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COP28 Update: Promises And Regrets

SCOTT DETROW, HOST:

As we near the end of what is likely to be the hottest year on record, representatives from nearly every country on Earth are meeting in Dubai to try to agree on a plan to keep warming in check. It's the latest in a series of United Nations climate conferences known as COP, and many of them over the past decade have made big promises, promises that still are not being fully met as the Earth keeps warming. We're going to hear more about the United Arab Emirates as the venue for an international climate conference in a few minutes. But first - update on this year's negotiations. We are joined by NPR's Nathan Rott, who is in Dubai. Hey, Nate.

NATHAN ROTT, BYLINE: Hey.

DETROW: How's it going out there?

ROTT: Scott, it is smoggy, hot and contentious - so pretty much all the perfect conditions for people from every corner of the world to come together and try to address a global crisis.

DETROW: Yeah. When I hear smoggy, hot and contentious, I think that is a prime setting to reach complicated agreements.

ROTT: Totally, man. And, you know, jokes aside, it's not all that bad. You know, this United Nations climate conference known as COP, as you said, it happens almost every year. This is the 28th iteration of it. And like most COPs, we've already seen some flashy pledges and promises from countries, including the U.S., to address super climate-warming emissions like methane. We saw countries establish and put money into something called a loss and damage fund, which will help provide money to poorer countries that have not contributed that much to climate change but are already feeling disproportionate effects.

But the main goal of this summit is to take stock of how the world is doing, and it's pledged to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius compared to pre-industrial times. That's a bit more than 2.5 degrees Fahrenheit, for those in America. And they want to try to agree to language that will maybe put us on a path towards that goal.

DETROW: But given the hottest year on record, given all the extreme heat and weather that we've been seeing, I feel like maybe is not the word we are looking for. It sounds like we are not currently on that track.

ROTT: We are not currently on that track. I'll let Jim Skea, the chairman of the U.N.'s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the world's authority on the state of climate change, answer that question for you.

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JIM SKEA: It's still possible just to do it, but we are really running out of time rapidly because at some point, if we carry on as we are, we will run out of rope, effectively, and we will be above 1.5.

ROTT: So there have been commitments made here, the pledge to cut methane that I mentioned and 130 countries signing on to a deal aimed at tripling renewable energy capacity by 2030 globally. Those will help, but the International Energy Agency put out a report earlier today that found even if all those parties who signed onto those deals follow through, it still would not be nearly enough to limit warming to 1.5.

DETROW: So what are other things people are talking about to close that gap then?

ROTT: So the most controversial and perhaps the most consequential item that countries are considering here is a pledge to phase out fossil fuels. Now, there are a lot of caveats here. What's the timeline of a phaseout? What does phaseout even mean? All of this is still being debated, and it's getting a lot of pushback from big fossil fuel-producing companies and countries like, chiefly, Saudi Arabia. But I've heard that there are some smaller developing countries that are leery of that pledge, too, because their countries also run on fossil fuels. And Brandon Wu, a climate activist from the group ActionAid USA, explains countries are leery because of money.

BRANDON WU: They cannot go home and sell this without the promise that support is going to come. Most developing countries simply do not have the resources to do an urgent fossil fuel phaseout without that support, and they have no reason to believe, based on, you know, decades of history at this point, that it will come.

ROTT: And this question of funding, of whether richer countries like the U.S., the EU, China are going to help smaller countries not only pay for an energy transition but also adapt to the climate change that's already occurred, this is hanging over all of these negotiations and is going to be one of the biggest challenges to finding some sort of consensus here in the coming days.

DETROW: That's NPR's Nathan Rott at the U.N. climate conference in Dubai. Nate, stay cool.

ROTT: Thank you, Scott. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Scott Detrow
Scott Detrow is a White House correspondent for NPR and co-hosts the NPR Politics Podcast.
Nathan Rott
Nathan Rott is a correspondent on NPR's National Desk, where he focuses on environment issues and the American West.