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Iran to Raise Uranium Enrichment Level; Cables from U.K. Ambassador Slam Trump as Inept, Insecure; Biden Defends Record, Walks Back Words; At Least 23 Hurt in Mall Blast near Miami; Greeks Poised to Vote Out Tsipras; Migrant Standoff Highlights Divisions in E.U.; Women's World Cup Final; New Study Shows Way to Offset Dangerous Carbon Emissions. Aired 5-6a ET
Aired July 7, 2019 - 05:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
NATALIE ALLEN, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Breaking its commitments to the 2015 nuclear deal, Iran has just announced it will exceed the limit on uranium enrichment. We will have a live report about that this hour.
Also, "inept, insecure, incompetent," the British ambassador to the U.S. slams President Trump. We've got the details from London.
Also this hour, scientists say they have a solution to the Earth's climate crisis. We will talk with the author of the latest study. He says it's all about more trees.
Welcome our viewers here in the U.S. and all around the world, I'm Natalie Allen live from Atlanta, CNN NEWSROOM starts right now.
ALLEN: Our top story: Iran is again breaking some of the commitments it made in the 2015 nuclear deal. Officials have announced the nation's uranium enrichment will exceed 3.67 percent, the limit it had agreed to in the deal.
Despite that, Tehran denies it has violated the agreement. It says it still wants to save the deal and it's open to diplomacy. CNN's Sam Kiley following developments for us from Moscow.
That last part of their statement is hopeful but, break it down, what does this mean big picture about what they're doing?
SAM KILEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, essentially, Natalie, what they're saying is by tomorrow morning the International Atomic Energy Agency will be able to discover the extent to which they are enriching uranium beyond that 3.67 percent threshold.
Now it won't be very much and they are also saying, as you point out, that they do want this nuclear deal that they struck with the international community, led by Britain, France, Germany, China, Russia and, back then the United States, to stick.
Now the Americans walked away from it, Donald Trump tore it up effectively in May last year, imposing very happy economic sanctions. The Iranians are saying they want to see -- they want to see the money from the Europeans, who are still insistent that they also want this nuclear deal to stick.
They're coming up, this is the Europeans, with a thing called Instex, which is a mechanism by which effectively they can bypass American sanctions, which has really strangled off the Iranian oil export capability -- or at least their sales internationally, down to about a fifth of what they were.
The Iranians are saying they want to see Instex provide them with lines of credit or, better still, direct trade in petroleum products so that they can get their economy going and see some of the benefits of that deal starting to be manifest in Iran.
Now at the same time, of course, the British are involved in a spat with Tehran over the seizure of a ship that the British suspect was breaching European sanctions against Syria. That's an Iranian oil tanker being held off the coast of Gibraltar. So that is making things awkward.
But nonetheless, the Iranians are saying 60 days before they get even more serious over their intention to start expanding their civilian nuclear program.
So there is an awful lot of diplomatic wiggle room. But this is all about signaling that they are prepared to tear up the agreement in the end. But they really, really, desperately want to encourage or pressurize the Europeans in particular to making good on those financial pledges that the Europeans have already made -- Natalie.
ALLEN: They just made this announcement just a little over an hour ago; we will wait and see the global reaction. Thank you so much, Sam Kiley for us in Moscow.
Well, the U.S. president famously called himself a "stable genius" but it looks like the British ambassador to the U.S. doesn't agree. Leaked cables show Sir Kim Darroch calling the president, among other things, "inept, insecure and incompetent."
"The Daily Mail" newspaper first reported the memos but they've been confirmed to CNN by a British government source. So far the president hasn't responded publicly and the White House says it has no comment.
CNN's Anna Stewart is following this story from London.
Yes, these are harsh words and that was just part of the leaked memo from the ambassador -- Anna.
ANNA STEWART, CNN CORRESPONDENT: There is a lot to sort of wade into here. A damning portrayal of the president and of the administration. And these leaked memos date from 2017 right through to the present day, tackling all sorts of different topics and issues, from the president's policies in the Middle East and Iran.
He questions most recently the president's claim that he aborted a missile strike on Iran at the last minute.
The ambassador says in one of these memos that "the account doesn't really stand up."
He talks about the alleged links between the president and Russia, saying that the worst cannot be ruled out and that he could see the presidency crashing and burning, although he also adds that this is a president who can shrug off controversy and scandal.
He said that the president "could emerge from the flames battered but intact like Schwarzenegger in the final scenes of 'the Terminator.'"
Incredibly colorful remarks and leaked memos, very controversial, very embarrassing, of course, for the British government. This is the man whose job it is to protect and strengthen the U.K.'s relationship with the United States.
ALLEN: Exactly. So you wonder if this will open up some sort of rift between the two countries.
What is the official word from London on the fact that this got out and that this was said?
STEWART: Well, you know, it's been very interesting. Certainly the government hasn't denied the accuracy of the memos and the official line from the foreign office, which called them mischievous, was that, "The British public would expect our ambassadors to provide ministers with an honest, unvarnished assessment of the politics in their country. Their views are not necessarily the views of ministers or indeed of the government.
"But we pay them to be candid, just as the U.S. ambassador here will send back his reading of Westminster politics and personalities."
Definitely supporting the ambassador there and, of course, we do have plenty of politics and personalities to speculate over in the U.K., what with Brexit still raging on and a battle underway for the next prime minister. And this is the problem, Natalie, it's a question of timing.
There is a huge diplomatic drive at the moment for the U.K. to really strengthen its relationships with the United States. Given Brexit, it wants an ambitious trade deal after Brexit.
And we've just had the president here for a state visit to the U.K., a huge visit with lots of pomp and ceremony. We had a 41-gun salute to welcome him, he had a state banquet with the queen.
These leaked memos could reverse so much of the goodwill that was built up. We're waiting for a response from the White House; nothing yet. Everyone watching the president's Twitter page to see whether he will react.
I'm sure overnight there would have been a huge diplomatic mission to try to soften the impact before, I guess, the president wakes up -- Natalie.
ALLEN: All right. And we are just hours from that. So wait and see. Thanks so much, Anna Stewart, for us.
ALLEN: Former vice president and Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden is apologizing for some of the things he has said about working with segregationist senators in the past and his comments getting kudos from his fellow Democratic presidential hopefuls. For more about it, Arlette Saenz is on the campaign trail.
ARLETTE SAENZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Here in South Carolina, Joe Biden offered his most forceful defense yet of his decades-long career in the Senate. He argued that his Democratic opponents in the 2020 race are focusing more on his time in the Senate than they are as vice president.
And he also argued that the fact that President Obama selected him as his running mate -- he went through the vetting process to get there -- that that was a testament to Biden's record and character.
But Biden also offered a rare apology for his recent comments on working with segregationist senators decades ago. Listen to what he said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOE BIDEN, FORMER U.S. VICE PRESIDENT AND PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Was I wrong a few weeks ago to somehow give the impression to people that I was praising those men who I successfully opposed time and again?
Yes, I was. I regret it. And I'm sorry for any of the pain or misconception that I may have caused anybody.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SAENZ: Now Biden's comments a few weeks ago about working with segregationist senators while he was in the Senate decades ago drew a lot of criticism from his 2020 rivals, including Kamala Harris who raised it during an exchange at a debate a week and a half ago.
And Cory Booker said it was personally hurtful comment and called on Biden to apologize. Booker is now reacting, saying he's grateful the apology came, though it came a few weeks after he initially made the comment. Listen to what he had to say.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. CORY BOOKER (D-NJ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I felt just grateful that he is now speaking to his past in a way with more candor and with a sense of regret for some of the things that he supported. None of us are perfect. All of us make mistakes. We need leaders that have the courage --
BOOKER: -- to show vulnerability and speak to that. I'm very grateful.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SAENZ: Biden also talked about his support for the 1994 crime bill and said that he takes responsibility for what went right and what went wrong with that bill. He has faced a lot of criticism from his rivals and other critics that argue that bill led to an era of mass incarceration.
But Biden's going to continue his two-day tour of South Carolina today. He has events in Charleston as he's trying to court that critical black voter. Black voters make up the majority of the Democratic primary electorate here in the States and, for Biden, he's really focusing in and trying to maintain that support among the key constituency -- Arlette Saenz, CNN, Orangeburg, South Carolina.
ALLEN: Other Democrats are fighting for the African American vote in their 2020 election campaign. Democratic candidates Kamala Harris, Beto O'Rourke, Cory Booker and Elizabeth Warren spoke at the 25th annual Essence Music Festival down in New Orleans. That's a gathering for black women organized by "Essence" magazine.
The candidates referenced overcoming the racial division created by the current president. Kamala Harris had strong words about the current administration.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. KAMALA HARRIS, (D-CA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We have a predator living in the White House. He has predatory instincts and a predatory nature. And here is the thing you got to know about predators, it is their nature to pounce on and try to beat down people they perceive to be weak.
It is their nature to attack vulnerable people. It is their nature to attack people who are desperate for help. And I know that kind of person. And that's who we have.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ALLEN: Political analyst James Boys joins from London to offer his perspective on how this might play out.
I want to begin, though, with this revealing leak that shows very little respect from the U.K. ambassador for President Trump.
What do you make of it?
JAMES BOYS, AMERICAN UNIVERSITY: Well, good morning, Natalie.
It's remarkable, isn't it?
Not only the fact that these materials have been leaked but also the content of them. Quite frankly, when you actually go through what it was that Sir Kim has written in these memos, they read very much like some of the contents from people like Michael Wolfe's books, for example.
So with regard to the content, the surprising thing there, I think, is how similar they are to reports which have come out from former members of the White House and the administration. But the tone and the actual content of them is particularly undiplomatic.
Of course, as the foreign office was rightly saying in its release this morning, we would want and expect all diplomats to offer the unvarnished truth and perspective about foreign administrations. But clearly it's embarrassing that this material has gotten out.
I would point out, however, that the reason these things were written, from the reporting in the papers this morning, was very much in an attempt to try to advise the administration here in London about how to improve and to secure a better relationship with Donald Trump, talking about flattering him, flooding the zone of his advisers, making sure that Theresa May and Donald Trump spoke a lot, how best to deal with Donald Trump on a human level.
So, of course, the irony in this is that these documents which were prepared very much in an attempt to improve relationships and their revelation, I think, could very much hinder things moving forward in the short term.
ALLEN: Right, to create a chasm there between these two allies. It certainly does indicate, according to this ambassador, the complexities of working with this current White House.
But what about as far as President Trump and the way he appears on the world stage, how much weight will this one ambassador's words carry?
BOYS: Well, I think it's notable that it is the British ambassador to Washington who is stating these issues. Of course, United States has many allies, we like to think here in London that we are a particularly key important ally, who has a special relationship, whose expression is often used time and time again.
What's of note, however, is the fact as your reporting indicated, we are about to go through a change in administration here in Washington -- in London, the extent to which this ambassador may or may not remain in post under a new British prime minister, presumably, at this point, one must imagine that will be Boris Johnson -- is perhaps up in the air. It might well be an opportunity to rotate Sir Kim out and to put a new man in.
That is something which could occur. But I think one must also recognize that there is another side to these cables, which is a realistic appraisal of where Donald Trump is --
BOYS: -- and as Kim had noted, don't count him out, there is still a path to reelection.
When you consider the state of the economy, you look at some of the reporting in "The Washington Post" this morning, for example, it's very, very clear that the current polling for this administration is such that any effort to try to suggest this will be a one-term administration, I think, would be a mistake at this point.
ALLEN: Right. That poll indicating that his numbers went up, favorability due to the economy and the perception of how he's managing it. But six in 10 polled says he has acted unpresidential since coming to office. We will wait and see which matters most, the economy or the president's behavior.
But I want to ask you about what's going on the campaign trail as well. Democratic candidates continuing to pounce; we saw Kamala Harris talking about the president's predatory behaviors. And we also heard this from Democratic front-runner Joe Biden, let's listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BIDEN: I'm looking forward to this, man. You walk behind me in a debate, come here, man. You know me too well. I mean, the idea that I would be intimidated by Donald Trump, he is the bully that I knew my whole life. He is the bully that I've always stood up to.
He is the bully that used to make fun when I was a kid and I'd stutter and I'd smack them in the mouth.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ALLEN: Well, Joe Biden versus Donald Trump, that will be an interesting one, they have already tried to attack each other before and looks like they're going to do that again.
But will these attacks resonate with American voters?
BOYS: It's interesting; Sir Kim's memos talking about unpresidential activity and behavior, et cetera, et cetera.
And "The Washington Post" poll brings that out. You have to wonder whether there is an extent to which his opponents are beginning to almost come down to Donald Trump's level there, talking about predatory behavior, talking about duking it out and almost having a fistfight with the president.
You know, if you want to talk about raising the game here it's on everybody's responsibilities to do so. Those pollings and everything that's going to come out of the campaign are all going to come down to something that Ronald Reagan famously said several decades ago, which is, are you doing better than you were four years ago. One of the benefits that Donald Trump has going for him, which I think
the Democrats are going to be struggling to overcome, is the improving nature of the American economy. Time and again, we see elections in many countries turning upon pocketbook issues.
If Donald Trump can make this about the economy, about the state of the American family and how they may or may not be doing financially, I think he's potentially at a better place than many people expect.
When you think about the state of Joe Biden, of course, I'm reminded constantly of John Kerry in 2004, the idea that he had a long, distinguished career in the Senate, necessarily. But that voting record will be used against Biden just as it was used against Kerry, in devastating effect, I think.
So it will be fascinating to see whether Biden can overcome the challenges by his own Democratic candidates long before he ever gets the chance to run against President Trump in the general election.
ALLEN: Absolutely. James Boys, we always appreciate your insights. Thanks so much.
BOYS: Thank you, Natalie.
ALLEN: Officials are sifting through the rubble after a massive explosion in Florida.
What caused all of this?
That story is next.
Also two major earthquakes in two days have left their mark on Southern California. Derek Van Dam will have the latest data for us.
ALLEN: At least 23 people are hurt after a violent blast in the state of Florida. The explosion happened at a mall north of Miami on Saturday. Authorities say it may have been caused by a gas leak and, thankfully, no one was killed. For more about it, CNN's Rosa Flores is in Plantation.
ROSA FLORES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: An apparent gas explosion at a strip mall in Plantation, Florida. Now Plantation is about 30 miles north of Miami in Broward County. I'm standing about 100 yards from that explosion.
Take a look behind me and you will see the debris field. It includes corrugated metal, insulation, brick. One of the firefighters I talked to described this scene as a war zone because of all of the debris that you're looking at, not just where the building exploded but also in the parking area.
Now from talking to some of the individuals who were at the shopping center at the time of the explosion, they describe a loud boom and also a cloud of smoke.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JESSE WALASCHEK, WITNESS: My car was parked right in front of the pizza place, the space directly across from where the place had exploded with the gas leak.
I loaded the kids in the car, drove away and maybe 15 seconds, 50 yards away and just in my rearview mirror, we just felt the loudest boom that you could -- that you could probably possibly feel. And I looked in my rearview mirror and it was just a dust cloud and I just kept driving.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
FLORES: According to the fire department, the primary search has been completed; a secondary search is ongoing. They also have inspectors checking the structural integrity of the buildings that you see around me.
The ATF is on scene investigating; of course, it's too early in the investigation to determine a cause and at this time the good news is that no fatalities are reported -- in Plantation, Florida, I'm Rosa Flores, back to you.
ALLEN: We turn now to Southern California. More than 5,000 earthquakes have rocked the state this weekend, the biggest a 7.1, which hit on Friday night in the Mojave Desert north of Los Angeles. The same area hit the day before by one measuring 6.4. Almost all of that seismic activity has been centered near this town of Ridgecrest.
On average, people there have been feeling the ground move about once a minute. The mayor says the tight knit community is resilient and they are all pulling together.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MAYOR PEGGY BREEDEN, RIDGECREST: We're a community in the middle of the desert, 28,000 people. They depend on us for their safety, their health and any provisions that we can provide and that's what we do.
I'm amazed at how strong our community is. We've had people walking around the streets. As you can probably tell, it's a little warm here. We've probably got 105 degrees and they are walking around, knocking on their neighbors' doors, asking, are you OK?
Do you need anything? We have building contractors volunteers their time; we have organizations saying, if you need help to fix up a fence, I will be there. We have volunteers all over the community walking around and helping.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ALLEN: Well, that's the good news, people come together in times like this.
ALLEN: Greece's prime minister says his party freed the country from economic ruin, bankruptcy. But that might not be enough to convince voters to reelect him Sunday. We will talk about it next.
Also in Italy, shipwrecked migrants finally reach land after the captain defies orders to stay away.
ALLEN: Welcome back to our viewers here in the U.S. and around the world, this is CNN NEWSROOM live from Atlanta. I'm Natalie Allen with the headlines.
ALLEN: Voting is underway in Greece's snap election and the country's prime minister is fighting for his political life. Voters may be ready to oust Alexis Tsipras in favor of his conservative opponent.
Many Greeks accuse the prime minister and his leftist Syriza party of breaking promises to avoid harsh austerity measures during the country's financial crisis.
Earlier I spoke to Nikos Vettas, professor at the Athens University of Economics, and I asked him why Greeks are ready to elect another conservative prime minister.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
NIKOS VETTAS, FOUNDATION FOR ECONOMICS AND INDUSTRIAL RESEARCH: The Greek economy had been in a recession since 2008, more than 10 years ago. It went through three austerity and adjustment programs; the last one ended last August.
The economy is still fragile, however. Capital controls are in effect. The deposits are not all of them back to the banks. Investment is actually quite weak and, most importantly, the growth rates that you would expect for an economy coming out of such a deep recession are weak.
So what the voters are now looking for --
VETTAS: -- is a government that will be able to deliver high growth rates and, in turn, what they call a normalcy in terms of their everyday life, this is not going to be an easy task but this is what the next government has delivered.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ALLEN: Polls are now open in Greece.
A rescue vessel carrying more than 40 shipwrecked migrants docked in Italy Saturday, despite a warning to stay away. The migrants who were rescued at sea waited more than 15 hours before they were allowed off the ship in the port city of Lampedusa.
Italy's far right interior minister is taking a hard stance, saying Italy is not a dumping ground for all Europe's problems.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MATTEO SALVINI, ITALIAN INTERIOR MINISTER (through translator): I saw that the German government wrote me a letter today, asking to reopen the ports and to let all the migrants disembark.
No, no, no. Absolutely not. Like it or not, there are some laws voted by the Italian parliament that represent 60 million Italians.
Therefore, on what grounds private ships managed by private people decide how to organize human trafficking and decide how and when to break laws?
Sea borders and land borders are the same.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ALLEN: The vessel was overcrowded when it arrived according to Italy's public television. The people were seen wearing orange life vests and tried to hide from the sun using rags and blankets.
This is the second migrant boat to arrive in Lampedusa recent days and it underscores a bitter divide in the European Union over immigration. As CNN's Bianca Nobilo reports, there is no easy answer to the question of how to handle it.
CAROLA RACKETE, CAPTAIN (from captions): Lampedusa port, can you provide me any information when I will be able to disembark the rescued people? BIANCA NOBILO, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Over a maritime radio channel, a German boat captain implores Italian authorities to let her dock with dozens of rescued migrants. They had been at sea for more than two weeks after requests for help had fallen on deaf ears.
RACKETE (from captions): I am still in a state of necessity and need to transfer them urgently to shore. Over.
NOBLES (voice-over): Disobeying orders to stay out of Italian waters, the charity rescue ship stays near the shoreline for days in a standoff with authorities. Finally the captain, 31-year-old Carola Rackete, announces she's been left with no solution as desperation worsens on board.
Illegally, she docks at Lampedusa's harbor. A mix of angry shouts and applause greet Rackete as she is escorted off the ship and arrested. The migrants on board are able to disembark. Italy's far right interior minister is furious.
"This is a criminal act, an act of war," he says in a social media post, alleging the captain rammed a police boat when she forcibly docked.
Germany's foreign minister demands her release, saying that rescuing people from sea is not a crime.
An Italian court eventually agrees, allowing Rackete to go free but her actions and the diplomatic spat that ensued underscore a bitter divide in the European Union.
Since 2015, when more than 1 million migrants landed on the shores of European countries, numbers of those crossing the Mediterranean from North Africa and the Middle East appear to have stabilized, steadily dropping since 2016.
But those migrants have since dispersed around the E.U., now concentrated in some member states more than others, each country forming its own policy to handle the newcomers.
National and E.U. elections have seen immigration as a top concern among most voters. Nationalist parties touting an anti-immigration stance gaining some momentum as more moderate parties struggle to address the issue.
Collectively, there is little common ground across the E.U., some asking for more equal distribution of migrants between member states, others closing their borders entirely and some even taking more radical views, like Italy's far right interior minister, who campaigned on a pledge to send 500,000 migrants back to their home country.
Speaking last year, German chancellor Angela Merkel urged E.U. countries to work toward a common solution, warning that the foundation of the union depends on it.
In the meantime, migrants trying to enter are dying at higher rates than before. Rescuers find increasing resistance from coastal E.U. countries and, in the case of the German boat captain --
NOBILO (voice-over): -- are left to drift at sea -- Bianca Nobilo, CNN, London.
ALLEN: The stage is set for the championship match of the Women's World Cup.
Will the U.S. claim another title or will the Netherlands pull off a stunning upset?
A preview coming up.
ALLEN: Just about five hours from now, the women's football World Cup final takes place. The U.S. will try to defend its title in a winner- take-all match against the Netherlands. CNN's Amanda Davies is in France with our preview.
AMANDA DAVIES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Lyon is the city that dubs itself the home of women's football and on Sunday it provides the stage for the game's biggest match, the World Cup final.
The defending champions, the USA, going head-to-head with the reigning European champions, the Netherlands, two sides with vastly different World Cup experience. The U.S. in a record fifth final while the Dutch have made it to the decider for just the first time in only their second World Cup.
With a squad that includes superstars like Megan Rapinoe, Carli Lloyd and Alex Morgan, they've lost just one match in the last two years. The U.S. are undoubtedly being talked about as the favorites.
But Morgan, score of six goals in the competition so far, has played down suggestions that there's any danger of complacency, as they search for a record-extending fourth World Cup crown.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ALEX MORGAN, TEAM USA: Our route to the final has been the most difficult that this program has ever seen and, so in terms of that, it seems --
MORGAN: -- the game is pretty close in the scorelines. I don't know how we can possibly be overly confident. I think we are proud of what we put out on the field.
We feel confident as a team and individually in our roles and I think that's all you can -- I think it's all a coach could possibly ask for.
MEREL VAN DONGEN, NETHERLANDS DEFENDER: I'm looking forward to playing a team that has a really large history in women's football, and to be outsiders and maybe as a young new team to make it very difficult for them and obviously I'm looking forward to playing a World Cup final. I mean, who would've thought?
ANOUK DEKKER, NETHERLANDS DEFENDER: Yes, we're the underdog in this final but I think it suits us and we will give everything. And then we will see at the end what the result is.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
DAVIES: Both teams are ensconced in their training camps with the big one getting ever closer. Fans have been arriving here the last couple of days for the sellout crowd expected at Sunday's game. It's a match that promises to be a fitting climax to a tournament that has already been dubbed by FIFA president Gianni Infantino as the best Women's World Cup ever.
We are just 90 minutes of football away to finding out who is crowned the world's best team -- Amanda Davies, CNN, Lyon, France.
ALLEN: Cannot wait for that.
What if the answer to stopping global warming were as simple as planting a tree or a few of them or a lot of them?
A new study shows just how effective tree cover can be for our environment. We will have an interview about it next.
ALLEN: And welcome back.
Sadly, we know that humans are, well, excellent at burning fossil fuels and producing enormous amounts of carbon. Since the Industrial Revolution we have pumped nearly 300 billion tons of extra carbon into the atmosphere and that's heating the Earth to dangerous levels.
But a new study says we may be able to mitigate that. The study carried out by researchers at the Swiss university ECH Zurich said that restoring forests could safely capture about 205 billion tons of that carbon.
The study says there are nearly 900 million hectares or more than 2 billion acres of free land that could be forested and that's an area almost as big as the entire United States.
The study's senior author told CNN, "This is way bigger than the next best solution and this is by far the cheapest. The best restoration projects out there that we know of are restoring billions of trees at 30 cents a tree. Scaled up to the numbers, that's about $300 billion."
That was from Tom Crowther, the study's senior author, professor of environmental system sciences at the ECH Zurich and climate scientist at the Crowther Lab and joins me live.
Hi, there. So nice to see you, Tom.
TOM CROWTHER, CLIMATE SCIENTIST: Hi. Thank you so much for having me on.
ALLEN: Let's talk about your tree solution; of all the clean tech, clean energy proposals and programs, you say planting billions of trees across the world is by far the biggest and cheapest way to tackle the climate crisis. Explain that.
CROWTHER: Well, that's it. So since the start of the Industrial Revolution, we've pumped out loads of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere and, as a result, there's about 300 gigatons of carbon up there right now. And obviously we need to focus on cutting future emissions so none of this precludes that.
But if we want to capture that 300 gigatons that's already up in the atmosphere warming the planet already, we need a really powerful solution. We've been amazed to find that when we map those areas around the world that could support trees, we generate a really new understanding of what's possible. And we find that forests could actually absorb a huge proportion of that 300 gigatons.
ALLEN: We are talking billions of trees. You see there where they could go. If this program, though, were adopted planting trees is one thing.
But how long would it take for forest restoration to have an effect on our atmosphere?
I mean, the clock is ticking.
CROWTHER: That is a really important consideration. It's as with all climate change solutions it's certainly a really long-term process. We won't capture the full potential of that carbon storage before the end of the century which highlights the necessity for us to get going right now.
This is a climate change solution that we have at our disposal that doesn't require any new top-down political decisions or new scientific discoveries. We can start acting now to start having a really powerful impact.
ALLEN: The only problem, Tom, is it sounds too good to be true.
I mean, how do you go about planting this many trees?
I mean, it sounds like a no-brainer but the reality is, the world governments can't seem to come together on a solution or solutions.
Can you expect this campaign to be supported and be implemented?
Is it feasible?
CROWTHER: Well, I think that's part of a really important part of the issue. Governments and people around the world haven't been able to prioritize this over the other thousands of climate change solutions -- and for good reason. You know, we have never known really what's possible.
But that's what we're hoping that, in the light of this new scientific information showing really that this is a much more immensely powerful system than we ever thought, that people might now invest more time and energy into it.
There is a really concerning sort of message that pervades the climate science world and that's it's really hard to achieve 100 percent restoration; therefore, if we can't achieve 100 percent, we shouldn't try anything. That's the kind of dangerous sort of thinking that's got us into this situation in the first place.
If we can achieve even 10 percent of what we're trying to achieve here, it would place restoration way, way up there with the top climate change solutions. So this is a really tangible one that we can get behind right now.
ALLEN: Right. And it's a low-tech solution and it's planting a tree.
So why are we just figuring this out now?
CROWTHER: Well, simply we haven't known where forests can exist across the planet. We've got a lot of research into --
CROWTHER: -- where forests are now and we've got a lot of research into where they used to be.
But until we've understood -- we've mapped the global ecosystems which could support forests, it's been impossible to quantify the scale of that impact. Now that we've done so, it's absolutely transformed my understanding of the best tools in the fight against climate change.
ALLEN: Well, Tom, we wish you all the best. It makes sense, doesn't it?
What's not to like about planting more trees, especially if they can have that impact? Tom Crowther, thanks so much and we wish you all the best with that.
Keep us posted.
CROWTHER: Thank you so much. Cheers, will do.
ALLEN: We turn now to China. A rice paddy field has been turned into a visual spectacle. Not trees, something else to share with you. Take a look at these pictures, they are portraits of giant pandas and Chinese characters all made of plants.
Officials say they created the patterns by carefully planting different strains of rice that grew into various colors and heights. The artwork has attracted visitors from across the country.
Now we just need some trees, don't we?
Thanks for watching CNN NEWSROOM, I'm Natalie Allen. For our U.S. viewers "NEW DAY" is ahead, for everyone else, stay with us on CNN International.