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U.N. Climate Chief Discusses COP 21 Talks; World Leaders Meet to Fight Climate Change; Imagine a World. Aired 2-2:30p ET
Aired December 29, 2015 - 14:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN HOST (voice-over): Good evening, everyone, and welcome to the program. I'm Christiane Amanpour in London with a special
edition of the program that's looking back at some of the year's big stories. And frankly, it doesn't get much bigger than our planet and
saving it for future generations.
AMANPOUR (voice-over): After two weeks of marathon talks in Paris, negotiators from nearly 200 countries, about 150 world leaders, reached a
climate deal. For the first time, all the nations signed up to goals and joint responsibilities.
It wasn't just rich countries expecting to shoulder the whole burden and the pact also committed them all to limiting average global warming to 2
degrees Celsius. And if possible, to 1.5 degrees. President Obama called it the best chance to save the only planet we live on.
I spoke to the U.N. climate chief, Christiana Figueres, who's been there from the very beginning to the bitter end. Of course, this is not the end
but only the beginning of a joint action plan.
Christiana Figueres, welcome to the program.
CHRISTIANA FIGUERES, U.N. CLIMATE CHIEF: Thank you very much, Christiane.
AMANPOUR: So we welcomed you and interviewed you at the very start of the summit and we are now interviewing you at the end.
You must be a happy woman today.
FIGUERES: Well, I don't think I'm the only happy one. I think the entire world is happy.
AMANPOUR: How historic is it?
FIGUERES: This really is definitely making history. And for two reasons. First, because we have been working toward this for many years, hearing
arguments that it is too late, that it's too complex, that it's too costly and I don't know how many other negative arguments.
So I think all of those have been defeated.
But perhaps more importantly, it is what is positively said about the agreement and while the agreement in and of itself is a legally binding and
rather technical text, I think we can derive three very clear conclusions from it.
The first: that when the world is faced with a truly global challenge, the community of nations can and has come together to address the challenge.
The second is that in so doing, we're all guided by the protection of those who are most vulnerable, those who have least responsibility in the cause
and those who are having the largest impact because of climate change.
And the third very exciting conclusion from this agreement is the fact that we are ready, as a community of nations, the world is ready to embrace the
technologies of this century, the technologies that are going to take us into much more prosperous, safer world, more stable world with more jobs,
with better health, with much better infrastructure and with much more energy available and easily accessible to the 1.3 billion people who are
So we're standing here on the brink of a whole new world.
AMANPOUR: So let me then ask you because obviously you know that you've got these cynics out there, even the father of climate change awareness,
AMANPOUR: -- Hansen of NASA, who was there, has called it fraud, has called it B.S. I mean, those are the terms he's used for people who think
that there is an enforceable 2 degree mechanism, et cetera.
What do you say to them?
FIGUERES: Well, the agreement is not perfect.
But what is in life?
But I think that what is really, really important is that the direction has been set loud and clear. We're not going just for 2 degrees. We're
actually moving in the direction of 1.5 degrees and that will take several decades to get us onto that path.
But along that time, we are going to be measuring ourselves. And we are going to be having verification moments in time where we will be able to
transparently know for ourselves and for the world whether we're actually moving in the right direction.
The very, very powerful signal, however, to capital markets and to research and technology, to all the technology company, the technology world, is
this is a new era of renewable energy and that is what it's going to get us to the safer temperatures.
AMANPOUR: Christiana, obviously the diplomats, people such as yourself, the French foreign minister, the French environment minister, all of those
diplomats, the secretary-general of the U.N., who've made this happen, they say have done a fantastic job.
But it is up to now the governments, the politicians, the business people, the scientists and even today in the front pages we're hearing that fossil
fuel companies say, hey, this isn't something that we're going to worry about right now. We've got a lot more to worry about.
One scientist who I heard this morning said that the whole deal puts way too much faith in tech innovation that hasn't even been developed yet.
Another says the pledges for 2 degrees don't even add up because, right now, they amount to 2.7 degrees.
How do you answer all of that?
FIGUERES: Well, it's understandable that people are nervous because you're always nervous when you are called upon to move into perhaps a somewhat
unknown world. But this is not completely unknown. We do have major technologies that are only beginning to step into their potential and what
this calls forward is to actually exploit the full potential of solar, the full potential of wind, the full potential of hydro.
And of course there are other technologies that are coming on board and that I think are going to be accelerated by this huge push. Yes, it is
absolutely true and I've been saying that for quite a while, that the current efforts of globality, of the current efforts that are on the table,
the emission reductions do not get us to 2.2 degrees, let alone to 1.5 degrees.
But they certainly get us off the 3-, 4-, 5-degree increase for which we were headed just a few years ago.
So we're definitely heading in the right direction. This is not something that is going to be solved at the stroke of a pen or even at the gaveling
of a legal document. That's not the way the world changes.
The world changes through very, very complex evolutions of capital, of technology and of policy. And it is those three that are clearly moving in
the right direction.
What has to happen now is that all of those three can and will be accelerated through this global agreement.
AMANPOUR: Everybody says what a different atmosphere it was this time than in Copenhagen. And in Copenhagen, everybody spent so much time arguing;
here, people spent a lot of time negotiating and trying to come to an agreement.
A lot of emphasis was put on the atmospherics. We read that the French minister, you know, even went so far as designing lights and making sure
there was good food, places for people to sleep or nap during these arduous days.
Tell me about all of that.
FIGUERES: Well, it's definitely true that the venue itself was very, very conducive. We've been working on that now for a while and you've looked at
the different venues that we've -- that we have constructed for these clubs. They have been much more conducive.
But I think the mood was set not just by the physical venue. It was set by the world. You had millions of people who have been praying, who have been
walking, who have been singing, who have been moving their capital, who have been taking corporate leadership, who have been doing everything
within their own sphere of influence to ensure that the space for governments to be able to come together in unison to answer this was
So it's not just the physical venue. It is the much larger context of what the world wanted. We did get into a good global mood on climate and this
is the result.
AMANPOUR: Christiana Figueres, U.N. climate supremo --
AMANPOUR: -- thank you for joining us from Paris.
FIGUERES: Thank you.
AMANPOUR: Coming up next, for generations he's been the face and the voice of our planet. Sir David Attenborough tells me that if we can put a man on
the moon, our best and our brightest can surely find cheaper, cleaner energy. My interview with the world's most famous naturalist after a
AMANPOUR: Welcome back to our special year in review program. And as world leaders and climate negotiators ended the year with a last-ditch
summit to combat climate change, one man, perhaps more than anyone else knew exactly what was at stake. Sir David Attenborough has covered some of
our most endangered species and spaces for years. And the British naturalist and broadcasting legend has come face to face with many
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DAVID ATTENBOROUGH, BROADCASTER AND NATURALIST: He starts to squeak and we're able to have a little chat.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: Cute, of course; also endangered. But exploring the natural world, Attenborough has seen unnatural disaster unfold before his eyes.
Now he's spearheading a clean energy effort called the Global Apollo Program, moon landings and giant leaps, you get the picture.
I did when we sat down in Paris to discuss the future of our planet.
AMANPOUR: Sir David Attenborough, welcome to the program.
ATTENBOROUGH: Thank you.
AMANPOUR: You are, more than anyone in the world, associated with our planet.
Do you believe our planet is in good hands, safe hands?
Do you think this summit is going to save us?
ATTENBOROUGH: Well, it is almost the last chance and the longer it goes on, the more it's delayed, the more unlikely it is to getting a solution.
We really have to get one this time. We really have to and there is, I sense, a realization amongst people worldwide and politicians worldwide
that this is real, you know, this is it. Something has to be done.
AMANPOUR: And what is the "it," as you identify it? We've heard last chance summits, even in Copenhagen, which turned into a fiasco. Now
everybody is obviously much more serious about it.
What is "it"?
What, in your view, would be a success at the end of this summit?
ATTENBOROUGH: We have to find a way of reducing carbon emissions and there is one very simple way of doing that, which is under debate at the moment,
which is that if the developed nations of the world, with scientific research budgets, could get together and solve the problems of gathering,
transmitting and storing energy directly from the sun or from winds and tides and to do that at a price which is cheaper than using -- getting it
from oil or coal, then the problem will be solved.
You know, 0.0002 part of the energy of the sun that goes onto this planet every day, if we could tap that, we would provide all the power
requirements for the whole of humanity. Think of that.
AMANPOUR: That is remarkable.
The question is, why hasn't that happened?
ATTENBOROUGH: Why hasn't it happened?
Simply because, well, we didn't have the technology, it just wasn't minimized. It is not easy. But it can be done. And if your nation, well,
if the American nation can put a man --
ATTENBOROUGH: -- on the moon in 10 years, surely to goodness the scientists of the world, working to a coordinated plan to see where the
problems are, should be able to solve those within 10 years.
AMANPOUR: Well, you sat down with President Obama, who wanted to interview you, slightly a reverse of what you normally do, he must have told you why
he can't do it.
Even at this summit, the United States has extracted a concession from France, that whatever is agreed here will not be a treaty, it will not be
legally binding because they don't think they can get it through Congress.
ATTENBOROUGH: Well, what I got the impression was that he was a man who understood what the problem was and who genuinely, desperately needed --
thought that he could find the solution. And he has to steer that through the complexities of American politics as well as international politics.
So it's not easy. And, after all, never in the history of humanity have all the world come together and agreed on a solution. Never, ever.
So why should we suppose it was going to be easy? It's not easy because a lot of people have different interests. But it can be done because, as we
see the dangers of not doing it, the pressures on doing it are increasing.
AMANPOUR: You, yourself, described yourself a long time ago as a skeptic on climate change and mankind's role in climate change.
Tell me a little bit about your evolution.
ATTENBOROUGH: Well, I make natural history programs for television and if you do that with a regularity I do, you have a hugely privileged position.
And so you don't want to start talking about things that you aren't sure are true.
And I had private concerns about what was happening with the rising of temperature a long time before I was absolutely confident enough to say so
in public and think that's a responsible thing to do.
But for the past 10 years there has been no question as to how the humanity has been responsible for this rise in temperature.
AMANPOUR: What would you say to whoever, mostly in the United States, because around the rest of the world, people understand the science now and
they accept the science but there is still a small handful of deniers in the U.S. whose voice seems to overpower those who believe in the science.
ATTENBOROUGH: Well, you have to look at it, you say why would you deny what seems obvious to everybody else?
And in those instances there must be good reasons why they deny. And of course, there are. I mean, it's much easier to deny it than it is to
accept it. And particularly for some people, who it might cost them a lot of money to accept it rather than deny it and it's -- life is more
difficult if you actually accept that this is your fault because you have then got to do something about it
AMANPOUR: So you have been going around the world for the last at least 60 years, showing us our planet, the animals, the seas, the skies, the
mountains, North- South Pole, where ever you look, you've been there and you've only just gone down, I think, for the first time, in a submersible,
down I think 1,000 meters?
ATTENBOROUGH: 1,000 feet.
AMANPOUR: 1,000 feet?
Was it scary, getting into that --
ATTENBOROUGH: A doddle, as we say.
AMANPOUR: A doddle.
ATTENBOROUGH: Well, I mean, I have swum but I've been in submersibles before, and I saw them quite a bit, and if you're an underwater swimmer, at
least I, at any rate, am worrying about my breathing, I'm worrying about how much air I've got in my tanks, I'm worrying about the pressure, I'm
worrying about expanding my lungs and all that.
But in the submersible, this submersible, the temperature and the pressure is exactly the same as it is outside because you're sealed in this
compartment. So you're in this bubble and you have a rebreathing system. You have enough air -- could last you for days, if necessary, if something
So you just sit there, you know, you have a seat belt on, you sit there with a bar of chocolate and say, good gracious, look at that fantastic
fish. I mean, it's better than life in the movies.
AMANPOUR: Anywhere else that David Attenborough wants to go?
Is there any frontier that you haven't crossed?
ATTENBOROUGH: I have had a ball, really. I just can't believe I'm that lucky. And just to do it in my 90th year, to go -- dive deeper on the
barrier reef than anyone has dived before, you know, is something. And we didn't see much and I had nothing to do with getting there but, even so, it
was quite nice.
AMANPOUR: There are also a lot of people who would pay a lot of money -- or maybe not a lot of money -- to take a rhino horn or parts of a tiger --
I mean, this horrible, misbased medicinal value -- why is -- has nobody been able to convince Asian people that actually these aren't good for your
sex life or good for your health or whatever and they're killing all these rhinos and tigers and elephants?
ATTENBOROUGH: Because humanity, whether it's in Oriental or Western -- I mean, we are gullible and we like myths. We like stories. And there is
one. And if your sex life is important and you believe that there's this potion, you think, well, why not give it a go?
AMANPOUR: Just one question before we wrap up, does David Attenborough have a favorite animal?
ATTENBOROUGH: Human babies.
AMANPOUR: That's great. Thank you so much. Really appreciate it.
ATTENBOROUGH: Thank you.
(END VIDEOTAPE) AMANPOUR: After a break, imagine an entire world sinking from view. The island whose very existence depends on that climate deal being implemented.
We'll have that next.
AMANPOUR: And finally tonight, we imagine the plight of those floating just above the surface. The climate delegation from the Marshall Islands
forced the summit to agree to keep temperatures from rising, not just 2 degrees but also to aim for a 1.5-degree limit. That's to keep their
Pacific Island people from becoming climate refugees, as our John Sutter explains.
JOHN SUTTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This is Marshall Islands, a country way out in the Pacific. It's already super tiny and it's about to
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 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?
CYNTHIA RIKLON, ARKANSAS RESIDENT: When there's a big wave coming, you can hear it all night long.
SUTTER (voice-over): Cynthia grew up in Rita, a neighborhood on the water. She moved to Arkansas last year in part because of terrifying floods.
Houses were washed away and neighbors told me they woke up floating.
C. RIKLON: I feel safe here. Plus I don't hear the scary sound of the ocean. I don't have to sleep and think about the wave coming in.
SUTTER (voice-over): Cynthia's nephew, Mark, arrived in February, leaving behind his girlfriend and two children behind on the islands. He's trying
to earn enough money to bring them here far from the ocean.
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.
SUTTER (voice-over): Cynthia and Mark live in a three-bedroom apartment with eight other family members. It sounds cramped but that's kind of like
C. RIKLON: I'm used to sleeping with my children and nieces, my nephews.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That's how we -- he's still asleep. That's how we get close to one another.
SUTTER (voice-over): It's impressive just how much the island culture survives in a land-locked place like Arkansas. This is a cayman, a child's
first birthday party. It's maybe one of the most important celebrations in the Marshallese culture. It's a rite of passage and a celebration of
survival. I was lucky enough to be invited to two caymans, one in the Marshall Islands and one in Arkansas.
GUM: If our country sinks, so much of our culture will go as well. There's no coconut trees. There's no (INAUDIBLE), no redfish. We're
beginning to lose our culture with where we are.
SUTTER (voice-over): Back in the Marshall islands, I met the rest of Mark and Cynthia's family and had them send a video message.
They suggested a song, it's called, "God Bless Marshall Islands." It's a farewell tune, I'm told, sometimes played at a funeral.
C. RIKLON: I truly came here because of my children. And now that we're here, they can be safe. But I would like to go back home.
SUTTER (voice-over): For now, living in Springdale is a choice for most Marshallese. But within our lifetimes flooding associated with climate
change could start forcing people out.
GUM: The impact would be that we will probably have a population explosion.
SUTTER (voice-over): In other words, Springdale, Arkansas, could become the new Marshall Islands.
GUM: We are just starting to build our foundation. How we start now will affect our future for our kids.
SUTTER (voice-over): But here's the thing: if nothing changes, Marshallese kids won't have any choice about whether to move back to their
home. Those islands, their country won't exist. And that's my fault and yours if you're living in the industrialized world.
It's up to us to cut carbon emissions and fast. Otherwise, what now is a climate migration will likely become a refugee crisis.
GUM: You know, thinking about my father, whose body is there on Majuro (ph) and all the loved ones, even though they pass away, but their bodies
are there, if the island sinks, that is like losing them forever.
AMANPOUR: That is it for our program tonight. Remember, you can now also listen to our show as a podcast, see us online at amanpour.com and follow
me on Facebook and Twitter. Thank you for watching and goodbye from London.