What is the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow all about? A major climate meeting has gotten underway in Glasgow, Scotland. It's a pivotal moment in the struggle against climate change. But it's taking place in the midst of political tensions.

The COP26 summit to fight climate change has started. Here's what to expect

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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

A global climate summit gets underway in Glasgow, Scotland, next week. NPR's Dan Charles explains what it will and will not achieve.

DAN CHARLES, BYLINE: This is probably the most important meeting on the climate since six years ago in Paris, when 190-some countries agreed on drastic action to prevent the worst effects of planetary warming. This is like a midterm exam to see where countries stand. Rachel Kyte, who is dean of the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, says they're failing.

RACHEL KYTE: We're still not on track. So there's a gap. There's an emissions gap, and there's an ambition gap, and there's a finance gap.

CHARLES: Countries set a very specific target in Paris - keep the planet from heating up more than 1 1/2 degrees Celsius - 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit - compared to pre-industrial times. That will now require immediate cuts in global greenhouse emissions, bringing them practically to zero within about 30 years.

KYTE: We don't have any time. We just don't have any time. The science is so compelling about how quickly we are risking really extreme events if we don't get a handle on our emissions.

CHARLES: Countries won't be negotiating directly with each other in Glasgow over how much fossil fuel they burn. The way the Paris Agreement works, it's up to each country to submit its own emission-cutting plan as a contribution toward that overall goal. It's like a GoFundMe for the planet. Christiana Figueres, the former climate chief for the United Nations, says in Glasgow everybody will see what those contributions add up to.

CHRISTIANA FIGUERES: We're going to come around the table. We're going to be transparent with each other. We're going to say what we did and, above all, what more are we going to do.

CHARLES: Climate advocates are looking for better offers from China, Australia, India. The Biden administration has promised big cuts in America's emissions, but Congress isn't approving some of the most important programs to achieve that goal. Figueres says there is still some good news in all this. The plans the countries have turned in so far will make a real difference - if countries carry them out. Instead of the planet heating up, say, 3 or 4 degrees Celsius, this scenario predicts warming of just over 2 degrees C - less catastrophic.

FIGUERES: We are making progress. We're not at the level that we should be, but we're moving in that direction.

CHARLES: She admits, though, the political conditions for this event are really tough. The U.S. and China aren't getting along, and a lot of poorer countries are angry. As part of the Paris Agreement, they were supposed to get $100 billion a year to help them cope with climate change and also develop carbon-free energy sources. That hasn't happened. Chukwumerije Okereke, director of the Centre for Climate Change and Development in Nigeria, says countries like his are experiencing droughts, more intense cyclones, rising oceans.

CHUKWUMERIJE OKEREKE: These poor countries are having to live with the impact of climate change on a daily basis. And make no mistake about it - they're not responsible for this problem.

CHARLES: They will be pushing for more solid commitments and more money. Over the past decade, these almost-annual diplomatic meetings have turned into public extravaganzas, with tens of thousands of business executives and activists, like a session of Congress, a trade show and a political demonstration all in one. And Rachel Kyte from the Fletcher School says this event itself has become a force that pushes corporations and even governments to act.

KYTE: There is huge pressure from civil society, from the public, from investors, from politicians to, you know, go to Glasgow with something.

CHARLES: They'll show up and make their own promises to cut greenhouse emissions. But Kyte says these climate meetings are not like a World Series game where somebody hits a walk-off home run and it's over. It's like an Iditarod, she says - long and arduous. It can seem like it never ends.

Dan Charles, NPR News.

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