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Negotiators In Paris Sign Off On Ambitious Climate Deal


Now a hard look at the most ambitious plan ever to head off the disastrous effects of climate change. The pact forged in Paris is just 2 days old. Negotiators agreed to a 31-page blueprint that would move almost every country away from fossil fuels. But some people are wondering, how realistic is it? NPR science correspondent Christopher Joyce covered the meeting in Paris and joins me now.


TURNER: Before we get to the reality check, Chris, remind us, just how ambitious is this plan?

JOYCE: Very much so. It says everyone, from the U.S. and China to the Marshall Islands in the Pacific, has got to reduce their emissions of greenhouse gases as much as they can. It also calls for hundreds of billions of dollars to help developing countries get off of fossil fuels and then adapt to changes that the climate is likely to bring.

TURNER: And we should also say it sets a redline on warming - right? - a danger level.

JOYCE: Yes. Scientists say that we're in serious trouble if the world's average temperature goes more than 2 degrees Celsius above the preindustrial average temperature. That's about 3 and a half degrees Fahrenheit. And frankly, we're already about halfway to that 2 degree maximum.

TURNER: Right, so it's important to be ambitious here. I get that. But considering greenhouse gases and that global temperature have been going up for decades, I mean, is this doable?

JOYCE: I mean, let's take a look at the warming target. When you add up what the governments have promised in Paris to do to reduce emissions so far, we're still going to blow through that 2 degree maximum. And getting off of fossil fuels is really hard. Coal and oil and natural gas are cheap. And they're the easiest way, up till now, to grow your economy fast.

TURNER: Right, which of course you need to do if you have hundreds of millions of people living in poverty, like China does.

JOYCE: Yeah, China, for example. China burns a huge amount of coal, so much that when China's economy is booming, there's a net increase in CO2 going up into the atmosphere. But when their economy stalls, you can see that increase actually flatten out around the planet.

TURNER: So the world clearly is still going to need and use fossil fuels for years to come. That's a given. How can we stay below 2 degrees of warming?

JOYCE: Well, short of divine intervention, there are forests. Forests absorb carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere. So the Paris deal encourages countries to keep forests standing or to grow new ones. But it's not going to be enough. Energy analysts I've talked to say it will take an enormous investment in new technology - wind, solar, efficient cars and appliances - and also technology that has not even been invented to take carbon dioxide out of fuel and out of the atmosphere - basically, 21st-century technology to solve a problem created by 20th-century technology.

TURNER: NPR science correspondent Christopher Joyce. Chris, thank you.

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

Christopher Joyce is a correspondent on the science desk at NPR. His stories can be heard on all of NPR's news programs, including NPR's Morning Edition, All Things Considered, and Weekend Edition.