June 7th, 2014
10:09 AM ET

Will this nation disappear off the map?

Watch "Fareed Zakaria GPS," Sundays at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. ET on CNN

President Obama's cap on carbon emissions sparked much debate this week. But for another country, the climate change debate is more than words and policies – it is a matter, literally, of survival. Kiribati, an island nation in the Pacific Ocean that 100,000 people call home, could be uninhabitable just 30 years from now thanks to rising sea levels. Fareed Zakaria speaks with Kiribati's president, Anote Tong, about what his nation is facing – and what their plans for the future are.

Tell me about your country. Why is it particularly susceptible to climate change?

Well, I think what's important here to understand is the geography of atoll islands. Atolls are very small islands, barely two meters above sea level.

And so, unlike most countries, if the sea level rises, we don't have anywhere to move back toward, we don't have any high ground to move toward.  And so we're so vulnerable.

Because you have 33 islands. And nowhere are you more than seven feet above sea level, correct?
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April 13th, 2014
10:46 PM ET

Friedman: So, what if the climate deniers' nightmare came true?

Fareed speaks with ‘New York Times’ columnist Tom Friedman about the latest report by the U.N.'s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Watch the video for the full interview.

What for you is the headline of this new IPCC report?

I think the headline is simply greater certainty among the vast majority of climate scientists, the people who truly know and study these issues, that if we don't begin to take the steps needed to prevent the kind of what they call doubling of CO2 in the atmosphere, that will lead to the kinds of rise in global average temperature that will put us into a much more unstable world.

And is there a sense of greater urgency or a kind of warning that we haven't been doing much yet? You know, if you think about it, we've been hearing these reports. And all of them have kept saying we need to start in some way having these CO2 emission levels start plateauing or even declining.  And as you know in totality, largely because of China's growth and a lot of the emerging world, CO2 emissions continue to rise quite substantially.

Well, of course, and that's really been the problem, getting governments to act.

Now, you know the debate in our country.  And it's echoed in the world.  There are people who don't think this is really happening, don't think it's important, we can adapt.  I was thinking, driving over here, what if the nightmare of the climate deniers came true and we really decided in America to take this seriously and act? What would we do? What is the nightmare that would happen?

Well, the first thing we would do is actually slash income taxes and corporate taxes and replace them with a carbon tax so we actually encourage people to stop doing what we don't want, which is emitting carbon, and start doing what we do want, which is hiring more workers and getting corporations to invest more in America. That's the first awful thing that would happen.

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Serious about climate change? Talk about agriculture
November 21st, 2013
12:16 PM ET

Serious about climate change? Talk about agriculture

By Bruce Campbell, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Bruce Campbell is the director of the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security, based in Copenhagen. The views expressed are the writers’ own.

Few people expected much concrete progress ahead of the ongoing international climate change talks taking place in Warsaw. Sadly, it seems the doubters were right to be skeptical as negotiators have failed to tackle one of the biggest climate challenges: changing agriculture technologies, practices and policies to make sure the world can feed itself.

When Typhoon Haiyan – one of the strongest tropical storms ever recorded – slammed into the Philippines, the world was given a brutal reminder about the need for urgent action, an urgency given a tearful face when the head of the Philippine delegation to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) made an impassioned plea for action.

Haiyan devastated central Philippines, a mostly agricultural region. But while images of the damage focused on flattened urban areas, the storm also crushed farms and plantations that produce rice, sugar, coconuts, and other key crops. The Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations estimated that the typhoon, which struck at the beginning of the rice-planting season, destroyed hundreds of thousands of hectares of the country’s most important staple.

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Topics: Climate • Environment
October 26th, 2013
03:52 PM ET

Why world can't agree over climate change

For more What in the World watch Sundays at 10 a.m. & 1 p.m. ET on CNN

By Global Public Square staff

China has brought us a new English word: "Airpocalypse."

The northeastern city of Harbin was paralyzed last week by terrible smog and air pollution. Visibility was down to just a few meters. Highways and schools were closed, the airport was shut down. Pedestrians could barely get around.  The images are a vivid reminder of the impacts of industrial growth, especially when powered by dirty fuels like coal, which accelerates not only pollution but also climate change.

The latest report from the United Nation’s scientific panel says it is “extremely likely” – more than a 95 percent probability – that human activity was the dominant cause of the temperature increases of the last few decades. Another study, published in Nature, showed that we are on track to reach unprecedented highs of temperature by 2047. Findings showed the coldest year in the future would be warmer than the hottest year of the past.

So, if the science is not really in dispute, why is it so difficult for us to actually do something about it? There’s a clever explanation. To understand it, we need to tell you about one more study. This one is a game –but one played with real money.

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Topics: China • Climate • Environment • What in the World?
Are U.S. and China finally getting serious about climate change?
September 18th, 2013
10:27 AM ET

Are U.S. and China finally getting serious about climate change?

By Junjie Zhang, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Junjie Zhang is a senior advisor at Asia Society and assistant professor of Environmental Economics in the School of International Relations and Pacific Studies at the University of California, San Diego. The views expressed are the writer’s own.

The announcement at this month’s G20 summit that the U.S. and China plan to form a contact group to tackle the rapidly rising use of a key ozone-depleting chemical came on the heels of a June summit in which Presidents Barack Obama and Xi Jinping agreed to work together to reduce the consumption and production of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs).

That agreement was itself followed by a report submitted by the U.S.-China Climate Change Working Group in July to the U.S.-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue proposing five new action initiatives involving transportation; smart grids; carbon capture, utilization, and storage; energy efficiency; and data transparency.

Taken together, these developments have raised hopes that the so-called Group of Two is finally getting serious about climate change and low carbon development. But are they really?

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June 26th, 2013
09:31 AM ET

Obama ahead of U.S. public on climate change

By Bruce Stokes, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Bruce Stokes is director of global economic attitudes at the Pew Research Center. The views expressed are his own.

The Obama administration is stepping up its game in dealing with climate change. In his June 19 speech at the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin, President Barack Obama said that “the effort to slow climate change requires bold action.” On Tuesday, in a speech at Georgetown University, Obama called for the United States to “lead the world in a coordinated assault on a changing climate.” And the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will issue regulations limiting carbon dioxide emissions from existing power plants.

Such moves echo widespread public concern about global warming outside the United States, according to a recent poll of 39 countries by the Pew Research Center. But they do not reflect the priorities of the American people, who are, on a per capita basis, among the world’s largest emitters of greenhouse gases. Nor do they reflect the concerns of the Chinese, whose country is the world’s most significant source of carbon dioxide, methane and other emissions.

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How America can ‘win’ the Arctic
April 29th, 2013
10:32 AM ET

How America can ‘win’ the Arctic

By Heather A. Conley, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Heather Conley is senior fellow and director of the Europe Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington and author of a new CSIS report, ‘A New Foreign Policy Frontier:  U.S. Interests and Actors in the Arctic.’ The views expressed are the writer's own.

Last August, then U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Tom Nides declared that, for the United States, the Arctic is “one of the last true frontiers in the United States. It is becoming a new frontier in our foreign policy.”

He was right. The Arctic is a new frontier in the sense that the polar ice cap is melting so rapidly – confounding and deeply disturbing most climatologists and earth scientists – that once-frozen and nearly impenetrable borders in the region are now being traversed with increased frequency. The Arctic also presents a new opportunity for U.S. policymakers to address the emerging political, diplomatic, economic, and security dynamics caused by unprecedented climate change.

But what is America’s vision for its piece of the Arctic – the state of Alaska? Will the United States view the Arctic like a new frontier that must be explored, claimed, and developed along the lines of Teddy Roosevelt’s vision of Winning of the West, embodying America’s pioneering spirit? Or will Washington seek to protect and preserve the Arctic? What are U.S. policy objectives and priorities? What financial resources will be needed to implement these priorities? What are the right organizational and coordination structures to ensure that an American Arctic strategy is implemented and federal agencies are held accountable?

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Topics: Arctic • Climate • United States
Grading the world on our biggest problems
April 22nd, 2013
10:44 AM ET

Grading the world on our biggest problems

By Stewart Patrick, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Stewart Patrick is senior fellow and director of the international institutions and global governance program at the Council on Foreign Relations. The views expressed are his own.

As Mayor of New York, the late Edward Koch famously asked constituents, “How’m I doing?” He got an earful. But he valued the instant feedback and even adjusted occasionally. As we commemorate Earth Day, we might ask the same question of ourselves – but on a planetary scale. When it comes to addressing the world’s gravest ills, how are we doing?

Not so well. That is the big takeaway from the first Global Governance Report Card, released today by the Council on Foreign Relations. Designed in the old grade school style, Report Card grades the international community and the United States on how they are responding to six big challenges: global warming, nuclear proliferation, violent conflict, global health, transnational terrorism, and financial instability. The grades, available online, reflect input from fifty prominent experts.

Beyond assigning letter grades for each of the six “subject areas,” the Report Card evaluates performance in specific sub-categories. Thus for climate change, it evaluates global progress in critical objectives like curbing emissions or using carbon sinks. It also singles out countries or organizations deserving praise as class “leaders,”  as “most improved,” or worthy of a “gold star.” Finally, it calls out actors who undermine global solutions, labeling them “laggards,” “truants,”  or (in the case of North Korea on the nuclear issue) “in detention.”

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April 9th, 2013
10:03 AM ET

Why China’s leaders should worry about climate change

By Global Public Square staff

China's rivers have been in the news for all the wrong reasons. First they found thousands of dead pigs in one river. Then they found hundreds of dead ducks in another. And now, entire rivers are going missing. Thousands of them in fact. A new survey has found that China has 28,000 fewer rivers than previously thought. They've been built-upon, overused, and drying up. The study comes from no less an authority than China's Ministry of Water Resources and the National Bureau of Statistics.

Something else has also gone missing in China: clean air. A study out last week shows how air pollution in China led to 1.2 million premature deaths in 2010. A separate study by China's Academy of Environmental Planning found that in the same year, 2010, environmental degradation cost the country $230 billion dollars.

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Topics: China • Climate • Environment • What in the World?
December 5th, 2012
12:22 PM ET

Cities key to beating climate change

By David Burwell & Shin-pei Tsay, Special to CNN

Editor's note: David Burwell is the director of the energy and climate program and Shin-pei Tsay is director of cities transportation at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.The views expressed are their own.

International climate change negotiations underway in Doha urgently need to find a path out of the climate change quagmire. The 2009 global climate conference in Copenhagen achieved consensus on one key point – that world average surface temperature could not rise more than two degrees Celsius from pre-industrial levels without risking catastrophic climate impacts. The truth is, the world has already gone past this, and the only hope is for cities to support global efforts.

This meteorological line in the sand of two degrees Celsius equates to 450 parts per million of atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration and has been reaffirmed by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. And the International Energy Agency warns that global capital investment in new energy assets must make a fundamental shift away from fossil fuels in the next five years to have any chance of hitting the target.

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November 30th, 2012
10:49 AM ET

How closely should we follow U.N. climate talks?

By Michael Levi, CFR

Michael Levi is director of the Program on Energy Security and Climate Change at the Council on Foreign Relations. This entry of  Energy, Security and Climate originally appeared here. The views expressed are his own.

The annual United Nations climate talks are rarely a pretty sight. The typical script is fairly reliable. Negotiators generally arrive at each summit with mostly realistic goals. But diplomats and those who seek to influence them spend the first week or so ratcheting up demands and accusations, in part for leverage, but at least as much in order to make themselves look good and their adversaries appear villainous. Members of the media (if they’re paying attention) report that the talks appear set for disaster. Meanwhile, away from the spotlight, negotiators quietly hash through the substantive tasks at hand. Eventually, in the middle of the second week, higher level officials arrive. Occasionally, important differences prove impractical to resolve, and the summit collapses. Far more often, the parties cobble something modest together, apparently snatching victory from the jaws of defeat.

This process looks – and perhaps more importantly feels – very different depending on how much attention you pay to what’s going on. If you start with the previews, ignore the roller coaster, and check back in at the end, you’ll often conclude that the summit has had modest impact but little more; the outcome will often be pretty close to what sober analysts were expecting before the talks began.

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November 9th, 2012
10:21 AM ET

How to press for climate change progress

By Michael Levi, CFR

Michael Levi is director of the Program on Energy Security and Climate Change at the Council on Foreign Relations. This entry of  Energy, Security and Climate originally appeared here. The views expressed are his own.

The past week has been huge for people who want to see the United States go big on climate change. First Hurricane Sandy vaulted climate change back into the public debate. Now the reelection of Barack Obama means that there will be someone in the White House who cares strongly about the issue. The combination creates an opportunity to press for climate action.

That makes it all the more critical for people who care about climate change to get things right. If they remember one thing, it should be this: they will need to build coalitions if they want to go big.

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