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New Climate Deal Keeps Paris Accord Alive, Draws Path To Implementation


The 2015 Paris climate agreement appears to have new life. Negotiators from nearly 200 countries reached a deal in Poland yesterday after tense negotiations. They say they have a road map for implementing the pact. CNN's senior international correspondent Nick Paton Walsh was at the conference in Poland. And he joins us now. Welcome to the program.


GARCIA-NAVARRO: So first things first - is the United States onboard? It appeared the Trump administration wanted to withdraw from the 2015 agreement. Where were they during these negotiations?

WALSH: They were there. And they were there in two capacities, really - obviously because Trump has said that the U.S. is leaving. And they don't technically come out until November 2020. In fact, the day after, he would theoretically win re-election. They, of course, don't necessarily have that much of a desire to dictate the rulebook. But it appears that the Korea diplomats who were in the room didn't really seem to get in the way. They appeared to have allowed things to continue. And that really cast the U.S. as something of an aberration during proceedings here. Politically, from a higher level, on the sidelines, during Monday, they, in fact, staged a fossil-fuel event promoting the very thing which everybody was there trying to reduce the use of. And, in fact, just 48 hours earlier, they joined Russia, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait to not endorse the key scientific report that's behind all of this, an IPCC report which basically said there has to be drastic action in the next 12 years to keep global warming at 1.5 degrees Celsius, or there'll be catastrophic change.

So essentially, they were there as a spoiler. But on a more sort of technical level, it appears that they stayed pretty much out of the way or certainly didn't impede this rulebook from being fashioned. Although, their comments on the sidelines, certainly, I think, gave a bit of political cover or support for those people who wanted to wriggle out of some of the difficult choices here.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Just simply, what does this agreement claim to do?

WALSH: It's basically the rules. So Paris 2015 was the desire. It's like sort of saying, OK, this is what we want to do. How we physically going to actually put this into action? And it was the more difficult challenge, frankly. Yes, it's hard to get everyone to agree to the same idea. But it's even harder to get them to agree to the numbers, the mechanisms, the behind or the very difficult choices that mankind has to make in every nation in order to stop catastrophic climate change happening in just over a decade from now.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: But those rules are still voluntary, right? I mean, there is nothing that can force any of these countries to actually do what they say they're going to do.

WALSH: Yeah. There's no jail time. No one goes to court. No one pays a fine. This is exclusively voluntary. So yes, it's kind of going to be a name-and-shaming system if you don't live up to your obligations. But I think possibly the idea behind this would be that, as people increasingly realize climate change is a fact - it's not a belief - it's not a theory - it's something that's happening - the popular will in countries, as the climate slowly changes to, will make it pretty hard for governments to not live up to their obligations. But you're absolutely right. There's no teeth to these things at all. But the fact that people sign up on paper, like most international law, like most international agreements, they only really do that because they see their own self-interest in it, too.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Just finally, what was the reaction once this was signed? I mean, is there some optimism that this is moving forward?

WALSH: Yeah. There's certainly optimism. I think a lot of people are trying to put a brave face on this. The fact that you have the very nation that led 2015's Paris Agreement through the - spear-headed it on the Obama administration - that same nation was on the sidelines there, denying the science, effectively, for refusing to endorse it, certainly, and then also promoting fossil fuels. That definitely cast a pall over proceedings that made many feel that, perhaps, they've gone backwards since 2015 to some degree. But the world hasn't stopped. Physics hasn't suddenly decided to take a break while the Trump administration disputes what it comes up with.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: CNN's senior international correspondent Nick Paton Walsh, thank you so much.

WALSH: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Lulu Garcia-Navarro is the host of Weekend Edition Sunday and one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. She is infamous in the IT department of NPR for losing laptops to bullets, hurricanes, and bomb blasts.