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Countries Adopt 'Playbook' To Implement Paris Climate Agreement


We'd like to go back now to that big United Nations climate conference that just wrapped up in Poland. Yesterday, delegates from around the world struck a deal on how countries should implement the landmark 2015 Paris Agreement. We wanted to learn more about the deal, so we've called Daniel Kammen once again. He's a former science envoy for the U.S. State Department, and he was part of the United Nations team that won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007 for their work on climate science. He's now a faculty member at the University of California at Berkeley. Professor Kammen, thank you so much for joining us once again.

DANIEL KAMMEN: Well, thank you for having me on.

MARTIN: First, would you explain what happened last night? What was this deal?

KAMMEN: Well, the deal actually was almost two days after the end of the conference, so there was a lot of drama to get there. But what was agreed to in the end is called the playbook. And that basically means the rules of reporting for carbon emissions were clarified, and that's much more important than it sounds. It's not just basic bookkeeping.

The idea is that if you build a new wind farm or you replace a coal plant with solar or you preserve a forest or a wetlands, what's the protocol? And what's the method to figure out what was the greenhouse gas impact of that? And, without such a clear playbook, every country can set their own definitions of the direct emissions and what we call the life cycle, the cradle-to-grave emissions of making a solar panel or building a home.

And so these rules are critically important. It allows the international community to look quite clearly at what each country is doing. That said, getting to these agreements in the playbook had to happen, and it did.

MARTIN: So I think a lot of people will remember that, last year, President Trump promised to withdraw from the Paris Agreement. So where does the U.S. stand now? Does the U.S. position affect the agreement on the whole?

KAMMEN: So, sadly, it does affect things. When President Trump said the U.S. is going to leave the Paris climate accord, there was sort of great consternation because this is a major player stepping out. But it also said, in the rules, that you can't fully step out until 2020, until - and so, sadly, what happened on the eve of this conference, starting two weeks ago, was that the U.S. orchestrated a number of fossil fuel-producing countries to basically block the smooth flow of science.

And so this conference began with a crisis, where the U.S.-led naysayers, the climate deniers essentially launched the meeting by saying they were not going to welcome the latest international science, and that really put things on a very sour note to start. I'm glad, however, in the end that smarter, more intelligent, more adult voices ruled the day and that the COP24 meeting did pass the playbook.

MARTIN: Finally, do you have a takeaway from this meeting? What should we - those of us who aren't climate scientists but who obviously are very concerned about, you know, the state of the atmosphere and all these other issues. What should people draw from this meeting?

KAMMEN: I think there's two things. One is that the playbook was accepted. And so the international community - without the United States, the only country not part of the Paris accord - is going forward on transitioning the economy. It would be much easier if the U.S. was a productive participant.

And we heard an incredibly eloquent set of voices really highlighted by a 15-year-old Swedish girl, Greta Thunberg, who's made speech after speech, basically, not just saying we want adults to act but much more like statements that ended with you, the adults, have ignored us in the past, and you'll ignores in the future and that you, the adults who are not acting on this known science, are stealing our future. And so this voice - not just a protest by youth but of real anger that, when we have a clear thing to do, that a few voices ignoring the science is slowing down the process.

MARTIN: That was Daniel Kammen, former science envoy for the U.S. State Department. He's now a faculty member at the University of California at Berkeley. Professor Kammen, thank you so much for talking to us once again.

KAMMEN: Well, thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.