© 2023 WFAE
90.7 Charlotte 93.7 Southern Pines 90.3 Hickory 106.1 Laurinburg
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

What To Expect From The U.N. Climate Action Summit


Now to the United Nations climate summit. World leaders gather in New York City tomorrow for this amid a stark reality. The Earth is getting steadily warmer, and greenhouse gas emissions are still rising. What's more - promises countries have already made to limit those emissions are not enough. U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said as much last year when he announced the summit.


ANTONIO GUTERRES: We need to rapidly shift away from our dependence on fossil fuels. We need to replace them with clean energy from water, wind and sun. We must halt deforestation, restore degraded forests and change the way we farm.

MARTIN: To tell us more about this summit, we're joined now by NPR science reporter Rebecca Hersher. Becky, thanks for joining us.


MARTIN: So what's the goal of this summit?

HERSHER: Well, basically, they're trying to push leaders. U.N. leaders are trying to push world leaders to make better promises to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. And that's because next year, in 2020, that's the first deadline to make more ambitious promises.

MARTIN: Do we expect countries to make those bigger promises?

HERSHER: It really depends on the country. So some of the good ones - France, some other European leaders, India, some small island nations. They are on track to probably signal that they intend to make these bigger promises, and some of that is political. It may be easier for some places to do that than others.

China is an interesting one. China is the biggest emitter in the world. They've set quite conservative targets. And that means that they're on track to meet them. And they may be able to make a bigger promise going forward.

Now, the not-so-good ones? Brazil? Not going to make bigger promises. Russia? Not on track. The U.S. is not. Trump has threatened to pull out of the Paris climate agreement. The U.S. is not on track to meet its previous promises, let alone to make bigger ones.

MARTIN: What is the U.S. role in this summit?

HERSHER: Well, the U.S. delegation - it's no longer much of a leader, you know? The U.S. was a leader in Paris. But this administration is moving to allow more emissions from power plants, from cars, from oil fields. But - this is the big but - Americans still have a role. So hundreds of cities, dozens of states, tons and tons of American companies have all said that they want to reduce their emissions. So there's only so much they can do without the federal government, but that does have an impact on the global stage.

MARTIN: And what about the scientific community? Is there - what's the role of climate science at tomorrow's summit?

HERSHER: It's absolutely crucial. It's the foundation of what's going on. So the U.N. put out another report today summing up the current science. And the idea behind these reports is just to help national leaders make good policy, understand what's at stake, set good goals, make good promises. So there was a big report last year, saying that humans have to cut greenhouse gas emissions by half by 2030. That's what leaders are looking to as they meet tomorrow.

And the scientific community is good at telling leaders what's happening now because, you know, climate change is already underway. Sea levels are rising. Droughts and heat waves and cold snaps are all getting longer and more intense. Extreme rain is getting more likely, like what we're seeing in Texas. And storms are getting more frequent and severe. So those are all the things that will keep getting worse if the Earth continues to warm and all the things that are top of mind this week.

MARTIN: That is NPR science reporter Rebecca Hersher. Becky, thanks so much for talking with us.

HERSHER: Thanks. 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.