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Secretary Moniz Emphasizes 'Innovation Agenda' To Stop Climate Change


There are some surprising new numbers on carbon emissions. They actually dipped this year, and that gives climate scientists some hope. We'll hear more about that in a minute. But first, we go to Paris where are our ALL THINGS CONSIDERED co-host Ari Shapiro is reporting from COP 21. That's the big U.N. climate summit now starting its second week. He spoke there with a key member of the U.S. delegation, Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz.


Let me begin by asking, halfway through the summit, whether you're more or less optimistic than you might have been a week ago.

ERNEST MONIZ: Well, first of all, you know, we were optimistic coming into the summit, particularly because of the very strong targets which have been established by over 180 countries. So that in itself, I think, is a big story. And now here at the negotiations, clearly we have more work to do. I would emphasize that our role - the Department of Energy's role is especially strong in trying to establish the innovation agenda that we saw President Obama and senior leaders of 19 other countries announce the very first day of COP 21 just to emphasize that we think that that innovation agenda underpins the idea of increased ambition as we go forward.

SHAPIRO: Something that I hear from a lot of people I talk to here at this U.N. climate summit here in Paris is this sense that finally everybody's on the same page. Everybody's working together. Everybody's moving the same direction. And I feel like in high school or college, if that were the case, the professor might say, OK, in that case, I'll give you an extension on your deadline. There's no extension on the deadline in nature.

You know, if the Earth warms beyond two degrees, certain island nations will disappear underwater. Do you, as a scientist, feel a tension between the political goals and the scientific imperatives, that the political goals may not be ambitious enough to accomplish what has to be done?

MONIZ: It's a very important issue, and what you said is absolutely correct. The clock is ticking as nature attempts to absorb the increased greenhouse gas emissions. So we need to act now on mitigation, and we need to act now on adaptation. Particularly those island nations but, in general, less developed countries need to do a lot. So yes, that, shall we say, to put it mildly, concern is there.

But I want to go back to the innovation theme because again, the innovation, driving cost reduction, I believe and we believe and at least 20 countries apparently believe, that that can be the basis for the increased ambition that we will need in five, 10, 20 more years because with cost reduction, every country, including the less developed countries, can be more ambitious, can talk about providing energy services to the literally - let's call it 2 billion people - today that have no or very inadequate energy services. So this innovation agenda, I think, is the basis of ambition. It's also the basis of social responsibility.

SHAPIRO: And how confident are you that the world can meet not the politically imposed deadline but the scientifically imposed deadline, that the world can make the kinds of changes dramatically enough to slow climate change before these countries are just swallowed up?

MONIZ: Well, first of all, we are clearly seeing a shift in the commitment. I mean, I think, you know, we obviously cannot say it's 100 percent, but overwhelmingly, the countries of the world and the U.S. population is moving towards a clear commitment to the idea that we need to act.

SHAPIRO: President Obama and your department are trying to shift the U.S. towards clean energy while, at the same time, Republicans in Congress are trying to undermine the president's Clean Energy plans. Is a difficult here in Paris for the U.S. to negotiate in good faith when you have legislators giving the opposite message back at home?

MONIZ: Well, first of all, let me, again, stay close to my home first, namely technology innovation. I do want to emphasize that that does have strong bipartisan support. Despite some differing opinions in terms of the scope and scale of our response to climate, the fact is we have been receiving strong support for our technology agenda from 2009 to 2015. The cost reductions that we have seen in renewables, in LEDs, in electric vehicle batteries are dramatic. We're talking from 50 to 90 percent. We're seeing deployments as a result go up dramatically. So we do have an area of a very strong message alignment, and that is certainly, again, the main focus of the Department of Energy here.

SHAPIRO: Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz, thank you for talking with us here in Paris.

MONIZ: Thank you, Ari. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.