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Countries at COP26 agree to scale up efforts to combat climate change

DANIELLE KURTZLEBEN, BYLINE: After two weeks and some overtime, negotiators at the U.N. Climate Summit in Glasgow have reached a deal intended to scale up efforts to combat climate change. The deal adds some specifics to countries' pledges to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and also urges wealthy nations to increase financial aid to poorer ones to help them cope with climate change. Joining us now to reflect on the conclusion of the talks is Cassie Flynn, who recently left the talks in Glasgow. She's a climate adviser to the U.N. Development Program and supports developing countries in meeting their climate goals under the Paris Agreement. Cassie, thank you for being with us.

CASSIE FLYNN: It's a pleasure to be here.

KURTZLEBEN: OK, so there are some different aspects of the agreements that we're going to talk about, so let's start with the part that deals with countries' pledges to curb emissions. What progress was made there, and is it enough to prevent catastrophic warming?

FLYNN: Well, one of the really important elements of COP26 in Glasgow was that countries around the world were meant to arrive in Scotland with these national pledges. And they've got a pretty wonky name called nationally determined contributions. But these really make up the heart of the Paris Agreement. It's the contribution that every country in the world must make. And the really key element of this is that when you add up all of these pledges together, you are supposed to get a sense for what path we're on. Are we going to keep ourselves safe? Are we going to keep global temperature rise limited to 1.5 degrees, this magical number? And the addition of all of these national pledges really shows us that while we have made progress in the last few years, we are still at about 2.5 degrees when you add up all of these pledges. So it's a full degree off from where we need to be.

KURTZLEBEN: OK, so we're not on track for that. Was there anything else you would have liked to see happen during that summit that didn't happen?

FLYNN: Well, Glasgow was a good step forward. It wasn't the leap that we all needed to be able to address the climate crisis. But we did have some really good elements coming out of it, and one of the biggest is the negotiators finalized something called the Paris Agreement Rulebook, an - essentially the operational manual for the Paris Agreement to make sure that everyone plays by the same rules as they are putting forward these pledges on climate change, as they're interacting with each other on the climate crisis. And this has been negotiated for years. In Glasgow, negotiators were looking at some of the stickiest, most complicated issues as a part of this rulebook, and they were able to get it over the line. So I find that very encouraging.

KURTZLEBEN: OK, so as I said earlier, many poorer countries are facing increasingly expensive disasters as a result of climate change, which is a problem they've contributed little to. And although richer countries have long pledged to help with money, they haven't completely followed through. So I'm curious. You work with developing nations as they try to curb their emissions and adapt to the effects of climate change. So from your perspective, did the meeting address this problem sufficiently?

FLYNN: Not yet.

KURTZLEBEN: OK.

FLYNN: There's a lot of work that has to be done to be able to support developing countries. And I think that, you know, as we're seeing some of these impacts happen in real time - you know, we're seeing Category 5 storms at a frequency and intensity that we've never seen before. And when we see them sort of completely impact a Caribbean island - you know, for example, Antigua Barbuda - in the matter of just a few hours, 90% of their GDP was wiped out. And so as countries face these really, really high-stakes challenges, these vast, overwhelming climate crises, the - you know, the rich countries - they had pledged that they were going to provide $100 billion per year by 2020. And the year 2020 came and went, and unfortunately, that $100 billion goal hadn't been reached. Many calculations say that we got to about $80 billion, but that's still quite a ways off from where we needed to be. And I think many developing countries arrived in Glasgow ready to hear from the richer countries that that gap was going to be filled. And while those checks didn't necessarily arrive in Glasgow, the conversation continues, and I think we will start seeing that gap filled, hopefully in the next couple of years.

KURTZLEBEN: So coming out of this summit, what is the most pressing issue that countries are facing in actually solving climate change?

FLYNN: Well, I think there's a few issues here. I mean, 1, that as we're looking around and we're seeing these wildfires in the Western United States, we are seeing flooding in Europe, we are seeing all sorts of these challenges around us - I think many countries are realizing this crisis is here, and it is now. It is not something that we necessarily think about as way off in the future. And this urgency is, I think, our biggest challenge. When it comes to the climate crisis, by far, our biggest, biggest enemy is time. We have to make these big changes, and we have to make them immediately.

KURTZLEBEN: And very quickly here, what are the stakes if these conversations don't get more urgent?

FLYNN: The stakes are really high, and I think that as we look around and we see all of these impacts, we need the COP process. Next year, we'll be in Egypt, and we will see a lot of these conversations continue because countries are faced with making these big transformational choices, and we all have to do it together. We can't just have a few countries and not some.

KURTZLEBEN: Cassie Flynn is climate adviser to the U.N. Development Program. Thank you for joining us.

FLYNN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.