ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
For the last two weeks, world leaders have been meeting in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, for COP 27, the annual U.N. conference on climate change. And since last year's COP in Scotland, the climate crisis has only gotten worse. At the conference, Pakistan's prime minister, Shehbaz Sharif, spoke about the deadly floods that have affected millions of people in his country this year.
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PRIME MINISTER SHEHBAZ SHARIF: We have to spend billions of dollars to protect flood-affected people from further miseries and difficulties. How on earth can one expect from us that we will undertake this gigantic task on our own?
SHAPIRO: Pakistan is not alone in contemplating the human and financial costs of climate change. COP 27 is being held in Africa, where historic droughts are hitting many parts of the continent. Cameroonian farmer Haoua Ali Beta says she was forced to leave behind a land that has grown less familiar.
HAOUA ALI BETA: (Non-English language spoken).
SHAPIRO: She says, farming isn't good when you over exploit the land for many years. Its fertility becomes depleted. Her family used to raise cattle in northeast Cameroon.
ALI BETA: (Through interpreter) There's not enough rain, and the cattle cannot survive without water.
SHAPIRO: Neither can people. Her community, known as Chua Arabs, started to compete for water access with another group that survived on fish caught in local streams. And their disputes over water eventually turned deadly.
ALI BETA: (Through interpreter) Villages and houses were burned. People were killed and burned.
SHAPIRO: And so, like thousands of others, Haoua Ali Beta became a climate migrant, forced to flee Cameroon for neighboring Chad, another nation struggling with drought. Further east in the Horn of Africa, the rainy season has failed for four consecutive years, and the region is now on track for a fifth season without rain. In Ethiopia, along the border of Somalia, areas that were once covered in lush green grass where cows would thrive have now just become dirt, dust and rocks. Zeenab Ahmed (ph), who is a herder, is one of the last people left in an area that was once a village. She says when the rain stopped, the place slowly became hell.
ZEENAB AHMED: (Through interpreter) Back then, there was (inaudible) for the livestock and then there was no water for both.
SHAPIRO: The severe drought, along with inflated food prices, has led to extreme hunger in East Africa. Over the border in Somalia, nearly half the population faces acute food insecurity. That's more than 7 million people, 1 1/2 million of them children, according to the World Food Program. Guyo Roba of the Jameel Observatory for Food Security says adapting to a warming planet will require changing the way we think about drought and hunger.
GUYO ROBA: How do we develop a framework that look at drought not as an emergency but as a creeping long-term climatic phenomenon?
SHAPIRO: Water scarcity and food insecurity have both been discussed at the U.N. climate conference. But can big international summits like COP produce the kind of action needed to improve the lives of the people most affected by climate change?
DAVID MILIBAND: They're all we've got. We're living in a fragmented political world where risks are increasingly global, but resilience is increasingly country specific. That's why we're in a mess.
SHAPIRO: David Miliband is the CEO of the International Rescue Committee. He's attended past climate summits, including when he was the British foreign secretary.
MILIBAND: Twenty countries in the world are responsible for 80% of the emissions. Those are countries that have to lead, and that's not yet happening, but that has to happen within the U.N. process. Obviously, there are 190 countries in the world. They all have a veto on the final declaration. But those 20 countries have no excuses, and they need to get on with it.
SHAPIRO: CONSIDER THIS - wealthy countries are overwhelmingly responsible for climate change and poor countries are disproportionately paying the price. So how much should the developed world pay for the damage? From NPR, I'm Ari Shapiro. It's Friday, November 18.
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SHAPIRO: It's CONSIDER THIS FROM NPR. Wealthy countries have agreed in principle to create a fund to help developing countries deal with climate change. But year after year, the money isn't there, even as the consequences of a warming planet keep getting more intense. To understand the U.S.'s role, my colleague Mary Louise Kelly spoke with national climate adviser to President Biden, Ali Zaidi.
ALI ZAIDI: You know, from Day 1 of this administration, when the president signed us back into the Paris Agreement, he came in with a very clear conviction that major economies must drive major emissions reductions. That's exactly the policy he's pursued here domestically. We're now on a path to get 50 to 52% emissions reductions by 2030. Now, at the same time, we've got to recognize that we've unleashed some of the impacts of a changing climate. And the way we tackle that has got to be together. We've got to be in partnership, in solidarity with folks all around the world. And that's why the president has been very clear.
MARY LOUISE KELLY, BYLINE: Well - and I hear you using the words partnership and solidarity. And I'm thinking, if I were from a country like, say, Pakistan that is drowning through no fault of their own - they say the U.S. keeps talking, keeps throwing these big numbers out there. But is that just kind of kicking the can down the road? What would you say to that?
ZAIDI: Yeah. As someone who was actually born in Karachi, Pakistan, I totally hear what you're saying. And one of the things that I think animates the entirety of the president's climate agenda is a focus on delivering results. That's why he's launched the Prepare Initiative, which is working to help half a billion people in developing countries respond to climate - he's deposited money, the first installment, into an adaptation fund that's designed to do just this sort of work, help broaden...
KELLY: But he's not - forgive me for jumping in. But, again, just back to this question of - if the U.S. thinks it's a great idea to set up a fund for losses and damages, why won't the U.S. just come out and say that and put its money where its mouth is?
ZAIDI: I think the United States has been clear that it's important for us to be a partner in supporting countries around the world, tackle the impacts of climate that have already been unleashed, that resources need to be mobilized to that end. That's why we have invested in things like the Adaptation Fund and why our Development Finance Corporation deployed $2.3 billion on climate for developing countries in just the last year. So it's a commitment. It is a recognition of the challenge. And we're fully leaned in to bringing that to bear.
KELLY: Can you put a number on how much money the U.S. is willing to offer for losses and damages?
ZAIDI: The president has been clear about the amount of capital we need to mobilize on climate finance - broadly, $11 billion by 2024 on an annual basis. And within that, he is focused on including 3 billion specifically on adaptation.
KELLY: Just one more on the question of loss and damage finance because I do want to note that the U.S. allowed that to be added to the meeting's agenda for the first time but also demanded a footnote excluding the ideas of liability for historic emitters such as the U.S. or compensation for countries affected by that pollution. To those who look at that, to what actually has just unfolded in Sharm el-Sheikh and say, I don't know; I wonder how earnest the U.S. commitment is to loss and damage compensation, what would you say?
ZAIDI: I think the United States recognizes that we are in the decisive decade for climate action. That's something that's stipulated by the science. It's being witnessed in our communities not here but all around the world. And the president's response has been strong. It's been unambiguous. And he's delivering results. As a major emitter and a major economy, we are on track now to drive down our emissions 50 to 52% by 2030. The U.S. is back at the table. And I think louder than words are the actions that we're taking. And the president is driving us forward on bold, ambitious climate action.
KELLY: But what about India? What about China, both of them major greenhouse gas emitters? Their leaders both skipped the conference. What's their responsibility here?
ZAIDI: I think we're seeing the president galvanize action across the world, most recently with a global MOU that we just signed into on heavy duty trucks moving to zero emissions. We're excited about the progress that we're making. And it didn't happen by accident. It happened because the president of United States decided not only are we signing back into the Paris Agreement; America is going to help us lead.
KELLY: Big picture, you're just back from Sharm el-Sheikh. You were there at the conference with the president. It's your job, as people are gathering, to be optimistic and search for solutions here. But you will be aware of some of the very bleak headlines coming out of the conference. The lead of my NPR colleague Nate Rott's story today from Sharm el-Sheikh reads - and I quote - "global climate talks in Egypt are entering their final stretch. And so far, delegates have made little progress on the biggest climate questions facing humanity." Ali Zaidi, is he right?
ZAIDI: Here's the way I look at it. I remember flying to Paris for the climate negotiations in 2015. And at that time, the world was looking at temperature rise five, six degrees, maybe more. I remember walking through the gates of the White House when President Biden took office, and the world was looking at a temperature rise of three degrees, maybe more. Now we're looking at something below two degrees. I think that's a really hopeful story. I know folks like to write climate change as a story of gloom and doom. I think it's a story of hope and opportunity. And I think Joe Biden sees that and is tapping into that power and that potential in accelerating us forward.
SHAPIRO: White House climate adviser Ali Zaidi speaking to my colleague, Mary Louise Kelly. You heard additional reporting in today's episode from NPR's Eyder Peralta and Willem Marx. It's CONSIDER THIS FROM NPR. I'm Ari Shapiro.
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