LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:
President-elect Donald Trump's victory is causing concern at the U.N. Outgoing Secretary General Ban Ki-moon steps down at the end of the year. And Trump has promised to drop out of the Paris climate change agreement, which is Ban Ki-moon's biggest legacy. That's not all U.N. diplomats are worried about these days as NPR's Michele Kelemen reports.
MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: Technically, the U.N. says the U.S. can't pull out of the Paris climate change agreement for four years, but Deputy Secretary General Jan Eliasson understands the U.N. can't force countries to meet their target to limit greenhouse gas emissions. And often countries take their cues from the U.S.
JAN ELIASSON: So you have a four-year period where nothing can change the agreement. But, of course, we all realize that the agreement builds on voluntary action and national actions.
KELEMEN: His boss, the U.N. secretary general, has spoken to Trump by phone and is planning a follow-up meeting soon in part to talk about this. Eliasson says the U.N. is appealing to Trump as a businessman.
ELIASSON: Already, I see many parts of the business community already aiming for a green economy. Not only is it the right thing to do to save the environment or the planet, but it's also turning out to be good business.
KELEMEN: Eliasson is no newcomer to American politics. He was Sweden's ambassador in Washington when the Bush administration took over from President Clinton.
ELIASSON: What I recall was at that time when the shift Clinton-Bush took place that in fact a couple months into the new administration, the Bush administration withdrew from the Kyoto Protocol.
KELEMEN: While the U.S. pulled out of the Kyoto Protocol, the climate agreement at the time, it did not leave the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change, a treaty ratified by Congress in 1992. There's some speculation a Trump administration may try to do that, but Ben Cardin, a Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has a hard time believing it.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
BEN CARDIN: I would find it extremely difficult to understand how the United States would want to be the only major country in the world that's not part of the discussions as it relates to these issues.
KELEMEN: The Maryland senator says such a move would marginalize the U.S. on the world stage and not just on the topic of climate change.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
CARDIN: Look, I've gone through a lot of different administrations. They handle things differently, but we've never seen the United States sort of give up its role on international diplomacy and international engagement on all fronts.
KELEMEN: Trumps victory raises other questions for the U.N. system. He ran a campaign that tapped into anger about globalism and migration at a time when the U.N. is trying to cope with a massive migration crisis with 65 million people uprooted by war. The U.N. deputy secretary general says there is a debate now in the U.S. and in Europe that pits, in his words, classical liberal internationalism against nationalism with populist undertones.
ELIASSON: I would say we are at a historic stage - what kind of direction we will go, and therefore I think the elections in United States like the Brexit in Europe and even the referendum in Colombia has international ramifications. We live in a world where we are all dependent on each other.
KELEMEN: That will be a challenge for the next secretary general, Antonio Guterres who spent recent years as head of the U.N.'s refugee agency overwhelmed by the fallout of the ongoing war in Syria. Michele Kelemen, NPR News, the State Department. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.