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Chief Climate Negotiator Warns Against Consequences Of Leaving Paris Accord


For more on the U.S. role in the Paris Agreement, we are joined now by Todd Stern. He was the Obama administration's chief climate negotiator in Paris. Welcome back to the studio.

TODD STERN: Thank you very much, Ari.

SHAPIRO: I want to start by playing something that you said to me back in 2015 just after the deal was agreed to. I asked you whether a Republican president would pull the U.S. out of this agreement, and here's what you said.


STERN: It is extremely rare for a Democrat to follow a Republican or a Republican to follow a Democrat and pull down what has happened in terms of international agreements. And this is an international agreement with enormous, enormous buy-in all over the world. It would be a huge step to take, and I don't think any president - any new president would do that.

SHAPIRO: So how do you respond to what's happening today?

STERN: Well, I would completely double down on exactly what I said. It would be extremely rare, an extremely strange and, I would say, inappropriate action for any president to do that. We have a president right now who is certainly outside of the ordinary realm of even Republican presidents and who may well be on the verge of doing that.

SHAPIRO: You wrote an op-ed in The Atlantic today where you said the president's exit from Paris would be read as a kind of drop dead to the rest of the world. So if I'm a leader in Europe or China or India and I hear that the U.S. has pulled out of the Paris climate agreement, how does that shape what I'm going to do next?

STERN: What will countries do in response? Look; I think in the first instance, I will encourage this. Countries are going to stay in Paris, and they are going to be damned if they let Donald Trump ruin the Paris Agreement which countries all over the world, nearly 200, finally having established the global regime for climate change, without which we cannot solve this problem - so I think that countries in the short term are going to say, we're going to stay in, and we're going to keep working at this. But that doesn't mean it won't have serious repercussions.

SHAPIRO: This agreement is based on an idea of collective sacrifice. And if the U.S., which emits more carbon than practically anyone else in the world, says, we are not going to make that sacrifice, why should all of these other countries buy into the idea of making collective sacrifices?

STERN: Well, so I know where you're going. I'm going to only amend one word there. I would say collective effort. I don't think this is going to end up being sacrificed in the long run when you look at the trajectory that we are on and that we have ahead of us with respect to the transformation of the economy from dirty energy to clean energy. Even at the pure economic level, the costs of solar - so-called PV, photovoltaic, you know, panels - has gone down 85 percent since President Obama came in. The cost of wind has gone down 66 percent and on and on and on. And there's new technology and new innovation happening right and left.

SHAPIRO: Are you arguing that fears that if the U.S. pulls out of the Paris Agreement then many other dominoes will fall and other countries will do the same - that those fears are just totally unfounded?

STERN: No, no, look. Here's what I would say. I don't want to give the impression that it's not a huge, big deal if the U.S. pulls out. It is a huge, big deal. International agreements are built on knowing that other countries are going to undertake similar efforts to what you are. And if the United States is not, that's a big down.

I have to say also, Ari, there is no case for withdrawing. Paris is an exceptionally good agreement. It brings in China. It brings in India. It brings in all of these players who didn't used to be there. It moves us in the right direction. These notions that are tossed out by people in the administration with no basis in fact - oh, you know, Paris hurts us - it's bunk.

SHAPIRO: But you must know having been in the room that there were things the U.S. might not have wanted to make concessions on that ultimately the U.S. did, like paying into a fund to help emerging countries deal with the impacts of climate change. There are things on which reasonable people can disagree.

STERN: There is absolutely no question about that but not disagree to the point of saying it's not worth being in the agreement. Were there things that United States agreed to and that other countries agreed to as part of the bargaining process by which you reach an agreement of 195 countries? Of course there are. But we came out extraordinarily well. We did not give up anything in that agreement that we thought was anywhere near a red line for the United States. So you never get everything you're looking for. And I wouldn't say that we did, but we did extraordinarily well. And the world did extraordinarily well.

SHAPIRO: Todd Stern was President Obama's U.S. special envoy for climate change. Thank you for joining us.

STERN: Thank you so much, Ari.