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Nearly 200 nations approved a landmark climate accord over the weekend. They agreed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and adopt other measures to limit the increase of the average global temperature. The deal hammered out over two weeks in Paris states that climate change represents “an urgent and potentially irreversible threat to human societies and the planet.” And it calls on all nations to take action to combat it. President Obama declared the Paris accord a victory for the planet, but warned against becoming complacent. Environmentalists agreed much more needs to be done. Join Diane in a discussion of the UN summit on climate change.
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. A major climate accord was struck over the weekend in Paris with nearly 200 nations signing on to combat global warming. The agreement's opening statement calls climate change an urgent and potentially irreversible threat to humankind and the planet. Here to talk about what's in the landmark agreement as well as next steps, Chris Mooney of The Washington Post, Sarah Ladislaw of the Center for Strategic and International Studies and Joseph Romm of the Center for American Progress.
MS. DIANE REHMI know many of you will want to join the conversation. Feel free to call us on 800-433-8850. Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow us on Facebook or send us a tweet. And thank you all for being here.
MR. JOSEPH ROMMThanks for having us.
MS. SARAH LADISLAWThanks for having us.
MR. CHRIS MOONEYIt's great to be here.
REHMChris Mooney, I'll start with you. I gather you were in Paris for most of the negotiations. Tell us a little about what's in that final agreement.
MOONEYAbsolutely. I think the agreement is quite ambitious. People generally tend to agree. It actually pledges the world to try to keep emissions well below 2 degrees Celsius. We thought it was just going to say -- at one point, we thought it was just gonna say 2 degrees and it says try even harder and try to limit things to 1.5 degrees, which many scientists are saying, gosh, that's really, really, really difficult to do. But it's right there in the text.
MOONEYAnd the text contains a lot of detail about how countries are going to go about this. The most important part is probably that they need to update their pledges every five years in order to strengthen them because right now, the world has pledged -- countries have individually pledged to cut emissions, but it is generally agreed not to be enough to get to 2 degrees even.
REHMTell me about that 2 degrees and why that's so crucial.
MOONEYWell, actually, it turns out that the world sort of started saying 2 degrees over a decade ago, as if this was where things were going to be safe. But in the last, I'll say, five years, scientists have become more and more critical of the idea that that is indeed safe. One of the principle reasons is that there's a growing expectation the world would lose large amounts of ice from the polar regions leading to very large sea level rise if you had sustained 2 degrees of warming.
MOONEYSo the science has been coming in sort of fast and furious and small island nations had said a little while before Copenhagen in 2009 that they wanted 1.5 degrees. And what's happened is that the science has more and more supported them over the intervening five years or so and so you actually found 1.5 degrees making its way into this agreement as a sort of aspiration, at least.
REHMJoe Romm, you were also in Paris. What's your reaction?
ROMMWell, I think this is a world-changing deal. I mean, I think, you know, for the first time, all the nations of the world, I mean, one important thing to remember, this was unanimous. To get things done in this process, you need to...
REHMBig nations and small nations.
ROMMYeah. You needed China. You needed Saudi Arabia. You needed Russia. You needed India. They all agreed on, as Chris said, a pathway down to 2 degrees Centigrade. We ratchet up the targets. And this is a statement after, you know, 250 years of an industrial revolution built around fossil fuels, we are basically going to zero. The agreement is pretty explicit that by the end of the century, we will have net zero emissions of carbon pollutions which comes from burning coal, oil and natural gas.
REHMThat's the ambition. That is not, at least year by year by year, there won't be any penalties if a nation does not live up to its bargain?
ROMMSure. Well, legal treaties, legal international treaties don’t tend to have enforcement mechanisms. We wouldn't want an international police force coming in and saying, ooh, the United States missed its target. I will say that the environmentalists I spoke to were very happy with the transparency provisions.
REHMBill McKibben in this morning's newspaper was not so happy.
ROMMYeah. And I appreciate Bill. Bill was one the early leaders on 1.5 degrees Centigrade.
ROMMAnd he was one of the early leaders on we've got to leave most of the carbon in the ground. But one thing that didn't get a lot of attention was that all of the parties agreed, in writing, that there would be a tech that they would reporter every year on what their emissions were, but there would be a technical expert review done by outsiders to confirm that what was done was done.
REHMSarah Ladislaw, what are the strengths and weaknesses you see of the agreement?
LADISLAWI think that, you know, the agreement lends itself to folks who really haven't really paid much attention to climate change for the last 20 years or this kind of an agreement to see things fundamentally differently. I think that's why you're getting a lot of this glass half full, glass half empty, you know, construct that we're seeing. For folks that have paid attention to the negotiations over the last 20 years, this is the broadest participation and the most serious participation that you've seen from the global community ever.
LADISLAWAnd I think that was really important to not about the agreement is when the world leaders were there and when Ban Ki Moon and all of the leadership were together, they were not only talking about the agreement, but they would talk about the agreement as one of four pillars of activity taking place over the two weeks in Paris. You know, pillar number one was more global leaders than have ever been convened in one place at one time for one issue and that was sort of the first couple days.
LADISLAWThere's mobilization of finance, huge numbers of companies and other people bringing money together to contribute to this cause and then, three was all of the INDCs, these intended nationally determined contributions, which is, you know, just negotiations jargon for the pledges that people put on the table, countries put on the table, what they would pledge to do in order to deal with climate change. And the fourth pillar is the agreement itself.
LADISLAWAnd so I think the biggest positive coming out of this agreement is that they have shown that the global community is engaged in the question that was set out long ago in 1992 which is will the global community try to do something about climate change.
REHMAnd the downsides.
LADISLAWAnd the negatives are that what's been put on the table so far is not enough. You know, as Chris quite ably pointed out, the science year over year shows that we're getting farther and farther away from, you know, actually managing this problem on an adequate level and even though I think the environmental community, governments and companies deserve a lot of credit for what they've brought to the table this time around, massively reengineering the global energy system is a pretty tough thing to do.
LADISLAWAnd so being able to make that shift from what the, you know, the goal has been over the last several years, which is let's bend the curve on emissions, let's show that we can get there to actually achieving it, there's a huge amount of effort that's going to be needed. And I think that's when you see people like, you know, Bill McKibben feeling frustrated. Well, the beat goes on. And quite frankly, I think that's what the advocacy community is going to continue to do, they're gonna keep pushing for more ambition 'cause that's what's required.
REHMChris Mooney, I want to pick up on one point Sarah raised, the financing, because doesn't the financing have to come, at least for the United States to reduce its emissions, from the Congress?
MOONEYYes. The U.S. Congress, the Republicans in Congress, definitely have been criticizing throughout this process and certainly one of the things is that there's a suggesting that funding under this agreement for international climate finance will be blocked. I think that the administration's approach has been sort of, you know, we're going to get the deal and it's going to be so world-changing, in effect, that by the time a lot of these things have to actually happen, I guess, there's a hope -- a lot of people think that the political context may be different.
MOONEYBut sure, and we have a campaign season coming up and we can certainly expect that there are going to be a lot of criticism in the context of the campaign season.
REHMAnd considering what each and every one of at least the Republican candidates have had to say, global warming is not something they are in support of, the idea itself.
MOONEYSure. There's huge continuing skepticism in the U.S. Republican party related to the science of climate change. What you have now is you have the world saying, you know, all these countries saying we're going to address something. They all are accepting the science. The U.S. Republican party still has a huge amount of climate change skepticism.
REHMAnd that really is the significance of having all these nations participate.
MOONEYNo, absolutely. It's kind of stunning that alone, isolated really in the entire world is this national Republican party, which not only doesn't believe in the problem, but here 195 nations representing, you know, virtually, the entire world has not only said this is a real problem, but we are going to take serious action to get off of fossil fuels. And the Republican Congress says not only isn't the problem real, but we're gonna try to thwart you.
MOONEYNow, fortunately, you know, the president has his own authority and I think it's pretty clear we can meet the target that we set, this 26 to 28 percent reduction by 2025 versus 2005 levels using the authority her has under the Clean Air Act, the Environmental Protection Agency can do it.
REHMOn the other hand, suppose a Republican is elected in 2016. What could, might that mean for this agreement?
ROMMWell, I think there's no question that a Republican who is dead against climate action could certainly cause a great deal of problems. I think it would be a challenge for him to withdraw and kill a treaty that the entire world was endorsing.
REHMJoseph Romm, he's senior fellow at the Center For American Progress. Short break here. Your calls, comments when we come back. Stay with us.
REHMAnd welcome back. We're talking about the climate change agreement reached in Paris at that extraordinary summit with approximately 200 nations represented. Here in the studio, Joseph Romm. He's at the Center for American Progress. He's former acting assistant secretary of energy under President Clinton. Sarah Ladislaw is senior fellow for energy and national security programs at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. And Chris Mooney is energy and environment reporter for the Washington Post.
REHMOkay. We've got two messages. First, a tweet from Miles, who says, ambitious? With a question mark. The agreement has no teeth. And saying countries should quote "try" to keep below 2 degrees Celsius is weak. And then, an email from Jake. It's easy to agree to something when there is no expectation of punishment if you fail to live up to your part of the bargain. Sarah.
LADISLAWI think that these are legitimate concerns that people have about the enforcement provisions in international negotiations. I completely understand the place that are people are coming from when they say, there's no there there. How are people going to, you know, be held to account. And what's the game plan there? I just have never found anybody who could tell me what the enforcement mechanism would be that would actually work. I am fully convinced that the people who would, you know, sort of come to the table for this agreement at this juncture, if there was a strong enforcement mechanism, I think a lot of the countries that participated would not be there. And I think participation is central.
LADISLAWAnd therefore, the underlying sort of idea here is that you're getting a lot of people to put their best effort on the table. You're going to have sort of a transparency and verification and measuring system that is not only going to ask people if they -- or countries if they can do better, but also offer them assistance and lessons learned from other countries. Because, quite frankly, anyone who claims they know how to do this and have achieved decarbonization, they're not telling you the truth or it's not, you know, at a broad enough scale that it really, you know, is applicable to other countries.
LADISLAWAnd so I think that this idea of publicly sharing, transparently sharing, coming back to the table, measuring and reviewing efforts -- that is this way of building this sort of positivity snowballing of effort as we get better together at figuring out how to decarbonize well. It is not satisfying for people who are looking at some sort of hard enforcement mechanism. But I'm not sure that kind of hard enforcement mechanism exists.
ROMMYeah, I mean, I think it's important for people to realize that we saved the ozone layer through a process, international process that also did not have an enforcement mechanism. At the end of the day, we got 195 countries to unanimously agree because the science is getting more and more obvious every day, not less and less obvious. So, in 10 years, is it possible that countries are going to say, this is a less important problem? No. It's going to be a more obvious problem, with more sea-level rise, with more extreme weather.
ROMMSo I have great confidence that almost every signatory is going to beat their target. Certainly China is already beating their target. I'm sure the European Union is going to meet or beat its target. You know, again, I expect most of the countries are going to beat their target because the problem is getting more and more serious.
REHMSo the realization is there, even with the lack of enforcement. Chris Mooney, are people saying, we will do what we can.
MOONEYI think absolutely they are. I think the real question mark is that, since the agreements, basically, countries don't immediately up their pledges right now. There's time. We have to see how well they do. We have to, you know -- and then they have to up their ambitions, you know, in five years' time. So we don't actually know how fast the world is going to move towards cleaner sources of energy. It's moving that way. But it's the rate of change that really matters. The rate of change determines how fast the emissions go down. And that's the real question right now.
REHMTalk about the importance of China, Chris. Because as we've read over and over, you can barely walk outside. People keep their windows closed. They wear masks when they go outside. How important is China to the agreement? And how aware is China of the role it's got to play?
MOONEYWell, I think that's one of the key reasons that an agreement was possible is that there's growing public concern in China about pollution. And the Chinese leadership clearly wants to do something. And they're realizing that burning so much coal has a great deal of societal costs. So they're moving as fast as they can towards...
MOONEY...using all different kinds of energy...
MOONEY...solar, wind, nuclear, you know, hydro, you name it, right? And the reason the agreement actually happened -- if there was one factor that I think above all others made this possible, it was the United States and China getting together roughly a year ago and agreeing, long before anybody came to Paris, having their own bilateral accord to cut emissions.
REHMSo what you're saying is, if President Obama had not met with Chinese leaders, that this whole thing would not have come to fruition?
MOONEYI'm saying that it created incredibly positive momentum, more than any other one thing. That's what...
REHMDo you agree, Joe?
ROMMYes. Because the big crux for international negotiations before that was that the developing countries said to the rich countries, you caused the problem, you have to go first. And this was the first big, still rapidly growing, developing countries, the world's biggest emitters saying, we're going to cap our emissions and we're going to double our use of renewable energy. And that made it very hard for all the other ones to not come up with a commitment. And so we ended up with serious commitment from Indonesia, from Brazil, from Mexico. And ultimately even India was -- came to the table much more open to agreeing to something.
REHMWhat about President Obama's initiative here in the United States on climate change? Sarah, how important were they to kind of building a momentum, not only towards this conference but toward its ultimate success?
LADISLAWI think it was huge. I mean, I really think that to the extent that the Obama administration could have walked away from thinking about climate change as seriously as it has, after cap-and-trade failed in the Congress. That was such a signal to the global community that this is really a question of stick-to-itiveness, right? When you encounter a problem in trying to reduce emissions -- as everybody will at some point, because this is a really hard problem to solve -- that you have to figure out a way around it, and maybe will and, you know, don't really like the way that the Obama administration has gone about reducing emissions in the United States.
LADISLAWThey call it, you know, being overly regulatory or overreach of, you know, authorities and the whole nine yards. And that's a whole 'nother show probably. But what it did show to the global community is that the United States is committed to this problem and committed to doing something about it -- immobilized efforts globally and domestically. And I think that that won them a lot of support in the international community.
REHMChris, how did President Obama convince China that it had to be a part of this?
MOONEYOh, I wasn't behind the scenes, so I can't tell you exactly how the agreement was reached. But I think that the conditions were ripe, you know, because mutual interests could be served. As we've noted already, you know, the Chinese public is noticing the problem of pollution. It's getting to be a very, very big concern. I think that, you know, you had a, you know, if could go back and think about 2014, you know, you set another temperature record in that year and now you have another one coming this year. I mean, the visibility of the problem just keeps on going up. So it's just such a different moment than it was in Copenhagen, when a lot of things were not aligned, versus how well they're aligned right now.
LADISLAWOne of the other really remarkable things, I think, about China's efforts in their sort of climate-change debate right now and the actions that they've put on the table, is this idea that China now believes at a very high level that doing something about climate change -- all of the technology and innovation that's necessary, all the deployment of all of these technologies -- actually, fundamentally feeds into their economic bottom line.
LADISLAWThis movement from an energy-intensive, industrialized economy to something that is service sector led, it caused them to not only -- I completely agree with Chris that it is about sort of local air pollution and a lot of those things as well -- but they believe it's part and parcel of where their economy needs to go. And they're going to push it with that force. And that's an amazing amount of force.
REHMWhat does all this mean for the U.S. energy industry, Sarah?
LADISLAWI think it's a really complex picture. I mean, the U.S. has a number of energy revolutions going on simultaneously. We have an oil-and-gas revolution that has made us, across the board, natural resource abundant, right? We've got a lot of coal, we've got a lot of gas, we've got a lot of oil. But we also have a lot of renewables. Figuring out how to produce those resources in ways that improve our economy but also don't harm sort of the second revolution, which is the decarbonization movement that's going on, which you're seeing play out in really important ways in the electric power sector around the country.
LADISLAWWe have a really big debate going on in this country and, quite frankly, live experiments going on with how to reach those goals together. How do we produce the energy resources that we have? And how do we decarbonize at the same time? And I think we're actively in that debate on the ground. And companies are engaged in that and trying to figure out how they position themselves for being able to cultivate the best opportunities for themselves as an industry and accomplish both of those agendas.
MOONEYSure. For U.S. energy, I think there's sort of two really key trends. And one is that natural gas is coming on very strong and it's more and more displacing coal. And it's less emissions intensive but it's still a fossil fuel. So that's one thing that's actually for the U.S. (word?)
REHMExcept there are so many questions...
MOONEYSure. But when you burn it, it's definitely, you know, going to contribute less carbon. And at the same time, you have the strong growth of renewables. But they're starting from a very low fraction of the total amount of energy capacity or generation. And so basically, you know, you've got wind and solar at this point providing like about 5 percent of U.S. electricity. And that has to grow really fast. And so that's the number one thing to watch right now, is how fast we can actually install wind and solar.
REHMJoe, how closely will we have to watch what the U.S. does to achieve these goals?
ROMMWell, certainly, as you say, the 2016 election is going to be a very big, you know, decisive point as to whether the U.S. embraces going on climate action or not. But the trends that Chris mentioned are, I think, irreversible. Goldman Sachs pointed out that the four largest coal companies in the United States saw a 90 percent drop in their market capitalization this year. You know, The Economist said the biggest thing that comes out of Paris is the signal it sends to investors that we are now at the beginning of the end of the fossil-fuel era.
ROMMAnd so I expect you are going to see literally trillions of dollars in capital shift away from digging up more coal and oil into, you know, the clean -energy technologies, but also efficient technologies like LED lights, electric batteries, electric cars. These are all things that are going to become the major industries of this century.
REHMOf course, I worry about the fate of the coal miners in West Virginia, throughout Appalachia, who have spent their lives and who have very little opportunity to move elsewhere. And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Let's see. I have an email here. While I applaud the climate agreement, I am worried about relying exclusively on government or industry to follow through. Recent experience shows entrenched interest to delay and water down reforms during rule making and implementation.
REHMWhat are non-legislative strategies that civil society, such as faith groups, can pursue to move the national climate response forward without relying exclusively on lawmakers? What is Plan B for a flawed or limited governmental follow through? Joe.
ROMMWell, one of the sessions I sat in on in Paris was Governor Jerry Brown of California had this below two MOU, which is sub-national groups that were committing to a very deep reduction -- 80 to 90 percent reductions -- in fossil-fuel emissions by 2050. And he got -- they were announcing another 40 signatories. They had 140 signatories -- these are provinces in countries, these are, you know, cities, these are the State of California -- totaling nearly $20 trillion in GDP, were all making this commitment. So I think you're going to see a lot of these sub-national entities stepping up to the plate and doing their part.
REHMBut what kind of pushback did they get from smaller countries? Sarah.
LADISLAWWell, I think the pushback from smaller countries was more on the side of not doing those types of activities, right? I mean, I think a lot of the smaller, developing economies were actually looking for that kind of ambitious signal in Paris. I think, to go back on something that Joe didn't say -- which maybe he's being modest, because I think he works with a lot of the advocacy community as well -- I don't think that you would have seen the outcome in Paris or any of the outcomes achieved at the local level or the national level, without the urging of the advocacy community.
LADISLAWIn the, you know, over 10 years that I've been doing this work, I have been amazed to see how the advocacy community has been so agile in sort of putting pressure and sort of creating these pressure situations where governments are increasingly having to raise their ambitions. So one of the big things that we're, you know, looking at in the program that I run for the next year is, where will the additional ambition come from? And what will those efforts look like? And I have no doubt that most of these efforts are being driven by folks in the advocacy community who have done a lot to hold industry and government's feet to the fire in terms of delivering on these issues.
REHMBut what about liberal versus conservative in this fight, Chris, and some continued believe that this should not be something we are engaged in?
MOONEYWell, if you're talking about U.S. liberal versus conservative, right? Because...
MOONEY...I think in other parts of the world that's -- it's such a different dynamic now. There's just no doubt that climate change is a highly partisan and polarized issue in the United States and has been for many years. And, if anything, that's probably gotten worse. I expect to see and I think we're already seeing polarized partisan responses to what has just happened in Paris. I think the Obama administration has pretty clearly decided for some time that they are just not going to worry about criticism on the domestic front. They're just going to do it.
REHMChris Mooney, he's energy and environment reporter for the Washington Post. Your calls when we come back. Stay with us.
REHMAnd welcome back, as we talk about the Paris summit on climate change and the really historic agreement achieved by some 200 nations. Let's open the phones to Joanie in Portsmouth, Ohio. You're on the air.
JOANIEYes, hi, wonderful to be on. My question is about nuclear energy and you know, I campaigned for President Obama down here in southern Ohio. I believe he's been a great president, but their administration did re-label nuclear as renewable and clean energy, and I'm wondering what this agreement has in it about the proliferation of nuclear energy.
ROMMWell, the way the agreement is written, it doesn't specify technologies. Everyone has to meet their commitment and you know, nuclear is being aggressively used, mostly in non-market economies, mostly China and to a lesser extent, India. In most of the market economies, you don't see a lot of nuclear because it's so expensive.
REHMI would think an awful lot of people are still concerned about nuclear, especially with what happened in Japan.
ROMMOh, absolutely. I mean, you know, we're talking about -- you have to invest like $ 10 billion to build a power plant. It can take 10 or 20 years to build, and obviously if something goes wrong, you've suddenly taken this $10 billion asset and turning it into a substantial liability. So yes, investors are very reluctant to put money in.
REHMAll right, let's go to Rachel, here in Washington, D.C. You're on the air, go right ahead.
RACHELHello, thank you so much for having me on.
RACHELI have a question about animal agriculture and why Paris really didn't speak about it. There's a side event that Humane Society International put on, but you know, that was a side event, and definitely not in any of the conclusions of the talks.
REHMAll right, Joe Romm.
ROMMWell, there's no question people have been focused on energy. But I think as you study the matter, there's no question, animal agriculture is a very big deal. It uses up a lot of energy, a lot of resources, it produces a lot of greenhouse gas emissions. So yes, I think there's starting to be talk about how one incorporates that in.
MOONEYI will say that the agreement does have a section, in one of the less notices sections. It's also incredibly important, which is about forests and bringing back forests, which pull carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere, and when you deforest, you emit carbon dioxide to the atmosphere. And one of the principle reasons for deforestation is agriculture. I mean, if you look at what's happening in Brazil, the tropical forests are being cut down in order to grow cattle, grow farms, things like that. So there is also in this agreement an attempt to sort of empower reforestation efforts and efforts to fight deforestation, which does partly go to this question.
REHMAll right, and here's an email from Sabrina, who says, "this should be a bipartisan issue, and there is a market base solution that Republicans have advocated, prominent Republican economists like George Shultz and Gary Becker, argue the fastest way to transition out of fossil fuel and grow our economy is by a carbon tax, especially a revenue neutral carbon fee and dividend." Sarah.
LADISLAWI think most people that you talk to who are off the record on the issue will say they absolutely agree. I think the problem is that nobody sees a really near-term, viable, political pathway to getting a carbon tax out of the US Senate. I think people are looking at the potential for upcoming overhaul in sort of the tax system in the US, or tax reform debate, as being an opening for, you know, advocating for new pathways to get some sort of carbon tax in the United States. And so the terminology is typically a problem, carbon tax doesn't really sound like anybody, anybody wants to be on the record supporting, but there's a lot more talk about it these days. Not that it's about to happen, but certainly that it would perhaps be a better pathway for sending that signal to markets that they need to understand where they should be placing investments.
MOONEYSure, I think when cap and trade failed, you know, when the Obama administration first tried this in order to achieve something legislative, and what's happened, you know, since then is that the idea of a carbon tax has gathered huge momentum intellectually, and to some extent, across the spectrum, but the Obama administration knew that it didn't have the political ability to get law passed. If there was that ability, I think the law would be a carbon tax now, I don't think we would try cap and trade again.
MOONEYBut there isn't the ability, so they went for a solution, which is an EPA solution. We are going to use a regulatory structure, because that's what the administration can do without Congress, even if they don't necessarily believe that that's the best solution. It's just the solution at hand.
REHMAll right, to Jackie in Woodland, Michigan. You're on the air.
JACKIEHi, Diane. I was wondering what kind of companies were involved in the summit, and if some of these companies would (unintelligible) legislation for the United States?
REHMAll right, what companies were involved, Sarah?
LADISLAWThe list is too long to go through. There was an amazing mobilization of effort undertaken by the French government and all of the countries involved.
REHMGive me an example of some.
LADISLAWYou had huge financial organizations like Citi and Bank of America, you had a group of 19 billionaires, including Bill Gates, the CEO of Alibaba, a huge number of companies, a consortium of oil and gas companies, mostly European oil and gas companies, but also including other companies like Saudi Aramco and some other sort of folks that you wouldn't include in that list. All putting together pledges of what they would like to see or statements of what they'd like to see.
LADISLAWSome of them, especially the 19 -- billionaire consortium, putting money down, and the financial organizations as well. I think what's really important is to see what they do with those pledges, and then also, as a lot of environmentalist have been calling for, you know, even sort of after the agreement has occurred, is what will they do, just sort of stand on the sidelines, or actually support further, you know, legislation and regulation in the places where they operate. Will they align those pledges and good will with what they actually advocate to see in public policy.
REHMJoe, the Republican candidates have been pretty quiet so far about this agreement. What are we hearing?
ROMMWell, there's no question. I think they would rather not talk about the issue. I think the politics have clearly shifted. The public has gotten more aware because of the extreme weather events, Hurricane Sandy, you know, this is becoming a very hot year just here in Washington, D.C., it was over 70 yesterday.
REHMAnd today, another day towards 70 expected.
ROMMSo I think the public is getting it, and the public has always strongly endorsed clean energy. So you know, now, the media has not made it an issue. We still don't get the question in the debates, it is gonna be up to the candidates themselves who want to make this an issue, on the Democratic side, to raise this if they feel that it is a political winner. But I do think that the politics is shifting on this issue.
REHMDo you agree, Sarah?
LADISLAWI think so as well. I think one of the things we're gonna see over the next couple of years, and we are in primary season right now, so it is hard to gauge genuineness and sort of where the dial is in U.S. politics. I think what -- even if you were to have a Republican administration next, right, I think what you'll see is that the global community has moved on this issue, so it would be really untenable for a U.S. administration not to engage in discussions of decarbonization, because it's literally everywhere in the international, multilateral framework.
LADISLAWAnd I think the second thing is, what you're seeing behind the scenes within sort of Republican circles, is that it's not necessarily all Republicans don't believe in climate change. I don't think that's true anymore. I think you have a wide variance of views within the party, where some people have a little bit more of a moderate view, which is, yes, we absolutely know this is a problem, we just think it's gonna be expensive and we doubt our ability to solve it. Okay, that's a very palatable position. It's actually quite in line with what a lot of other countries think around the world, but I think that it's just going to increasingly be less and less about sort of denial, and more and more about skepticism on the actions.
MOONEYNo, I think that's a fair assessment. I want to put one thing back on the table. I mean, I think it's important to emphasize that by no means has the world solved the problem of climate change.
MOONEYAnd you know, the next couple decades are gonna be extraordinarily interesting from a climate system, geophysical standpoint, in terms of what the planet does, and also, from a technology standpoint, how humans start to deal with this. We -- scientists have said that they think that the ice sheet of west Antarctica might already be destabilized. This is at one degree of warming, not 1.5. What is gonna happen when we watch that gigantic hard to reach area of huge amounts of ice over the next two decades?
MOONEYScientists said in Paris, that they are afraid that permafrost, you know, frozen ground, the northern hemisphere in the arctic, is going to become a new source of emissions to the atmosphere on a scale that will be quite significant, and that will be more than many countries are emitting. So are they right about that? And how is that going to effect the reductions that -- these are all things that we don't know what's gonna happen.
REHMSo considering all that, Joe, what could or might Congress do to unravel this deal?
ROMMWell, you know, Senator Mitch McConnell, the Senate Majority Leader, has certainly been trying to persuade states to not go along with this clean power plan, which is the EPA's regulations to reduce carbon pollution by electric utilities. So they may pass laws saying no money can be spent.
ROMMIn support of what the EPA is doing, no money could be spent for support of this treaty.
REHMHow much money do we need to put forward?
ROMMWell, you know, the world had said, and even in this agreement, says that the rich countries will put forward $100 billion a year, starting in the year 2020. Now, as the richest country in the world, and the biggest polluter cumulatively, we do have a responsibility to help poor countries leapfrog over the dirty development, and go straight to the clean development. So you know, we should be on hook for our share of that $100 billion a year. The question of A, whether the Republicans could block it, and B, whether there are innovative financing ways of getting that $100 billion a year without appropriations, those will be what people will try to figure out.
REHMWhat kind of innovative ways?
ROMMWell, the thing people really need most now, for instance, is loan guarantees. India said at Paris, that they would reduce future coal if you would help them deploy renewable energy now. But it's, interest rates for renewable projects in India are like 16%. If the big countries would offer loan guarantees, then the interest rates on those projects would come down and they would be much cheaper. So you're gonna see the multilateral development banks and financial institutions trying to come to the table with very innovative ideas for financing that -- what is not just $100 billion, but literally trillions of dollars of investment.
REHMWow. Do you want to add to that, Chris?
MOONEYNot on that particular point. There's just one more thing that I'd like to raise. Based on my reporting on what we call the global carbon budgets, essentially the amount that the world can emit and still stick within 1.5%, 2%. This has been calculated, right, within some range of uncertainty. And what it all leads to, many scientists say, is a pretty unpalatable conclusion that people have not grappled with yet, which is that we have to remove carbon from the atmosphere in order to hit these targets.
MOONEYAnd we do not know how that is gonna happen, but it's sort of, it's deep, deep, deep in the footnotes right now, but it's actually becoming a serious issue, if you do the math...
REHMAnd there are those who say the planet's doomed, so why bother? Why do anything?
LADISLAWI think that, and I hear Chris on all of the issues that he's raising, but I think, Diana, the one that you just raised is the critical one to pay attention to, which is, we don't get an either/or option on the pillars of this problem, right? We have to pursue the science, we have to pursue the mitigation, which is the reduction of emissions, we have to pursue the adaptation, and we are probably going to have to pursue those options for removing carbon from the atmosphere. But you don't get to choose. You're probably gonna have to do all of them.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Let's go now to Brooklyn, New York. Hi, John, you're on the air.
JOHNThank you. I would like to point out to the panel and listeners that the -- there was a concern, how to incentivize this agreement and how to fund it, that one of the four pillars mentioned previously by one of the panel members is that they were up to 1,000 mayors from all around the world and very significant large cities as well, and mayors or governors are different, here in the states and North America anyway, they tend to be very creative and try to, will try to, because they are in the trenches, so to speak.
JOHNSo they will try to find out, create ways how to refinance this, and incentivize it as well, because this is really hitting home many, many places, it's not...
LADISLAWI think that's an excellent point, and in fact, it also goes back to that question we were talking about, with, if you've got a Republican administration here in the United States, I think what we've seen is when you've got the U.S. federal level government not in support of doing aggressive things on climate change, you get even more of that kind of activity at the state and local level, and that kind of experimentation at the state and local level really feeds into and informs what is possible at the federal level.
LADISLAWYou look at many of our federal policies and they are sort of, you know, ripped from the headlines of, you know, big cities all around the United States.
REHMYou know, the question remains, what about food? When you've got people relying on the forests, for example, for income and cutting down trees just to keep alive, and realizing that deforestation is putting all this carbon into the atmosphere. How do you balance the human suffering from, you know, the global picture? How do you parse that, Joe?
ROMMSure, well, I think food is one of the biggest issues. I have a new book out, "Climate Change: What Everyone Needs to Know," and it goes into that at some length. The challenge is gonna be, we're adding two or three billion people over the next 50 to 60 years, while we are heating the planet up, which is gonna make more extreme droughts, and that's gonna make it harder to grow crops.
REHMWhich is why an awful lot of people wanted to know why population was not included in the discussion there.
ROMMYeah, well, look, the -- I think the short answer is, it is too controversial an issue. I think the slightly longer answer is that it has really been the rich nations, the people who have the wealth, who have been generating 10, 20 times as much emissions per capita as the poorer countries. And the question is, is there a path to leapfrog over the coal asset driven development? In other words, make them stranded assets. We see in China right now, China is shutting down coal plants that it built before.
REHMJoe Romm, he is senior fellow at the Center for American Progress. Sarah Ladislaw of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, and Chris Mooney of "The Washington Post." As always, these subjects are so complicated, I'd like to sit here and talk with you for another few hours, but we'll hear more as time goes on. Thank you all so much.
LADISLAWThanks very much.
MOONEYThank you for having us.
REHMAnd thanks, all, for listening. I'm Diane Rehm.
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