Return to Transcripts main page


U.N. Climate Chief Discusses COP 21 Talks; Least Developed Countries Want 1.5 Degree Target; World Leaders Push for Climate Change Deal; Imagine a World. Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired December 1, 2015 - 14:00   ET




CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN HOST (voice-over): Tonight: from Paris, the U.N. climate chief tells me that world leaders meeting here have finally

realized that battling climate change makes good economic sense.


CHRISTIANA FIGUERES, U.N. CLIMATE CHIEF: Frankly, none of them are doing it to save the planet. Let us be very clear. They're doing it for what I

think is a much more powerful political driving force, which is for the benefit of their own economy.


AMANPOUR: Also ahead, imagine your country wiped off the map.

Where would you go?

The Marshall Islanders, turning into climate refugees.


AMANPOUR: Good evening, everyone and welcome to the program. I'm Christiane Amanpour, live in Paris.

The opening speeches are done and the hard work begins. Negotiators from nearly 200 countries have less than two weeks to achieve a difficult but

urgent task: agree on a plan to significantly lower global carbon emissions and slow climate change.

President Barack Obama, his country the second biggest polluter, admitted that pledges so far won't actually hit the mark. But success, he says,

could come even quicker down the line.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: If you add up all the pledges and they were all met right now, we would be at a estimated 2.7

centigrade increase in temperature. That's too high.

We want to get it to 2 centigrade or even lower than that. But if we have these periodic reviews built in, what I believe will happen is that by

sending that signal to researchers and scientists and investors and entrepreneurs and venture funds, we'll actually start hitting these targets

faster than we expected.


AMANPOUR: We'll drill down on what all that means a little later but a deal here would be historic, as it commits both wealthy and poor countries

to cut back their emissions.

But there's a major challenge, of course, enough money to convince developing countries to switch to clean energy. I've been speaking to the

official with perhaps the toughest job of all, the U.N. climate chief, Christiana Figueres, who told me that, for the first time, there is good

political will and now that needs to be channeled into a legally binding good agreement.


AMANPOUR: Christiana Figueres, welcome back to our program.

FIGUERES: Thank you very much, Christiane.

AMANPOUR: Now this must be the culmination of your life's work.

What makes you most optimistic and most pessimistic or fearful about COP 21?

FIGUERES: It is definitely the culmination of at least five years' work because we have been building toward regaining what I call the good global

mood on climate change, ever since Copenhagen.

And this is definitely with 150 states yesterday here, I think we can say, A, climate change is on the political agenda and there is an

extraordinarily good mood, so that's the good news.

The good news is that the context, the larger context is very positive. We have good political will. We have chefs in technology as well as in

capital markets that are already shifting. All of that is very good.

The concern then is how do we actually land this into the detailed work that needs to occur -- and that starts today -- of a legally binding text.

AMANPOUR: All right. Well, we'll wait to see how that does turn out. Obviously, one of the good pieces of news is that two-thirds of the

American people, according to the latest poll, support the idea of a climate treaty, of action on climate change.

But can I ask you, because you were very excited when we last talked, about the fact that China and the United States seem to be working together now,

the two biggest polluters in the world.

However, China has been emitting 17 percent more carbon than it admitted or even knew.

FIGUERES: Well, that remains to be seen if that is actually the fact. What we -- what we do know is that there is extraordinary commitment on the

part of Chinese leadership to bring their emissions down, to reduce their consumption on coal.

Yes, of course they have huge coal consumption now. That is their baseline and that from there --


FIGUERES: -- working away from that and down from that.

But the important thing I think, Christiane, is why are they doing it and why are 183 countries, from whom we already have national climate change

plans, why are they doing this?

Frankly, none of them are doing it to save the planet, let us be very clear. They're doing it for what I think is a much more powerful political

driving force, which is for the benefit of their own economy. And I think that is really the story here.

They have understood that this is actually in their own interests. There is nothing more powerful than you, me or any country working in their own

interests. And that is what we have here, which is fundamentally different from where we were three or four years ago.

AMANPOUR: There does seem to be a huge amount of difference. But apparently one of the biggest obstacles will be from those countries who

don't see it in their national interest. For instance, this coalition that's gathering the lesser developed countries led by India.

They say, hey, guys, sorry, you had your industrial revolution, you've done really well. It's our turn.

Why should we pay for your mistakes?

We didn't pollute the world.

FIGUERES: Well, there is -- but that is a very legitimate reason. That is a very legitimate argument.


AMANPOUR: So what happens if they don't stop -- if it's a legitimate argument, what happens if they don't stop burning fossil fuels or cap it at

some reasonable level?

FIGUERES: Well, but this is not a black-white situation. I think you have to make room for historical responsibility that is not ideology, it's just

a physical fact. So let us not begin to pretend like there's no historical responsibility.

Absolutely historical responsibility. And -- not but, and -- we also have to look into the future and we also have to figure out because of that

historical responsibility, how industrialized countries are going to help developing countries, who must make this transition under inordinate

pressures from something else.

So I don't think that these two things actually are mutually exclusive but rather let us make sure that we understand responsibility and let us at the

same time move forward in solidarity because it is in all of our shared interests.

AMANPOUR: Given the fact that the turn of this century, according to reports, saw even more intensive carbon use in terms of global energy, not

less but more carbon emission, more carbon use in terms of global energy, in terms of the fact that sometimes all the political leaders may not get

together, how important is what people like Bill Gates and his fellow entrepreneurs and philanthropists, how important is the focus on spending

money on R&D, innovation, to actually figure out a cheaper, better, cleaner energy?

FIGUERES: Well, the fact is that we do know that we have much of the technology that we may need but we have to make sure that it actually is


So yesterday's initiative of putting 20 billion new dollars into R&D to fast forward technology is critical. So is Prime Minister Modi from India,

his initiative of an international solar alliance to support all those countries between the Cancer and Capricorn that are actually -- have

incredible insulation.

We are -- we, because I also live there and am originally from that area -- we have the most privileged sun and yet we have not been able to take

advantage of that.

AMANPOUR: And to store it.

FIGUERES: To store it, to use it, to take it really to the level of grid comparison because that is where really the rubber hits the road.

It's -- on the one hand, it's about taking solar energy and being able to use the fact that solar energy is very, very simple to disseminate quickly

into isolated homes. That is a strength which you can't do with coal and huge transmission lines.

But we also have to work on the other side of solar and of the other renewable energies and that's why those $20 billion and the solar alliance

is very important. We have to be able to create volumes and the scale of solar and wind and of hydro that will then take us to the kind of grid

parity that we need.

AMANPOUR: At the end of these two weeks, what will make Christiana Figueres really happy?

FIGUERES: What will make me very happy is we have a legally binding agreement that brings all countries on board, leaves no country behind,

protects the most vulnerable and accelerates all the benefits that acting on climate change can actually bring to everyone.

AMANPOUR: Thank you very much.

FIGUERES: Thank you.


AMANPOUR: And while this particular woman is a force of nature, leading the charge for a global climate agreement, we remember the woman who did

the same for the Civil Rights Movement.


AMANPOUR (voice-over): Sixty years ago today, Rosa Parks stood up for her rights by sitting down and refusing to give up her seat to a white man,

resisting --


AMANPOUR (voice-over): -- racial segregation and launching the Montgomery bus boycott which ended up changing America forever.


AMANPOUR: After a break, behind the scenes at the Paris climate conference with former Australian prime minister Kevin Rudd on how deals are made.

That's when we come back.





POPE FRANCIS (through translator): At a university meeting where it was discussed what world we want to leave our children, one said, "Well, are

you sure children will exist?"

We are on the brink, we are on the brink of a suicide, to use a strong word, and I'm sure that most of those at the COP have this conscience and

want to do something.


AMANPOUR: The pope throwing his moral weight yet again behind the urgency of what's happening at the summit.

Welcome back to the program. Two degrees: you heard President Obama talk about it and that is the magic number here in Paris, the limit nearly 200

countries aim to place on global warming.

At the negotiating table is Giza Gaspar-Martins, who's chair of the Least Developed Countries group, representing 48 of the world's poorest nations,

including his own Angola. Now these low-income countries are on the front line of human-induced climate change. And they say they want an even more

ambitious temperature target to help safeguard their populations and their livelihoods.


GIZA GASPAR-MARTINS, CHAIR, LEAST DEVELOPED COUNTRIES GROUP: We like the fact that there is, I think, an unequivocal recognition that time has come

to deal with climate change, that --


AMANPOUR: So you believe that as well, despite the fact that you're going to be asked to cut back carbon emissions?

GASPAR-MARTINS: What we are happy about is that I think we have finally moved to a place wherein there is unanimous consent that climate change is


AMANPOUR: So that's a big plus.

GASPAR-MARTINS: It is wonderful, much better than where we were in the past -- and that we have a very small window in order to tackle climate

change in a way that is meaningful.


GASPAR-MARTINS: But there are also a lot of things that we don't like.

AMANPOUR: Such as?

GASPAR-MARTINS: We recognize that dealing with climate change involves making sacrifices on the part of us all. And we have sensed, in many ways,

in some cases a reluctance to engage in a conversation about these sacrifices.

AMANPOUR: What does that mean in terms of your countries that you represent?

What are the intolerable sacrifices that I think you're trying to telegraph?

GASPAR-MARTINS: Well, one area of concern that we have in the negotiations is, of course, firstly setting an appropriate direction of travel. So

setting an appropriate and ambitious enough goal for climate action. And to us overseas, that is limiting global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees.

AMANPOUR: So you're even lower than the 2 degrees.

GASPAR-MARTINS: It is what the science tells us will keep most of us safe. A 2-degree world on average means that, in some places in Africa, we'll be

3 and 4 degrees, which is touching on the limits of human capacity to adapt.

AMANPOUR: Not to mention rising seas and the --


AMANPOUR: -- disappearance of some lands.

GASPAR-MARTINS: Absolutely. And so not just loss of land due to sea level rise but also loss of parable land, which then has an impact on full

security and so on. So, to us, it is important that, whatever deal we end up agreeing with, recognizes that human life is not negotiable.


AMANPOUR: So let's talk about all of this now with the former Australian prime minister, Kevin Rudd, who joins me here. He was at the last major

summit in Copenhagen and now he's president of the Asia Society, the policy institute which spearheads climate projects in China and India.

And you've been active in the summit and behind the scenes.

So tell us a little bit, are all these speeches, is all this good political will, is all the optimism justified?

What's happening behind the scenes?

KEVIN RUDD, FORMER AUSTRALIAN PRIME MINISTER: Well, you have this great set of political speeches and then you have the unfolding bloodbath in

negotiations. That's what it was like in Copenhagen. It will be a bit like what it is here but --

AMANPOUR: Don't say that. Nobody wants this to be like Copenhagen; that was a fiasco.

RUDD: -- I'm about to go on -- but as Christiana Figueres said just before, the bottom line is this: there is just a radically different mood.

In some respects, people have learned from Copenhagen.

Copenhagen gave us some very good building blocks, 2 degrees centigrade, measurement reporting and verification, action by both developed and

developing countries.

But the mood now is vastly different to Copenhagen. One of the reasons for the change is China.

AMANPOUR: Well, you have written that China, India, the United States, this whole thing, the fate of the planet depends on those three major


Are we going to get there with them?

RUDD: I think with China and India, it's really -- as far as with China and the United States, it's fairly clear we will. And the three of them

represent now about 40 percent of total emissions.

But if you look at what India's trajectory is, it's going to be about 50 before too much longer. So India is a key question. And the Indians have

a fair point. They say we're about 30 years behind the Chinese industrial curve; we're about to go into our big carbon intensive industrial phase.

So the rest of us have actually rather than criticize the Indians have to support India through a transition process on technology and investment.

AMANPOUR: So what will that look like, because it does sound dreadful to think that they're about to go into the kind of emissions that the United

States and China did at dreadful cost to the planet.

President Obama said that right now the targets add up to 2.7 degrees. That's way higher. But he put a lot of faith and so did Christiana

Figueres into the billions of dollars going into innovation and also something you've been writing about, these periodic reviews. Tell me what

that means practically.

RUDD: It means that if the math doesn't add up now in terms of the total aggregation of national commitments by all the economies represented here

in Paris to the amount necessary to keep temperature increases within 2 degrees, we now have a mechanism with a review in five years' time to see

is the math setting up; if it's not, to go back and ask for higher commitments or greater compliance with existing commitments.

If you didn't have that, then I fear this would be a hollow document.

And the president also said that new technology could actually speed up the targets. One might get to the 2 degrees even faster than one imagined.

RUDD: I think that's true. There's a lot of fear around the changes necessary to give effect to real climate change action. But the bottom

line here is technology is evolving. Solar technology is evolving rapidly. We still need the moon shot on solar energy storage.

But if we cross some of those thresholds in frankly what seems to be impossible and difficult now then becomes more possible in the future. The

key is, as Christiana Figueres said before, is to have a legally binding framework which locks people in to the way in which we handle this and then

the national commitments to give it effect.

AMANPOUR: And I know they're trying to finesse the U.S. side of that because of the congressional obstruction but they still think they'll get

something binding in some way.


RUDD: I have one point on that, just on the legal stuff in the United States and I think we all know what our friends in the United States

Congress can be like when it comes to treaties.

But this agreement, this Paris agreement, does occur within the framework of the United Nations framework convention on climate change, which is a


And guess who negotiated it from the U.S.?

George Bush Sr. He negotiated it, signed it and ratified it. So that's the parent treaty here.

This is an agreement within that treaty. And I think, therefore, when you look at it and it represents the machinery of how this international

agreement will work on delivering climate change action, I don't think people in the U.S. should get too hot and sweaty about its treaty status.

AMANPOUR: You have just explained why --


AMANPOUR: -- they will potentially get the U.S. to sign onto something legally binding under this framework that you mentioned. But you're a

politician. Christiana Figueres says that world leaders have come to the political understanding that this is actually good for them. It's good for

their economies.


RUDD: Well, Christiana was talking about enlightened self-interest and that is it's good for the planet and good locally. I think why it's good

locally, if you're sitting in Beijing in the polypore today, what's good about this?

Number one, you've got to deal with the reality of air pollution. You saw the footage today from Beijing. And carbon emissions affect not just

climate change long-term but air pollution now.

So bringing down levels of carbon pollution affects people's physical lives now.

But the second is this, by bringing about this legally binding framework, what we're also doing is make it possible for renewable energies to

suddenly become more financially feasible, more technically doable and more applied in people's lifestyles and their consumption of energy.

AMANPOUR: Kevin Rudd, thank you very much indeed.

RUDD: Fingers crossed.

AMANPOUR: Fingers crossed, blood on the floor.


AMANPOUR: And as talks continue in the City of Light, it is going to be hard to ignore the whale in the room or rather the whale on the banks of

the River Seine, where a 33.6-meter model of the biggest whale ever seen is right now being constructed, a bittersweet reminder of the Earth's rapidly

shrinking biodiversity as 95 percent of all blue whales have now vanished from our oceans.

After a break, imagine an entire world vanishing into the ocean, those islands whose very existence depend on getting a climate agreement here in

Paris. We'll have that next.





BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'm an island boy. I grew up on an island and understand both the beauty but also the fragility of

island ecosystems.


AMANPOUR: President Obama, citing his childhood spent in Hawaii and Indonesia, meeting today with Pacific Island nations that face the total

disappearance of their own island home.

So tonight we imagine the plight of those floating just above the surface; the Marshall Islanders could join a flood of climate refugees, as our John

Sutter found out.



JOHN SUTTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This is the Marshall Islands, a country way out in the Pacific. It's already super tiny and it's about

to get smaller.

Why is that?

The country is sinking -- or the ocean is rising, depending on how you look at it. Way out here, there's no room --


SUTTER (voice-over): -- for debate. Climate change is real and people see it happening now.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (voice-over): We were in the house when the water came in.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (voice-over): When I looked out the window, wow. I was still scared. I was just looking for my children to get out.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (voice-over): There was water on the bed that I sleep on. It was kind of like a dream but it was real.

SUTTER (voice-over): On my visit to the Marshall Islands, everybody had a story to tell about rising seas, disappearing beaches and frequent

flooding. The islands just barely peek out above sea level.

If seas rise even just a meter or two, scientists say this country will vanish.

How do you process that information?

And where would you go if climate change wiped your country off the map?

If you're Marshallese, there's a surprising answer: Arkansas, Springdale, to be exact.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Northwest Arkansas has the largest number of Marshallese in the continental United States.

SUTTER (voice-over): Since the 1980s, the Marshallese have been coming to Springdale in search of jobs and education. The consulate tells me 10,000

Marshallese already live in this area. There's so many Marshallese here, there's actually a government consulate.

And with climate change, more people are probably on the way.

CARMEN CHONG GUM, CONSUL GENERAL, NORTHWEST ARKANSAS: A person call me and said, Carmen, have you thought about climate change refugees?

MARK RIKLON, ARKANSAS RESIDENT: They would have to come here to live here, because global warming keeps making the floods worse. In the long run, the

Marshall Islands will disappear.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (voice-over): If our country sinks, so much of our culture will go as well. There's no coconut trees, there's no bread for

(INAUDIBLE), no redfish. We're beginning to lose our culture with where we are.

SUTTER (voice-over): For now moving to Springdale is a choice for most Marshallese. But within our lifetimes, flooding associated with climate

change could start forcing people out.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (voice-over): The impact will be that we will probably have a population explosion.

SUTTER (voice-over): In other words, Springdale, Arkansas, could become the new Marshall Islands.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (voice-over): You know, thinking about my father, whose body is there (INAUDIBLE) and all the loved ones, you know, they pass

away but their bodies are there. If the islands sink, that is like losing them forever.


AMANPOUR: The very high stakes in very human terms.

And that is it for our program tonight from Paris. Remember, you can now also listen to our show as a podcast. Just search your favorite app store

or you can always see all our interviews online at and follow me on Facebook and Twitter. Thank you for watching and goodbye from Paris.