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What's Next For The U.S. After Rejoining The Paris Climate Agreement

LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

Hours after being sworn in last week, President Biden took his first official steps to address climate change. He revoked a permit for a controversial oil pipeline and rejoined the Paris climate agreement, which the Trump administration had withdrawn from. To talk about the shift and what more to expect, we're joined now by Nathan Rott, a member of NPR's climate team. Good morning.

NATHAN ROTT, BYLINE: Hey. Good morning.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So let's start with the big headline, rejoining the Paris climate agreement - significant in principle, but does it really mean anything?

ROTT: Yeah, well, I mean, look. It means the U.S. isn't on the outside looking in when it comes to international efforts to stave off, you know, catastrophic climate change. So that's pretty significant, you know? Nearly 200 countries signed on to the Paris accord, which aims to limit global warming to a, let's say, quasi maybe manageable level. And the U.S. is the only country that had withdrawn from that. And the irony is that the U.S. was one of the key architects in making the agreement back in 2015. Here's Shyla Raghav, who's with the environmental group Conservation International.

SHYLA RAGHAV: The four years of reversals, rollbacks and the United States having neglected or abdicated its role or responsibility in addressing climate change definitely had a negative impact on the kind of global motivation and pace of action on climate change.

ROTT: That's why she says, you know, having Biden rejoin the agreement on his first day in office is so meaningful. You know, it sends a clear signal to the rest of the world that the U.S. is serious about addressing climate change again.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And that's important, of course, because the U.S. can sort of leverage its own power to help move other countries along, like China and India. That's important on a sort of global level, but what does it mean for me and you?

ROTT: So, honestly, not that much, you know, at least not right now.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I wasn't expecting that. OK.

ROTT: You know, like, we're not entirely sure what strategies Biden is actually going to use to try to cut greenhouse gas emissions. We know that he's likely to invest money in renewable energy sources. He may toughen efficiency standards for appliances - you know, your refrigerator. Fuel economy standards for the nation's cars will likely go up. But all of that stuff is going to take time, and that change is going to be gradual. So the place where you might see a little more immediate impact, you know, is if you work in the oil and gas industry or the coal industry.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Yeah, in places like Texas. How's that playing out?

ROTT: Well, you know, earlier this week, Biden followed through with one of his boldest campaign promises, which was to stop all new oil and gas leasing and permitting on federal waters and land. So in Texas, it doesn't have as much of an impact, but, let's say, Wyoming, New Mexico, Colorado - states with a lot of federal land - there's a really big impact. Now, the stop is really only more of a pause. It's temporary and only 60 days, and it's only for new leasing and permitting. Given the depressed price of oil, it won't have much of a huge near-term impact. There's not a lot of investment happening. But a number of environmental groups and progressive parts of the Democratic Party want to see that ban become permanent, which would cause more of a stir. Roughly a quarter of the country's entire greenhouse gas emissions come from fossil fuels that are extracted from public lands. So putting a halt to that practice could potentially bring emissions down long-term. The thing is it would also hurt economies in some of those states that I mentioned, like Wyoming and New Mexico or Alaska, whose economies really depend on that kind of extractive industry.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Yeah, and I guess we're already hearing a lot of pushback from fossil fuel companies and those states.

ROTT: Absolutely. You know, and if the moratorium ends up running longer than 60 days, if it becomes permanent, it will undoubtedly get challenged in court. That said, some of what Biden is doing in his first week is not as controversial as everybody might think. You know, Shell, Exxon, the American Petroleum Institute, all of them supported the U.S. rejoining the Paris climate agreement. And that's because there is an understanding, outside of some parts of the fossil fuel industry and the Republican Party, that actions do need to be taken to limit global warming. There's an understanding that actions will be taken to address global warming. And I've talked to some who work with or alongside fossil fuel companies who think that it might be in their best interest to be part of those conversations rather than just being the subject of them. You know, and with Biden being known as a moderate, now might be a good time for them to take a seat at that table.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's NPR's Nathan Rott. Thank you very much.

ROTT: Hey, thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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