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Trump's Plan To Ditch Clean Power Plan Threatens Paris Agreement

Mar 27, 2017
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KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

During his presidency, Barack Obama put in place a sweeping plan to curb the United States' contribution to global warming. Tomorrow, President Trump will sign an executive order to start rolling back that plan, and that will have an effect all over the world. To talk about this, we are joined by NPR's Christopher Joyce. Welcome.

CHRISTOPHER JOYCE, BYLINE: Hi, how you doing?

MCEVERS: Good. So a big part of what Trump is expected to get rid of tomorrow is Obama's Clean Power Plan. Explain what that is.

JOYCE: Right. The Clean Power Plan is a set of regulations proposed a couple of years ago, quite ambitious plans to get power plants, electric power plants, over the next few decades to use less coal - less polluting coal, because coal is the largest contributor to greenhouse gases - use more natural gas, use more renewable energy like wind and solar. However, people should note that the CPP is more than just this domestic plan. It's the linchpin in a much bigger promise. President Obama made a promise in Paris in 2015 to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide. This is the main cause of global warming. A hundred ninety-four countries agreed. They all made pledges.

MCEVERS: Right.

JOYCE: President Obama made a pledge, a particularly ambitious pledge. And that pledge from President Obama relied on the Clean Power Plan to keep its numbers where they should be. And so without the Clean Power Plan it's very unlikely that the U.S. is going to live up to its pledge.

MCEVERS: So how will that go down with the rest of the world?

JOYCE: There are a couple of ways to look at it. I mean, you can look at the straightforward emissions. The Paris agreement was based on a goal of keeping the planet from not warming more than 2 degrees centigrade above what it was before the Industrial Revolution.

MCEVERS: Right.

JOYCE: That's a tough goal already. Now, OK, the U.S. is the second largest emitter of greenhouse gases. If the U.S. doesn't meet its goals it's unlikely that the world's going to stay below that 2-degree target. But then there's also the leadership factor. Paris happened because the U.S. and China got together and said, look, you know, we're the big players here. We're going to do this. You're with us or you're not with us. And everybody said, OK, we're with you. So you have to wonder, developing countries - are they going to want to cut emissions if the U.S. is not playing ball?

MCEVERS: Yeah, I mean, that is the question. Without that leadership and without meeting that goal of not letting temperatures rise to the certain point, could some say the Paris agreement then is dead?

JOYCE: I wouldn't go that far. I mean, it's hard to predict. Other governments have been anticipating this - this move.

MCEVERS: Yeah.

JOYCE: And, you know, some have said they'll continue with their own pledges. I mean, after all, the rest of the world does believe in climate change and does believe that there's a threat. So they may well forge ahead. In fact, China could decide, hey, this is our chance to be the leader rather than the U.S. and they could become the model for action. On the other hand, I wouldn't be surprised if some countries said, well, maybe we'll lay back a bit on these pledges.

MCEVERS: Quickly, what could happen to the Earth's climate because of all of this?

JOYCE: Well, you know, I don't think I'm being overly optimistic, but a lot is happening already even without an international treaty. I mean, renewable energy and natural gas are taking ahold and pushing out coal not only in the U.S. but worldwide. I mean, emissions in the U.S. are already way down below what they were in 2005. So, you know, the people I talked to, they say, look, the energy economy is changing. It will take generations to change. We're watching it change. And it will be going on long after this administration is gone.

MCEVERS: NPR's Christopher Joyce. Thanks so much.

JOYCE: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.