COP27 just started — here's what is at stake in the global climate negotiations World leaders are meeting in Egypt for the next two weeks to talk about reining in climate change and paying for its deadly effects. Here's what you need to know.

FAQ: What's at stake at the COP27 global climate negotiations

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International climate negotiations have begun in Egypt.


World leaders are meeting for the next two weeks to talk about reining in climate change and paying for its deadly effects.

INSKEEP: Rebecca Hersher of NPR's climate desk is covering the 27th annual United Nations Climate Summit.

Rebecca, good morning.


INSKEEP: How is this meeting different from the other 26?

HERSHER: Well, the calamities just keep piling up. You know, just this year, there was catastrophic flooding in Pakistan, heat waves in Europe and in the U.S., Hurricane Ian. These are all supercharged by climate change. So these annual negotiations - they've taken on more and more urgency in recent years because, you know, climate change is killing people, and it's disrupting lives and economies around the world.

So hundreds of top leaders from around the world will be in Egypt in person. They'll be negotiating about the thorniest climate questions - you know, who should pay for the cost of a hotter Earth, how to stop burning fossil fuels, and how quickly - this the most important questions - can humans cut our greenhouse gas emissions?

INSKEEP: How quickly do humans need to cut their greenhouse gas emissions?

HERSHER: Extremely quickly - basically, humans need to cut greenhouse gas emissions as quickly as humanly possible. That's what the science shows. Every day and every bit of additional carbon in the atmosphere means the Earth gets hotter and that that happens faster. So one really interesting thing about this meeting, actually, is that in the last year, scientists published an incredibly detailed report on this question, and they did the math, you know? And they found that the big takeaway was that if humans cut greenhouse gas emissions by about half in the next decade, that it's possible to avoid really catastrophic warming later this century, like, when today's schoolchildren are middle-aged.

INSKEEP: Oh, so possible to avoid catastrophe - that sounds good. Are we...

HERSHER: It's the good news. Yeah.

INSKEEP: ...On track for that?

HERSHER: No. No, we're not. The way these negotiations work, each country makes its own promises about reducing emissions. So right now some of the biggest and fastest growing economies, like China and India, say that their emissions won't peak until 2030. The good news is the U.S. is within striking distance of cutting its emissions in half this decade, but that's not enough on its own.

So here's one way to think about it. The big Paris climate agreement from 2015 - it set a goal of limiting overall global warming to well below 2 degrees Celsius. Right now we're about halfway there. And right now if countries just do what they've already promised, we're headed toward more, like, 3 degrees of warming. That is too much warming. So it's a crucial moment for world leaders to really do some serious talking.

INSKEEP: What are the most contentious topics in that talk?

HERSHER: Money and money - money is the topic.


HERSHER: There are a lot of low-income countries that are suffering really big damage from climate-driven storms, from rising seas, heat waves, droughts. And their leaders are increasingly frustrated because wealthy countries, countries like the U.S. that are overwhelmingly responsible for the emissions that caused current global warming - they are not helping to pay for the damage enough. That will be a really big and contentious topic at this meeting. And relatedly, rich countries have already pledged a lot of money to poorer countries to help with this kind of thing but haven't delivered - that money that would help with things like transitioning away from fossil fuels - right? - for electricity and transportation. So that will be on the table at this meeting as well.

INSKEEP: For some reason, I'm reminded of that "Seinfeld" bit about, you know, the difference between making the reservation and keeping the reservation. So they've made the commitments. But you're saying they need to keep the commitments. That's the key.

HERSHER: Yes. Yes.

INSKEEP: OK. NPR's Rebecca Hersher with the update. Thanks so much.

HERSHER: All right. Thanks.

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