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Science & Environment

As Paris Summit Begins, What Would A Successful Climate Deal Look Like?


In the run-up to the Paris climate conference, our colleague Ari Shapiro has been speaking with leaders in the effort to come to an agreement, people like Jennifer Morgan. She is the global director of the Climate Program at the World Resources Institute.

ARI SHAPIRO, BYLINE: What do you see as the key ingredients that must be in the final deal in order to consider Paris a success?

JENNIFER MORGAN: I think there need to be three things. Number one are clear, long-term and short-term signals that countries are going to come back to the table regularly to increase their ambition until the job is done. Number two is transparency, verification, clarity that countries are going to fulfill those commitments or it will be quite clear that they're not. And number three is a support package for the poorest, most vulnerable countries of the world to be able to adapt to the impacts of climate change that are already happening.

SHAPIRO: What do you see as the key impediments, the things that could come up that would prevent the agreement from being as strong as you would like it to be?

MORGAN: I think there's two potential impediments. One is just that, I think we have about 85 percent of the countries of the world - maybe a little bit more - who get this, who see the risks, who see that the opportunities are there to shift but that those extra 15 percent or 10 percent, that their economies are based on fossil fuels, hold back those targets and those signals moving forward. And it's not possible to get agreement with them.

The second is just that the poorest countries and the most vulnerable countries don't feel that there's enough in this agreement that they're going to be able to, you know, develop, even to exist. And that gets to the financial package that's put forward, the technical support for countries to adapt to the impacts that are already happening.

SHAPIRO: Well, let's imagine that Paris produces a nearly perfect agreement. You give it an A-plus. What, then, is the greatest threat to it that could totally undermine the thing altogether?

MORGAN: Countries don't ratify or accept the agreement once it's done, and the momentum that's been built up - because Paris is the agreement, but it's also the moment. I mean, just think about all the different announcements and decisions that companies and cities and banks are making - but that that all fizzles away. And so I think what happens the day after Paris, what happens in January 2016 is really almost as important as getting that A-plus.

SHAPIRO: I know that everybody talking about Paris wants achievable goals. They want to feel like the destination is within reach. What's the long-term goal?

MORGAN: We need to get global emissions - so the way we use energy - down to zero by the middle of the century.

SHAPIRO: By the middle of the century, like, in 35 years.

MORGAN: In 35 years, we need to be at zero for our carbon dioxide emissions and by about 2070, for all the greenhouse gas emissions in order to avoid just really catastrophic impacts.

SHAPIRO: Well, that just sounds impossible.

MORGAN: Yeah. It's interesting. It is possible. The scientific technical studies show it's possible. It's really about the politics.

SHAPIRO: We're talking about cars, airplanes, home heating, moving things all over the world, basically everything that humans do - no emissions within 35 years.

MORGAN: Yeah, well, 35 years, mid-century. The question of the timing is, how expensive do you want the transition to be? The earlier we start this transition, the less expensive it will be not only because you'll avoid the costs of the impacts, but because then you could have an orderly transition. You can reduce emissions, oh, 2, 3 percent a year, which is what we're, you know, doing right now, instead of 6 or 7 percent a year if we wait. And this is the critical decade that those types of reductions need to happen now. The atmosphere isn't going to wait. I mean, it's not as if it's negotiable with the atmosphere.

MCEVERS: That was Jennifer Morgan with the World Resource Institute talking with our colleague Ari Shapiro. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.