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Obama Requests All Nations Participate In Climate Treaty

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Heads of state from over 100 countries are in New York City this week discussing ways to slow climate change. NPR's Christopher Joyce reports it's a dry run for a scheduled effort to draft a new treaty.

CHRISTOPHER JOYCE, BYLINE: The United Nations has a new problem. Its international treaty to slow global warming, the Kyoto Protocol, expired two years ago. Meanwhile greenhouse gases that warm the planet keep increasing. So U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon invited world leaders to New York to bang the drum for a new treaty. President Obama obliged him, but first he pointed out a flaw in the Kyoto treaty that shouldn't be repeated.

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PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: We can only succeed in combating climate change if we are joined in this effort by every nation, developed and developing alike. Nobody gets a pass.

JOYCE: The Kyoto treaty gave developing counties just such a past. Only the fully industrialized nations had to cut emissions, after all they created most of the pollution. But now China leads the world in carbon emissions. In fact China, Brazil, India, Indonesia and other economies like their's will soon account for more emissions than the developed world. A fact not lost on the president.

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OBAMA: So nobody can stand on the sidelines on this issue. We have to set aside the old divides, we have to raise our collective ambition.

JOYCE: That won't be easy. The prime minister of one of the smallest economies, Gaston Browne of the Caribbean nation Antigua and Barbuda, reminded that U.N. that the divide remains.

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PRIME MINISTER GASTON BROWNE: We the small and developing countries of the world have been pressed to undertake climate actions by the very culprits of climate change.

JOYCE: Browne noted that five years ago developed nations promised to raise $100 billion to help developing countries prepare for climate change. So far only $1 billion has materialized. Now it's clearly not countries like Antigua that are key to any new treaty, but big emerging economies like China and India. Notably neither of those countries sent a head of state to the summit in New York. But then hard commitments were never part of the plan in New York, declarations of good intentions were and there were many. The mayors of over 220 cities agreed to push public transportation. Governments and corporations agreed to manufacture more efficient lights and appliances and maybe even put a price on carbon and a host of governments high-fived a potential deal on forests. Industrialized countries would pay tropical countries to stop cutting their forests. Growing forests soak up carbon dioxide, so the more out there the better. This idea was rejected in Kyoto, people suspected it was a scam by industrialized countries to have other fight climate change rather than do it themselves. Charles McNeill of the U.N. development program says perceptions have changed.

CHARLES MCNEILL: I think the realization that you just can't get there without doing something significant on forests, donned on the international community and then any objections to forests being an excuse, you know, to allow pollution, those all went out the window because I think the realization was it's all hands on deck.

JOYCE: That includes a lot of corporate hands. Big companies like Unilever and the agricultural giant Cargill came to New York. They announced that from now on they won't buy raw materials like palm oil or soybeans if forests were cut down to grow them. And Environmental groups that have traditionally locked horns with businesses over climate actions, now say they need to be partners. Michael Brune is director of the Sierra Club.

MICHAEL BRUNE: The sweet spot is when you can get environmentalists and economists and business leaders to agree on the same set of solutions.

JOYCE: Brune says one reason he's cautiously optimistic on a new climate deal is because so many companies are making big money on green energy. But cautious remained the operative word in New York, the Paris meeting is 14 months away and when a world has to agree, that's not a lot of time. Christopher Joyce, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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