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World leaders commit to ambitious goals at U.N. climate summit

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

There was an important decision on climate change today at the U.N. meeting in Glasgow, Scotland. Almost 200 nations agreed to set more ambitious targets for cutting greenhouse emissions. They also called for more climate-related aid to developing countries. It's being called a landmark agreement. And NPR's Dan Charles is here to tell us more about it. Dan, thank you so much for joining us.

DAN CHARLES, BYLINE: Hi, Michel.

MARTIN: So please give us the high points of the agreement.

CHARLES: It is a significant step forward when it comes to targets for greenhouse gas emissions. It reaffirms an agreement from six years ago, which said nations will cut their greenhouse gas emissions enough to keep the warming of the planet to what they said well below 2 degrees, preferably 1.5 degrees. Most countries are nowhere close to reaching that goal as yet. But this deal puts the focus on that lower 1.5 degree target. And it says to get on that path, countries have to act right away. Next year, they are now supposed to deliver plans to cut their emissions by 45% within 10 years. And for the first time in one of these meetings, it specifically talks about getting rid of burning fossil fuels.

MARTIN: You know, you have countries that depend heavily on exports of coal and petroleum. So did many countries object to that?

CHARLES: There were objections. It was difficult at times. This is a consensus process, no voting. At the very last minute today, India and some other countries weakened one phrase from phasing out coal to just phasing it down. But you also had some powerful voices from countries whose survival is at stake from rising seas, such as Aminath Shauna from the Maldives.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

AMINATH SHAUNA: The difference between 1.5 and 2 degrees is a death sentence for us.

CHARLES: And in the end, they did get this call for a massive shift away from fossil fuels.

MARTIN: So could you tell us more about this idea of providing more aid to less wealthy countries to help them deal with climate change? We've been talking about this for a long time.

CHARLES: Right. This was a major demand from the African group, the less-developed country group. They said, this is a huge fairness issue. We are suffering from the effects of climate change, but we didn't cause it. And we can't build this new clean energy future on our own.

The final deal did include some attempts to address this. Wealthier countries say they will finally deliver on a promise they made a decade ago to provide a hundred billion per year for climate-related projects. And there's this new section promising more money, eventually, for what's called loss and damage, compensating countries for the harm that warming temperatures are now causing. But that section was not nearly as much or as firmly committed as the vulnerable countries wanted. Tenzin Wangmo from Bhutan pointed that out today.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

TENZIN WANGMO: We would like to register that the outcome on loss and damage was not what we expected. But at this hour, we do understand this is not the time for us to fall back into our differences.

CHARLES: So lots of disappointment there but not enough to sink the deal.

MARTIN: Now I want to remind everybody that this just happened. But what reaction are you hearing so far?

CHARLES: It's a mix. Environmental - environmentalists are glad that the goal of dramatic, immediate cuts in greenhouse gas emissions stayed in this document. But among some groups, there is a lot of anger about the lack of committed aid to developing countries.

MARTIN: Before we let you go, Dan, I want to ask about what role the U.S. played. I mean, the Trump administration rejected these climate talks, and the Biden administration is making climate a big focus. How did that go?

CHARLES: Former Secretary of State John Kerry was here the whole time, very visible, talking about the need for aggressive action to cut emissions. But when it came to the climate finance side, he did more talking than acting. The less-developed countries really wanted to set up a new organization to handle loss and damage. The U.S. helped block that idea.

MARTIN: Well, that is NPR's Dan Charles in Glasgow. Dan, thank you so much for bringing us up to date.

CHARLES: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF KIANA LEDE SONG, "SEPARATION") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.