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Reliving Kyoto Ten Years Later


This is DAY TO DAY. I'm Madeleine Brand.



And I'm James Hattori.

In a few minutes, '70s rockers Led Zeppelin reunited. For some fans last night's concert was priceless. We'll talk to a guy who paid quite a price: $168,000.

BRAND: First though, if you had tuned in to NPR's MORNING EDITION 10 years ago today, this is what you would have heard.

(Soundbite of "Morning Edition")

Mr. BOB EDWARDS (NPR): In a dramatic close to the Kyoto Climate Change Conference, delegates approved an historic protocol...


Ms. JULIE McCARTHY (NPR): Blurry-eyed delegates erupted into applause when conference President Hiroshi Oki declared approved the documents...

Mr. HIROSHI OKI (Conference President): It's so decided.

EDWARDS: United States called the treaty a significant step toward curbing global warming. But the final hour...

BRAND: MORNING EDITION's Bob Edwards joined by NPR reporter Julie McCarthy, who was in Japan at the signing of the Kyoto Climate Change Treaty back in 1997.

Today, 10 years later, in Bali, Indonesia, world leaders are trying to agree on new ways to tackle global warming.

And joining us now from Bali is NPR's Richard Harris.

Hi, Richard.


BRAND: Well, you were also in Kyoto 10 years ago. You were one of the reporters covering that treaty, and you're now in Bali 10 years later. What are the major differences between the two gatherings?

HARRIS: Well, I think the major differences are, first of all, that Kyoto produced a very large and substantial treaty. There is no expectation of that in Bali. The hope in Bali is to - essentially just to rebuild momentum that has been very much lagging in recent years -post-Kyoto.

BRAND: I wonder if there was a difference in expectations, in optimism back then, that people actually thought that the treaty would lead to significant reductions?

HARRIS: Well, indeed, there was optimism, very hard-fought and hard-won optimism, because it was not an easy negotiation by any stretch of the imagination. It really is embedded in the history of what's happened since Kyoto, which is that the United States did not ratify the treaty and it's been sitting on the sidelines, and so 10 years later the rest of the world is saying, it doesn't make sense to go forward with climate treaties without the United States present.

BRAND: And is the United States putting forward the same arguments it put forward 10 years ago?

HARRIS: There are variations on that theme, for sure. They're similar.

BRAND: And those arguments basically that China and India need to ratify the treaty and they're not doing so.

Let's listen to you 10 years ago talking about China.

(Soundbite of NPR archived recording)

HARRIS: The next couple of decades, if China keeps growing at its present rate, it indeed will surpass the United States as the leading emitter of fossil fuels. And their economy looks like it's going to be based very substantially on coal. That's...

BRAND: So your prediction there has panned out. China is now the world's leading emitter of CO2 gasses. And I'm wondering, is that a big topic of conversation at Bali?

HARRIS: It is. And China actually did ratify the Kyoto Protocol, but the Kyoto Protocol actually requires China to do nothing. The real issue now is how do you move them from being onboard but not having to do anything to be onboard and eventually taking on some commitments? They're clearly not going to take on commitments in this next period either. But the hope is that there will be some signal that sometime further down the line China will.

I mean, it's true that China is close to or arguably has surpassed the U.S. emissions. There's different opinions about where the two countries stand on that. But the reality is also China is fundamentally still a developing country. There are many, many, many poor people in China. And they're trying to build an economy to bring people out of poverty. So their situation is really quite different from what's happening in the United States.

BRAND: Richard, back - cast your mind back, if you would, to 1997, and if you remember whether or not extreme weather was a concern and people were saying that that was linked to global warming back then.

HARRIS: Well, I think that was in the scientific documents. But you know, people have not really taken the scientific documents as seriously then as they do now. And I think what has happened is, the intergovernmental panel on climate change has made its observations stronger and worded more strongly. And I think people really are paying much more attention or believing it much more now. Partly it's because we've had a lot of hot weather and a lot of extreme weather in the last decade. And I think people say, oh, this is a real thing. This really can happen.

BRAND: And also, Richard, back then there were still some dissenters and skeptics. And there were still some people who were saying, well, the science is not settled on this; it's not clear that global warming is actually happening.

HARRIS: That's absolutely true. And I think that there are still skeptics, but fewer of them. And that's because the intergovernmental panel on climate change, this U.N. scientific body, is attaching more and more confidence to its observations. There are still a lot of uncertainties about how quickly it will happen and what the effects will be. But there is greater and greater confidence that we are looking forward to a planet that will be dramatically different in a matter of some decades.

BRAND: NPR's Richard Harris speaking to us from Bali, Indonesia. Thanks for joining us.

HARRIS: My pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.