© 2023 Texas Public Radio
Real. Reliable. Texas Public Radio.
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

Climate Change Scorecard


Record heat all over the planet, fires, rising sea levels, flooding neighborhoods and cities - manmade climate change is being felt in all sorts of ways. It's been just over a year since the United States announced its intention to withdraw from the Paris climate agreement, and there were predictions then that the fight on global warming would take a hit as other countries followed the U.S.'s lead. Elliot Diringer is the executive vice president of the nonpartisan Center for Climate and Energy Solutions. He's a former environmental reporter and worked in the Clinton administration, and he joins me now in the studio to talk about how the world is doing when it comes to the goals set by the Paris agreement. Thanks so much for being with us.

ELLIOT DIRINGER: Pleasure to be here.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Before we get started, can you just give us a quick recap of what exactly is in the Paris climate agreement, what each country agreed to and by when, generally speaking.

DIRINGER: Sure. Each country agreed to make a nationally determined contribution, and that's important - the nationally determined part. Each country decides for itself what its emissions goal is going to be, and then they report periodically on their progress toward their goal. And that's subject to international scrutiny. And then every five years they come back and put forward a new contribution, presumably a more ambitious one.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: All right. But how are they doing in meeting those goals that they set?

DIRINGER: I think it's a pretty mixed picture at this point. There are some bright spots. In India, for instance, we're seeing rapid progress. Actually they will be achieving their goals on renewable energy well ahead of schedule. China's emissions had been more or less stabilizing. Even in the U.S. we're continuing to see reductions in emissions, despite the Trump rollbacks, thanks to stronger efforts by cities and states and many companies. But as I said, it's a mixed picture. And in each of those cases there are warning signs. India continues to build coal-burning plants. China's emissions spiked in the first quarter of this year. And while emissions continue to decline in the U.S., we're not nearly on track to set the goal that the Obama administration set.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: As I mentioned, there had been a lot of speculation when the Trump administration pulled out of the accord that it was going to have a sort of domino effect, if you will, with some countries deciding that they were going to follow suit. So what happened? I mean, have we seen some countries sort of decide that they were going to opt out?

DIRINGER: No. No other countries have followed the U.S. in terms of withdrawing from the agreement - quite the opposite. Countries have rallied around the agreement. Really the whole point of the Paris agreement is to give countries confidence that others are doing their fair share. But when the world's largest economy steps out of that framework, that confidence begins to erode.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: What impact did the United States pulling out practically have? I mean, what has been the tangible effect?

DIRINGER: Well, it may be too early actually to measure the tangible effect. The goals the country set for themselves are for 2025 and 2030. The real test will be over time. Well, one important thing to keep in mind is that this issue doesn't get addressed in isolation. There's a larger geopolitical context. Germany is a prime example. Angela Merkel has been a very strong leader on climate change, but she had to acknowledge recently that they are going to be way off meeting the 2020 target they set for themselves. Meantime, she is in a much politically weakened position by virtue of what's going on within Europe around immigration.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: If it has been so contingent on the political winds in particular countries, be it Germany or the United States, how is that a really viable mechanism to really address climate change, which is such a huge issue globally?

DIRINGER: Well, I think the Paris agreement stands as a remarkable diplomatic achievement, one of the greatest in the last half-century. There is no global agreement that is going to deliver the solution to this challenge. But in the end, it's up to people at home and their governments to really step up.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Elliot Diringer is the executive vice president of the nonpartisan Center for Climate and Energy Solutions. Thank you so much.

DIRINGER: You're very welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.