chi­na, the two big hold­outs, took major lead­er­ship posi­tions in 2014, with Pres­i­dent Oba­ma and Pres­i­dent Xi com­mit­ting to very strong clean-ener­gy strate­gies. And, of course, Pres­i­dent Trump has now stepped out of that. And that’s left a big financ­ing void of at least 20 bil­lion a year against the com­mit­ted or pledged totals. And we are see­ing that only very few coun­tries are actu­al­ly on tar­get to deliv­er on what they promised in Paris.

MARTIN: You know, I was going to ask you about that. So, real­ly, there are two issues there because there’s been a lot of report­ing in recent weeks, includ­ing from the Unit­ed States, from fed­er­al agen­cies in the U.S., that says that, despite these agree­ments, coun­tries on the whole are still falling short of what is actu­al­ly need­ed to mit­i­gate the very dan­ger­ous effects of cli­mate change. So the ques­tion here is — if the tar­gets were ambi­tious enough to begin with and if nations have kept up with the tar­gets that were set, what’s your take on it?

KAMMEN: Right. Well, the tar­gets that were set in Paris were def­i­nite­ly ambi­tious enough. They set a goal of not hav­ing the glob­al tem­per­a­ture rise more than 2 degrees Cel­sius. And there’s been this more — most recent report this fall that called for our tar­get to become 1.5 degrees Cel­sius. But what’s hap­pened, instead, is that we’ve seen that emis­sions have risen for 2017 and 2018 after sev­er­al years of emis­sions being flat or going down very slight­ly. And what has been left in the void of the U.S. step­ping out of this process is that a num­ber of indus­try groups that would’ve prob­a­bly been onboard and mak­ing progress have real­ly tak­en this as a chance to back off.

And so we’re left with a very small set, actu­al­ly, today. Moroc­co and The Gam­bia are the two coun­tries that have kept up with their pledges. All of the Euro­pean Union are in a hold­ing pat­tern. The Unit­ed States is in the group of coun­tries that — whose emis­sions are going the wrong direc­tion. And so lack of U.S. lead­er­ship has real­ly hurt a process that needs to be thought of as a long-term change in the econ­o­my. As I like to say, it’s much more of a marathon than a sprint, but that means you need to keep run­ning each mile.

MARTIN: You men­tioned emis­sions in the U.S. The pres­i­dent tweet­ed — the U.S. pres­i­dent tweet­ed this week­end, say­ing, quote, “very sad day and night in Paris. Maybe” — well, he’s speak­ing, of course, about the demon­stra­tions there, but — “maybe it’s time to end the ridicu­lous and extreme­ly expen­sive Paris agree­ment and return mon­ey back to the peo­ple in the form of low­er tax­es. The U.S. was way ahead of the curve on that and the only major coun­try where emis­sions went down last year,” unquote. Is that true?

KAMMEN: No. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, he’s just fac­tu­al­ly inac­cu­rate on mul­ti­ple counts. What we’ve found is that invest­ing in clean­er-ener­gy econ­o­my has actu­al­ly been good for busi­ness. Solar and wind have become some of the cheap­est forms of ener­gy, and they pro­duce far more jobs than fos­sil fuels. And, in fact, U.S. emis­sions did­n’t go down.

What’s real­ly sad to see is that the U.S. was in a busi­ness lead­er­ship posi­tion after Paris, where U.S. solar and wind com­pa­nies, ener­gy stor­age com­pa­nies, ener­gy effi­cien­cy com­pa­nies were find­ing real­ly valu­able over­seas mar­kets because of this over­all push to a clean­er econ­o­my. And Pres­i­dent Trump, by step­ping away from that, has tak­en the impe­tus away from many com­pa­nies that could’ve got into this game, iron­i­cal­ly, leav­ing more and more busi­ness for those play­ers who are still in, main­ly, the Euro­pean Union and China.

MARTIN: So, final­ly, I know that you aren’t there. You gen­er­al­ly would go to this, but there are sched­ul­ing con­flicts, you weren’t able to. But you are in com­mu­ni­ca­tion with peo­ple who are there. Do you have a sense of what — of the tone at the con­fer­ence? Is there any sense of opti­mism? Is there any sense of, you know, the oppo­site? Is there any gen­er­al feel­ing that you can deter­mine about how we are doing on this?

KAMMEN: Well, iron­i­cal­ly, I’m not there because the Camp Fire in Cal­i­for­nia closed uni­ver­si­ties here. And so we have a cli­mate-relat­ed rea­son not to be at the cli­mate con­fer­ence. The tone of the con­fer­ence is quite grim, and it’s for sev­er­al rea­sons. One is that the recent report, such as the Inter­gov­ern­men­tal Pan­el on Cli­mate Change’s report, say­ing we real­ly need to reduce the 2‑degree goal that was set in Paris to have our warm­ing of less than 1.5 degrees Cel­sius, mak­ing the job tougher — that would be pos­si­ble because of the impres­sive per­for­mance gains we’re see­ing from solar pow­er, from wind pow­er and from some projects try­ing to pre­serve forests around the plan­et. But, with the U.S. step­ping away, leav­ing at least a $20-bil­lion-a-year gap in the fund­ing need­ed to part­ner with poor­er coun­tries and the fac­tu­al­ly incor­rect state­ments Pres­i­dent Trump has been mak­ing about cli­mate change — we have very clear agree­ment that humans are caus­ing the cli­mate change.

We’ve seen that in inter­na­tion­al reports. We’ve seen that in the U.S. Nation­al Cli­mate Assess­ment. And we see that invest­ing in clean ener­gy actu­al­ly is a very sig­nif­i­cant job pro­duc­er. So this is the right time to real­ly take heed of this cli­mate report. But U.S. fed­er­al action is not only lack­ing but the U.S. has, of course, left the Paris Accord, entirely.

MARTIN: That’s Daniel Kam­men, for­mer sci­ence envoy for the U.S. State Depart­ment. He’s now pro­fes­sor at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Cal­i­for­nia, Berke­ley. Pro­fes­sor Kam­men, thanks so much for talk­ing with us.

Tran­script pro­vid­ed by NPR, Copy­right NPR.

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