What do you think? Leave a respectful comment.

U.S., China tension take center stage at UN climate talks

On Monday, diplomats from 200 countries will arrive at a United Nations led meeting in Poland to try to figure out how to implement the Paris Agreement on climate adaptations. But as Somini Sengupta reports for The New York Times, disputes between the countries with the largest carbon footprints may threaten progress. Sengupta joins Hari Sreenivasan.

Read the Full Transcript

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    Starting tomorrow, diplomats from 200 countries will arrive at a United Nations-led meeting in Poland to try to figure out how to implement the Paris climate agreement. Yesterday, after week one of the two-week meeting, delegates to the international climate conference failed to reach agreement on rules for nations to record and report their greenhouse gas emissions.

    Outside, protesters demanded immediate and stronger action to reduce global warming. Scientists warn the diplomats that the climate is warming even more rapidly than predicted, but current disputes between the countries with the largest carbon footprints. — The United States and China -=- may threaten the high-stakes climate negotiations. Joining me now is Somini Sengupta, The New York Times international climate reporter. Now, the U.S. has said we are leaving the Paris accords, but with these meetings continue. Why are they important?

  • SOMINI SENGUPTA:

    So remember the Paris accord was signed three years ago, and it was an aspirational global agreement. Now, countries around the world have to figure out how to put it into effect. And that's what they're doing now in the Polish city of Katowice , which is in the middle of Poland's coal country actually. And even though the U.S. has pulled out, announced its intention to pull out rather, the United States remains in the agreement until the end of 2020. That's just the way the agreement is written. It takes some time before you can actually exit. So the United States has negotiators in the room, negotiating on a document that in principle will not apply to the U.S. if it actually continues its pullout.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    So how does this impact the entire kind of global conversation when the United States says, well, we're here, but we don't really want to be part of this anyway, and in the context of the disagreements that are happening right now between the United States and China? So.

  • SOMINI SENGUPTA:

    So, for the United States and China, how to address climate change is their most consequential, most important diplomatic test. We know where the U.S. stands on that. It has announced its intention to pull out. China is still in, all the other countries of the world are still in, the U.S. is the only country that has signaled its intention to pull out. China is on track to meet its own targets that it set for itself. However, both China's emissions and the United States' emissions, greenhouse gas emissions have gone up this year, which is quite troubling because it comes at a time when scientists are saying we've got to ratchet down these greenhouse gas emissions really, really fast or we face some of the worst effects of climate change as early as 2040.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    Where is China in terms of cleaning up its act? Because that's one of the criticisms that the United States or at least President Trump has had: well, look these other big polluters China and India, they're going to keep spewing this stuff; we shouldn't be having to make concessions unilaterally.

  • SOMINI SENGUPTA:

    So the way the Paris deal works, every one, every country sets its own targets. Every country says we're going to ratchet down our emissions by this much by this date. Now, where all the countries stand right now, even if they do everything that they've promised, and they are not anywhere close to doing that, it's still not enough to bring down global temperatures. Right. So where does China stand? China and the United States together account for 40 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. So if the world as a whole is to turn, you need to see action on the part of these two countries. The United States is nowhere close to meeting its targets presently, although it should be said that a lot of cities and states and companies around the United States are making effort, you know. They're saying, their slogan is "we're still in," like we're still in the Paris deal. Where is China at the moment? As far as we can tell, China's emissions went up, right, this year and last year. But China is on track to meet its own targets. China is having a hard time getting out of coal. It was supposed to shut down a lot of coal-fired power plants, but that's proving to be difficult. At home, much more worrying China is developing and funding coal-fired power plants all over the world. I went to the site of one in Kenya earlier this year. I just came back from Vietnam, where China as well as Japan are building power plants, coal-fired power plants. So in some ways, it's worth watching what's China doing at home, but it's also worth watching what is China doing all over the world.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    All right, Somini Sengupta of The New York Times, thanks so much.

  • SOMINI SENGUPTA:

    Thank you.

Listen to this Segment

The Latest