© 2023 Hawaiʻi Public Radio
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

U.N. Climate Change Summit Enters Crucial Final Week


Even before he ran for president, Donald Trump had a common phrase. Again and again, he would say, the world is laughing at us. At a global meeting on climate change this week, people did. Nations are following up on the Paris climate accord, the deal the president plans to depart. The U.S. showed up for the meeting. And here's what happened when presidential adviser Wells Griffith spoke up for coal and natural gas.


WELLS GRIFFITH: And fossil fuels will continue to play a leading role...


GRIFFITH: ...In energy access.

INSKEEP: NPR's Rebecca Hersher is covering the conference in Poland. Hi there, Rebecca.


INSKEEP: So what is the U.S. role at this conference where they're so skeptical of the whole idea?

HERSHER: Well, it's twofold. On one hand, as you noted, the Trump administration doesn't really acknowledge basic climate science. So that is affecting the negotiations here. So the U.S. refused to endorse this major U.N. climate science report. The other countries that are taking that stand are Russia, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, which are not exactly climate leaders. But on the other hand, there are American State Department bureaucrats here. These are career folks who have been working on climate negotiations for years and years. And they are actually working in good faith with other countries this week. They're trying to make the Paris agreement into a functional thing.

INSKEEP: OK. So what is that broader goal then?

HERSHER: Well, Paris in 2015 was all about promises - promises to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Every country made a promise. This summit is about the nuts and bolts of how to get there. So we're talking about rules for really basic stuff. How do you measure your greenhouse gas emissions? Do you believe other countries when they tell you their greenhouse gas emissions? And this is the second week. It's the final week. A lot of high-level ministers have started to show up here. And we're really just roaring toward the final rulebook deadline, which is this Friday.

INSKEEP: Rebecca, when you were getting ready to travel to this climate conference, you noted that it was in Poland's coal country, which sounds a little ironic. But what's it like to have a climate conference in a place like that?

HERSHER: Well, yeah. It's either ironic or extremely apt - and this is. This is the Polish equivalent of West Virginia or Wyoming. Coal is around. I am looking out the window at a coal museum in an old mine shaft. There is smog in the air. It burns your throat. It burns your eyes.


HERSHER: Three state-owned coal companies did help sponsor this conference. And the president of Poland has said that coal is a big part of his country's energy in the coming years.

INSKEEP: Did you just say...


INSKEEP: ...State-owned coal companies helped to sponsor the conference? That is an interesting...

HERSHER: They did.

INSKEEP: ...Choice.

HERSHER: It is. It is. It's very Poland. Now, that said - and here's where it gets strange. Poland is part of the Paris agreement. They promised a 40 percent reduction in European emissions by 2030. They signed on. That's their promise. So how do you reconcile these things? That's why we're here. That's what the rulebook is all about. It tells countries how to achieve their goals even when that's really hard.

INSKEEP: Oh, so it's needed for places like this. Well, now, when you turn your eyes from the coal museum into the conference itself, what do you see? What's it like there?

HERSHER: This is such a strange place. It's held in an arena. And there are basically two things going on right next to each other that are really different. So on one hand, you have officials charged with coming up with this multilateral U.N. document. It's all very serious. And on the other hand, you have, basically, a climate trade show - tons of businesses - Ikea, Unilever, Mars candy. There was an announcement last week from the biggest shipping company about going carbon neutral. And you have people here talking about everything from forestry to vegetarianism, so it's a bit of a zoo. But everyone is focused on what the countries will decide.

INSKEEP: (Laughter) I hope you come away with some good climate-related carbon neutral swag or merch or whatever.

HERSHER: (Laughter) That would be awesome.

INSKEEP: Rebecca, thanks so much.

HERSHER: Thank you.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Rebecca Hersher in Poland. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Rebecca Hersher (she/her) is a reporter on NPR's Science Desk, where she reports on outbreaks, natural disasters, and environmental and health research. Since coming to NPR in 2011, she has covered the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, embedded with the Afghan army after the American combat mission ended, and reported on floods and hurricanes in the U.S. She's also reported on research about puppies. Before her work on the Science Desk, she was a producer for NPR's Weekend All Things Considered in Los Angeles.
More from Hawai‘i Public Radio