Sustainability: Paris Climate Talks

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The COP21 Paris Climate Talks between 195 nations seek to come up with a way to slow global warming. Sonja Klinsky, Arizona State University assistant professor in the School of Sustainability, attended the talks and will give us an update.

Ted Simons: Coming up next on "Arizona Horizon" -- we'll speak with a local research who attended the Paris climate talks. Also learn how to be better informed about the charities you're looking to support. And we'll check out a remarkable exhibit by artist Bruce Munro. That's next on "Arizona Horizon."

Video: "Arizona Horizon" is made possible by contributions from the friends of Arizona PBS, members of your PBS station. Thank you.

Ted Simons: Good evening. Welcome to "Arizona Horizon." I'm Ted Simons. Presidential candidate Donald Trump made a stop in Mesa introduced by Sheriff Joe Arpaio, then, spoke for more than an hour in front of cold but enthusiastic supporters at an airport hangar. It included promises to kick undocumented immigrants out of the country and force Mexico to build a massive wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. Trump added that he loves the Mexican people and, quote, they love me.

Ted Simons: Tonight's look at sustainability focuses on the reaction of one researcher on hand for the Paris conference. Sonja Klinsky is an assistant professor at ASU's school of sustainability and she is here to talk about the talks. Good to have you hear again, thanks for joining us.

Sonja Klinsky: My pleasure.

Ted Simons: What are your thoughts on the agreement overall?

Sonja Klinsky: I think it's about what we could get. The most important part of it is that it sets a process for the next -- actually indefinite future by which countries will continue to increase their levels of ambition. This agreement was all about creating a framework that will age well and age gracefully.

Ted Simons: Is that how it was different from Copenhagen in 2009? We talked about this in the past. That was not good.

Sonja Klinsky: The Copenhagen talks fell apart because they couldn't get agreement from all the countries. Since then the international negotiations have done a lot of soul-searching about how best to include everybody in this conversation. And what it would look like. So this is built on the Copenhagen agreement in many important ways. Copenhagen was a bottom-up agreement, hey, everyone put on the table what we can do and let's move forward from that. This builds on that but formalizes it so it says, yes, let's all put something on the table but that's not enough. Let's revisit it every once in a while to make sure we're on track. It has a very important - they're calling it a ratchet mechanism. Over time we'll continually make our commitments more intense. Copenhagen lacked that. This is a very important contribution.

Ted Simons: With that in mind and with that -- I'm sure that was on the plate there, what did you expect when you went there? What were you thinking you would find, the results would be, how did it differ from your expectations?

Sonja Klinsky: I largely expected we would end up with something in the realm of a bottom up agreement like we have. By a bottom-up agreement, I mean an agreement where it's driven by countries. There's no sort of U.N. body dictating the countries, you will do this, you will do this, you will do this. That's not what this agreement does. This agreement says every country in the world, this is a global problem. So every country has to do something. That's the most important thing. I was expecting that that would be part of the conversation and it was. The other thing is says is every country knows best what it can and cannot do. That is important part of the conversation. That was also part of this was every country being very clear about what it could and could not do. Those things I had expected and we did get.

Ted Simons: Is that what differentiation -- I have read reports differentiation seems to be a biggie at this conference. So what are they talking about here?
Sonja Klinsky: Differentiation is a huge issue in the climate negotiations and before they actually started. This is how big an issue it is. Differentiation is basically the conversation about how should very different countries contribute to a problem. Or the solution to a problem. Let's for instance say you're the United States and I'm South Africa. We are very different countries. We both have to contribute. So how are we going to find something that's fair when you have different resources and totally different needs? Under the Kyoto and Copenhagen agreements there were different attempts at differentiating companies and none had works. Differentiation was key because every country wants to feel this deal is fair to them. No country can take this deal home and expect its citizens to give it the okay if they don't feel it's fair. So differentiation is how do we create an agreement that respects the fact that every country is different and every country can offer something different? That's actually a very difficult thing to design legally.

Ted Simons: What about differentiation between two behemoths, the U.S. and China? It seems this time around what we didn't have last time was the U.S. and China in the same orbit. This time there seemed to be some agreement.

Sonja Klinsky: The U.S. and China have worked really hard the last couple of years to increase the conversation between the two countries and to get on the same page. This is -- climate is one of those things where people are talking about this year round. We only pay attention to it with these big conferences but these negotiations have been going on for several years. They have had a lot of time to check each other's ideas out. They were not the biggest problems. They were quite on board. The way this differentiates is it gives them different kinds of targets. The United States has very clear targets, an emission target, economy target which it will do. China has a peaking target, a date by which it says after this date we will not continue to increase the amount of emissions. We will peak then start to reduce emissions. That's important because China is still developing. So it needs space to grow but it also needs to recognize that it's not an infinite space to grow. That's what's important in this deal, recognizes that from the Chinese perspective.

Ted Simons: as far as this ratcheting idea who is going to make sure you're ratcheted the way you're supposed to? Is there such thing as compliance?

Sonja Klinsky: In this agreement there's not a compliance mechanism as we would expect to have one in domestic law. If this was a federal law you would expect a penalty or fine. That isn't the way this is set up to work because they know that that doesn't really work in the international space. We can't force a country to do something that it ultimately doesn't want to do. The way this will ratchet is it gives civil society, it gives domestic governments an opportunity to hold the feet to the fire if you will of that particular country. They are not allowed to submit a plan which is less ambitious in the future. If countries don't want to do it they are not going to do it. This deal is very pragmatic. It says we can't make countries do what countries don't want to do. What we can do, we can create kind of hooks if you will for domestic organizations, domestic governments to force progress towards.

Ted Simons: with that in mind sounds like critics say the whole thing falls short, it's not serious enough. Is that what they are talking about, not enough hooks? Knot enough compliance?

Sonja Klinsky: this comes down to how we think international governance should work. There's two big ways of thinking about this. We should have a global government that works kind of the same way as a domestic government, very clear rules and punishment and consequences. There's another way of saying it, sort of countries are different. We can't make countries do what they don't want to do so we have to make processes by which they are evaluated and there's a transparent process and they can shame each other, they can beg each other, harass each other, do whatever they need to do to get progress. Agreement falls in that model.

Ted Simons: the progress we have seen so far again the difference between this and Copenhagen in '09, there's tangible it would seem most folks around the world are getting tangible evidence that something is going on out there, the climate is changing and acute weather is becoming more acute. Oceans are rising. Little Islands are disappearing. ICE caps -- how much of a factor was it this time around as opposed to '09?

Sonja Klinsky: the feeling in the room is completely different. I was in Copenhagen, I was in Paris. These Paris talks were collegial. They really were every government saying we want to do something. We all have domestic limitations. What can we do that allows us to make action regardless of our domestic limitations? It's an incredibly constructive forward looking negotiation where the focus was we need to do something, we all have limits domestically, what can we do to sit down and hammer something out that allows us to get on with it already?

Ted Simons: As far as the United States was concerned this was based on an agreement signed by George Bush.

Sonja Klinsky: The original agreement goes back to 1992, the convention on which this is based on. That set the initial framework for all of these discussions. That has been accepted by the American government since 1992. It's not new.

Ted Simons: with that in mind, though, let's say the next president doesn't believe in global warming or think it's bad for business and doesn't want to pursue this, the deal is still in place. Congress can't override it. What can happen here as far as basically my question is what's next for America?

Sonja Klinsky: it does depend on the next year in terms of who ends up in the Oval Office. To some extent, any incoming president if they decided that climate change was not a major global issue would find themselves in such a minority position globally they would have very little traction in any other issue. It would erode their respectability or being taken seriously as a global leader. Every leader globally think this is a problem. If you were the one that didn't it would be hard to say you had a lot of credibility in other issues. Even countries which have been dragging their feet like Saudi Arabia, they were constructive, putting forth domestic plans. There's no country with the exception of Syria and North Korea who have other issues right now. That would be the company that the United States would keep if we decided it was not an issue.

Ted Simons: All right. Great information. Good to see you again. Thanks for joining us.

Sonja Klinsky: No problem.

Sonja Klinsky:Arizona State University assistant professor in the School of Sustainability

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