What does the landmark climate change accord mean for the U.S.?



Senior Fellow for Energy and the Environment at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York Michael Levi joins Hari Sreenivasan to discuss the climate change summit deal reached in Paris.

HARI SREENIVASAN, PBS NEWSHOUR WEEKEND ANCHOR: Earlier this evening from the White House, President Obama said the deal is a turning point that provides the architecture to save planet from the worst consequences of climate change.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: No nation, not even one as powerful as ours, can solve this challenge alone. And no country, no matter how small, can sit on the sidelines. Even if all of initial targets set in Paris are met, we’ll only be part of the way there when it comes to reducing carbon from the atmosphere. So, we cannot be complacent.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Joining me now from Paris to discuss the deal is “Wall Street Journal” reporter Matt Dalton.

So, the overall picture, the people you talked to today after the gavel went down, how are they feeling about this deal?

MATT DALTON, THE WALL STREET JOURNAL: They’re feeling really good. Scientists, environmental groups, government officials, they’re all pleasantly surprised about how ambitious the agreement turned out to be. There was really not much watering down at the end of the negotiations. In fact, in some ways, the agreement might have gotten more rigorous.

So, everybody is really pleased.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Last week, when we spoke, we said one of the major hurdles was the payment scheme. What are the rich countries, the developed countries responsible for? What are the developing countries like India and China responsible for? And you said at the time there was lots of brackets, things to be determined. What happened with that?

MATT DALTON: Well, this is one area where there — I think there was a little bit of watering down. The developed countries have avoided any kind of legal requirement to pay this money to developing countries. And that was something that was a red line for the U.S. in particular because they don’t want to have to bring this agreement to be ratified by the U.S. Senate, where Republicans would almost certainly block it.

So, any kind of legal obligation that would involve a congressional appropriation to fund these kinds of schemes was pushed aside, largely at the request of the U.S. and a few other developed countries.

The developing countries escaped any kind of requirement to fund any of the poorest nations on their own. There was some talk — the developed countries really want this, to have a country like China, which is a wealthy, relatively wealthy developing nation, provide money as a legal requirement under this agreement. And that was — that was pushed aside, as well.

HARI SREENIVASAN: You know, there are some squishy areas here when you look through the 31 pages. I mean, it says they want to reach a carbon peak as soon as possible, not any specific date. And then there are other clauses that say some time in the second half of the century. Again, no specific dates.

MATT DALTON: That’s a product of what could be considered the fundamental weakness of this agreement, which is that the actual emissions reductions are not prescribed by the treaty or the agreement itself. The emissions reductions are set voluntarily by individual governments, according to their own preferences.

So, this is a problem. It means that it’s difficult to kind of prescribe a specific time when emissions might peak, when the economy would become decarbonized. So, it’s largely a result, to some extent, anyway, a result of the problems the U.S. has getting these agreements through Congress, because any kind of internationally agreed emissions reduction plan would most certainly have to be approved by the U.S. Senate, where it would be defeated.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Right. It also seems there was tension between the supply side and the demand side, where the treaty seems to talk a lot about our consumption, there seems to be a big counterforce by fossil fuel-producing nations.

MATT DALTON: The fossil fuel producers, such as Saudi Arabia, were one of the big opponents of something called decarbonization, which is having a specific mention that the economy will be basically fossil fuel-free by the end of the century. Obviously, a country like Saudi Arabia, which is one of the world’s largest oil producers, is going to be weary about signings on to something like this.

But Saudi Arabia did sign on to this agreement, which will certainly lower the world’s consumption of oil beyond what it would have been.

HARI SREENIVASAN: All right. Matt Dalton of “The Wall Street Journal,” joining us from the Paris climate talks — thanks so much.

MATT DALTON: Thank you.

Negotiators from nearly every country in the world unanimously agreed to a landmark agreement Saturday to combat climate change, pledging to reduce their emissions from burning fossil fuels. It’s the first-ever climate pact to commit all countries to take action. To discuss the details of the deal, Wall Street Journal reporter Matt Dalton joins Hari Sreenivasan from Paris.