Three Takeaways From The COP27 Climate Conference : Short Wave The climate meeting known as COP27 has wrapped. Representatives from almost 200 countries attended to talk about how to tackle climate change and how to pay for the costs of its effects that the world is already seeing. Rebecca Hersher and Michael Copley from NPR's Climate Desk talk with Emily about why the meeting went into overtime, three big things that came out of it, and the long and bumpy road still ahead to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Three Takeaways From The COP27 Climate Conference

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/1138620604/1138806197" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

EMILY KWONG, HOST:

You're listening to SHORT WAVE...

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

KWONG: ...From NPR.

All right, so COP27 has wrapped. Here to talk about it are Rebecca Hersher and Michael Copley from NPR's Climate Desk. Hello.

REBECCA HERSHER, BYLINE: Hi.

MICHAEL COPLEY, BYLINE: Hello.

KWONG: Hi. And, Michael, welcome to SHORT WAVE and to NPR. You have a new beat on the climate desk. Tell us about it.

COPLEY: Thanks, Emily. It's great to be here. So I focus on accountability on the desk - looking at what corporations are doing or are not doing to address climate change and how money moves around in global warming conversations.

KWONG: Super interesting work. We're taping this on the heels of the world's biggest climate conference - COP27 - which just wrapped in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt.

HERSHER: Yeah, representatives from almost 200 countries were at that meeting, negotiating about how to tackle climate change and how to pay for the costs of a hotter earth.

COPLEY: And it took forever. It finally wrapped up over the weekend, about 36 hours past the deadline.

KWONG: Wow.

COPLEY: Our intrepid colleague, Nate Rott, was there, sleeping on the floor of the conference, so he wouldn't miss anything.

KWONG: Sounds like Nate. What was the holdup? What was taking so long to agree on?

HERSHER: Basically, the big sticking point was money. And there was a breakthrough right at the end on that topic. So countries agreed to create a new fund - a pot of money to help the nations that are most vulnerable to climate change pay for damage that's caused by global warming, like severe drought or sea level rise that's swallowing island nations or floods, like the deadly floods that hit Pakistan just a few months ago. And here's Pakistan's climate minister, Sherry Rehman. She took the floor at around 5 in the morning, local time, after a long night of last-minute talks.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

SHERRY REHMAN: Good morning, Mr. President, excellencies, friends...

HERSHER: She was addressing the president of the meeting, Egypt's foreign minister, and she really celebrated the creation of this new fund.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

REHMAN: It responded to the voices of the vulnerable, the damaged and the lost of the whole world.

KWONG: Hmm. Why does this new source of money strike such an emotional chord for her and for others?

COPLEY: You know, I mean, look, it's been a really long road. Getting the countries that are most responsible for emissions to help pay for the damage that those emissions are causing has always been a big part of negotiations, but it's never even been allowed on the agenda. So even though this fund doesn't have any actual money in it yet, just creating it felt like a big win for a lot of places.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

REHMAN: We have struggled for 30 years on this part. And today, in Sharm el-Sheikh, this journey has achieved its first positive milestone. The establishment of a fund is not about dispensing charity. It is clearly a down payment on the longer investment in our joint futures. It is a down payment and an investment in climate justice.

KWONG: Hmm. So it sounds like this part of the climate agenda really did deliver some results.

COPLEY: Yeah. But as you might expect, Emily, there were other areas where there was a lot less agreement, a lot less progress - the big one being there's still no agreement on cutting greenhouse gas emissions.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

KWONG: So today on the show - the climate conference just wrapped up, and it is a mixed bag. Here are the three big things that came out of this meeting. You're listening to SHORT WAVE, the daily science podcast from NPR.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

KWONG: OK. So Michael Copley...

COPLEY: Yep.

KWONG: ...Rebecca Hersher, the first big takeaway from the climate meeting is that richer countries are going to help pay for the damage caused by climate change in poorer countries.

HERSHER: Exactly.

KWONG: Yeah. And we did a whole episode on SHORT WAVE about this recently. Basically, this is a form of climate reparations.

HERSHER: Yeah. Our colleague, Lauren Sommer, actually used the example of - what if your neighbor did some construction on their house, and it damaged the foundation of your house next door? And all of a sudden, your home was falling apart. It was unsafe. You might even need to move. You'd naturally want your neighbor to help pay for that.

KWONG: Yeah.

HERSHER: So that's the idea behind having the countries that have caused climate change with greenhouse gas emissions help pay for its effects.

KWONG: And how did this idea fare at the meeting?

COPLEY: Well, it was a really contentious topic. So countries that are going to be on the hook for the money were arguing that other countries should also have to pay. And China is the elephant in the room here. It's the world's biggest emitter, and it's the second-biggest economy. And a lot of countries think China should pay for the damage that its emissions are causing. Now, China says that, while it's open to voluntarily contributing, it should only be an obligation for historically wealthier countries, like the United States.

KWONG: Oh, interesting. And yeah, what about the United States? Our country has emitted the most greenhouse gases of anyone over the years. Were we on board with this idea?

COPLEY: So the U.S. was choosing its words really carefully when the meeting started.

KWONG: OK.

COPLEY: It acknowledged that wealthy countries are responsible for a lot of the emissions, but it wouldn't say what exactly should be done about that. And that was really frustrating to a lot of countries because the U.S. has been blamed for blocking this issue in the past.

HERSHER: And that frustration was really obvious - like, right from the get-go - at this meeting. For example, on day two, President William Ruto of Kenya laid out the enormous cost of climate change in Africa.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT WILLIAM RUTO: In the past 50 years, drought-related hazards have claimed the lives of over half a million people and led to economic losses of over $70 billion in the region.

KWONG: Wow.

HERSHER: He went on - he explained that the Kenyan government is being forced to take money that was supposed to be for schools and hospitals and use it for emergency food aid instead because of the current drought, which is being made worse by climate change. And he called out countries that have promised to help pay and then don't - countries like the U.S.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

RUTO: Further delay will make us busy spectators as calamity wipes out lives and livelihoods.

KWONG: So what was the turning point in the meeting that finally made it possible for this fund to actually be created?

COPLEY: I mean, look, I think, like, the U.S. was becoming more and more isolated as the meeting went on.

KWONG: Sure.

COPLEY: And if this didn't happen, I think there was a sense that the U.S. could be blamed. And in the end, the U.S. agreed to make this fund. There are still a lot of questions about how it'll work. Creating it is just the first step. Who's going to pay? Which countries will get the money? The agreement basically says that the most vulnerable countries get first dibs. But which countries is that, exactly?

KWONG: Yeah.

COPLEY: And how much money will be available, and when? And where will it come from - just governments or also the private sector? A lot needs to be decided as soon as possible.

KWONG: Oh, that's interesting. Right. OK. So it's a historic move. Everything else about it needs to be figured out. What is the second big takeaway from the meeting?

HERSHER: Well, it's not as cheery, and it has to do with preventing all of that damage from climate change.

COPLEY: Yeah.

HERSHER: So right after the meeting officially ended, our colleague, Nate Rott, talked to one of the people who led the negotiations to create this new fund to pay for so-called loss and damage. And her name is Maisa Rojas. She's the environment minister for Chile. She was happy about the fund - called it historic. But she had a warning, too.

MAISA ROJAS: Remember that we're talking about loss and damage because we have failed to reduce emissions. So it's not really a reason to celebrate.

KWONG: Yeah, I mean, she's just connecting the dots here to greenhouse gas emissions. But you said earlier the meeting didn't actually result in any plans from countries on how they were going to reduce greenhouse gas emissions - at least not this time around. So how did that happen?

COPLEY: OK. So there was a big push for the final agreement to explicitly call for not using so many fossil fuels.

KWONG: OK.

HERSHER: Right, because humans using fossil fuels is causing climate change, just to be clear.

COPLEY: Right.

HERSHER: The vast majority of greenhouse gas emissions come from oil and gas and coal. So a lot of people at this meeting wanted to finally see countries agree on that basic idea that humans should work together to stop doing that, but they didn't.

COPLEY: No.

KWONG: Why?

COPLEY: I mean, I think the reality is the oil and gas industry had a huge lobbying presence at these talks, and a few countries that make an awful lot of money selling fossil fuels stood in the way. For example, negotiators from Saudi Arabia tried to steer the conversation away from oil and gas, which Saudi Arabia produces a lot of. Here's Albara Tawfiq of Saudi Arabia speaking on behalf of 22 Arab countries at the closing session through a U.N. translator.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ALBARA TAWFIQ: (Through interpreter) We would like to emphasize that the convention needs to address emissions and not the origin of the emissions.

KWONG: Wait, wait, wait - so he is trying to argue that greenhouse gases are the problem, but not the fuels that produce them?

COPLEY: Exactly. But it's still really expensive to prevent emissions from burning fossil fuels. It's called carbon capture. It basically traps the greenhouse gases before they get into the atmosphere. But critics say the technology hasn't proven to be very effective.

KWONG: OK. So reducing use of fossil fuels is not in the final agreement.

COPLEY: No, it's not. There were a few references to fossil fuels. The final agreement says countries should cut down on how much coal they use unless they're taking steps to reduce emissions, and it says countries should stop giving subsidies to the fossil fuel industry that make it harder to cut emissions.

KWONG: Hmm. I'm feeling some whiplash here. On the one hand, this ray of hope with this new money potentially going to the most vulnerable countries, and on the other hand, there doesn't seem to be any agreement about how to get at the root of any future problems by cutting fossil fuels. What do you make of these two things together?

HERSHER: Yeah, I mean, you hit on, like, the central dissonance of our professional lives and of these meetings. Like, you're right.

COPLEY: Yeah.

HERSHER: On one hand, you get some progress, and on the other hand, the fossil fuels are still being burned.

COPLEY: And I think the reality is there's a lot of power and money to be gained by keeping fossil fuels in the global economy.

KWONG: Yeah. OK. What is the third takeaway from the climate meeting?

HERSHER: Well, the third thing is that there were some smaller bits of progress.

KWONG: Cool. What are those?

HERSHER: So for one thing, a lot of countries have agreed to reduce methane emissions. Methane is a really powerful greenhouse gas. It traps a lot more heat than carbon dioxide, and it mainly comes from oil and gas operations, from agriculture and from landfills. The U.S. and dozens of other countries are formally pledging to cut down on methane emissions.

KWONG: All right. Nice.

HERSHER: Yeah. Another bright spot - there's a new plan to beef up weather forecasts and warnings about severe weather in places that don't have that right now.

KWONG: Cool.

HERSHER: So that's something that could potentially save lives around the world.

KWONG: Double nice.

COPLEY: Yeah.

HERSHER: Double nice.

COPLEY: And just one more thing - I think it's important to remember the broader context here. You know, this is a really hard moment. Countries are facing financial turmoil. There's a war in Ukraine and a global energy crisis. And on top of that, the two largest emitters - the U.S. and China - weren't even talking about how to work together to reduce emissions when the meeting started. And by the end, they were chatting. So the fact that some progress was made in the face of all of that - it's not nothing.

KWONG: So taken all together, this picture you've painted - very clear - there's a fund for damage, some additional progress on methane and weather stations, but no specific commitments on how to reduce fossil fuel emissions in the first place. What does this all mean? What does this meeting say to you about how humanity is dealing with climate change?

COPLEY: I think one thing is just the fact that these vulnerable countries were able to get this fund created at all. It's a big deal. These are countries that don't usually have a lot of sway in international negotiations, and they forced bigger, richer countries to bend on this issue. The other thing I'd say is that these climate talks really do come down to money. And now that we're talking about wealthier countries actually paying for the damage that climate change is causing, I think that may create more urgency to actually deal with what's making the planet hotter.

KWONG: That's interesting. So they may be on the hook financially.

COPLEY: Yeah.

HERSHER: Yeah, exactly. The other thing that I think is really clear after this meeting is that the clock is ticking. Like, scientists say emissions need to be cut basically in half by the end of the decade to avoid catastrophic warming this century. Frans Timmermans of the European Commission really hit on this right after the meeting ended. He was chatting with reporters, and he pointed out that the Paris Agreement's goal of limiting warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial temperatures - it is looming. Like, we are already at more than one degree of warming, and we're on track for more than two degrees of warming in the coming decades, he pointed out.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

FRANS TIMMERMANS: And that is unacceptable. We really need to speed up. And I'm sorry if - you know, if I spoil the atmosphere for some people here, but this needs to be said.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

KWONG: Yeah. Scientifically speaking, it absolutely needs to be said. And thanks for saying it and bringing all of this to us today.

HERSHER: You're welcome.

COPLEY: You're welcome.

KWONG: Today's show was produced by Rebecca Ramirez, edited by our senior supervising editor, Gisele Grayson, and fact checked by Abe Levine. The audio engineer for this episode was Robert Rodriguez. Brendan Crump is our podcast coordinator. Beth Donovan is our senior director, and Anya Grundmann is our senior vice president of programming. Nathan Rott contributed reporting from Sharm el-Sheikh, in Egypt. I'm Emily Kwong. Thanks for listening to SHORT WAVE from NPR.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

Copyright © 2022 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

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.