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Climate Action Summit To Address Global Carbon Emissions


The United Nations hosts a climate action summit Monday in New York. It will coincide with the U.N. General Assembly, following marches around the world this weekend to protest inaction in the face of global warming. Christiana Figueres is in New York for next week's summit. She participated in Friday's march there and she led negotiations for the U.N. during the Paris Climate Change Conference in 2015. Thanks so much for being with us.

CHRISTIANA FIGUERES: Wonderful to be with you today.

SIMON: As I don't have to tell you, because you helped negotiate the Paris Agreement, the United States pulled out more than a couple of years ago.

FIGUERES: Well, actually, the United States can legally not pull out until November of next year. We, of course, certainly expect them to do so.

SIMON: Be that as it may, what can be accomplished - how much does U.S. withdrawal hurt?

FIGUERES: Well, you know, the fact is that what you call a U.S. withdrawal I call a national government withdrawal. I call it a White House withdrawal. It does not represent 100% of the U.S. economy. Sixty percent of the U.S. economy represented by many corporations, by many states and certainly by many financial institutions continue to decarbonize because they understand it is for their own good. It is for the strength of their economy and for commercial profitability in the case of corporations. The fact is that if the United States, as a central government, wants to leave the climate agreement and not continue the policies and the incentives for decarbonization, they're shooting themselves in the foot because other countries such as China, certainly, and perhaps even India are taking advantage of that vacuum and moving in.

SIMON: They sense a market opportunity?

FIGUERES: Indeed, it's a huge market opportunity.

SIMON: You're from Costa Rica, which has been named U.N. champion of the earth.


SIMON: Costa Rica says its goal is to achieve net zero emissions by 2050. Now, not every country in the world can be like Costa Rica, but what do you think the world can learn from your country?

FIGUERES: Costa Rica has never had domestic fossil fuels so from the start we invested very heavily into renewable energy for electricity. However, we still import fossil fuels for transportation, that is the challenge of Costa Rica. In fact, I would say it is a shared challenge of all countries. It is going to be quite a struggle to move transportation over to renewables. The first subset of that, that is moving quite quickly now, is electrification of light vehicles.

SIMON: Do electric vehicles create their own environmental problems if they begin to be used on a mass scale? Because you do have to produce more electricity, don't you?

FIGUERES: Yes, but I will remind you that the energy that comes from the sun is limitless, so is the energy that comes from the wind. Once we move over to renewable energy we are no longer concerned about the level of electricity that is needed on any grid.

SIMON: But so those two developments would have to go hand-in-hand?


SIMON: What do the huge turnouts on Friday mean, ultimately?

FIGUERES: The huge turnout on this Friday - and I will remind you that we are expecting another huge turnout next Friday. And what they mean is that there is a huge swath of the population - many young people, but also many adults - who have realized that we have been making some efforts but it's simply not enough. So they are bringing their outrage to the streets to say do not compromise our future and they are absolutely right.

SIMON: Christiana Figueres who helped negotiate the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement. She has a new book coming out next year, "The Future We Choose." Thanks so much for being with us.

FIGUERES: Thank you very much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.