Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

As The Biggest Climate Conference Since Paris Ends, What's Accomplished?


The international climate meeting has gone into overtime in Poland. It was supposed to be over, but they're still at it. Countries still can't agree on a set of rules for reducing their carbon emissions. NPR's Rebecca Hersher has been at the meeting all week and joins us. Becky, thanks so much for being with us.

REBECCA HERSHER, BYLINE: You're welcome. Hi, Scott.

SIMON: And why are countries having so much trouble agreeing?

HERSHER: Well, this meeting is all about putting the Paris Agreement - that was back in 2015 - into action. So every country made a promise back then to reduce greenhouse gases a certain amount. But every promise is different. So it's really hard to come up with a set of rules that everyone - we're talking about almost 200 countries - thinks is fair for tracking our collective progress.

SIMON: What seems to be the principal sticking points right now?

HERSHER: Well, there are a couple things. On a really basic level - and this really is basic - countries still haven't agreed on how they are going to track their carbon emissions and how much information they're going to disclose to each other about their economies, which is part of that. And some countries are more private than others about their economy. So for example, China. China is notoriously private. The U.S. actually is, too. We don't really love to give extra information to other countries in the world about how we operate.

So on the flipside, poorer countries are worried. They don't know how they're going to pay for the kind of in-depth analysis that it takes to track emissions. They want richer countries to help them with that and also to help them with paying for all sorts of things that come along with climate change, whether it be loss and damage or other stuff.

SIMON: In the past, that divide between more developed countries and less developed countries on the planet has been pronounced to the point where there were different rules depending on if a country was richer or poorer. Is that still the case?

HERSHER: Well, no. That did change with the Paris Agreement. And that's a good thing. So every country, regardless of how much the country has in its GDP, every country had to make a promise that it thought it could achieve to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions. But there's still a lot of tension between rich countries and poor countries. So for example, countries in Southeast Asia and the Pacific and parts of Africa, they're suffering enormous losses already because of climate change. Right? So catastrophic flooding. We see some of these things in the U.S., too, but it's much more pronounced in other parts of the world. Islands disappearing altogether. Drought, famine.

But those countries actually aren't the countries that have emitted the most greenhouse gases, right? Like, think historically. The Industrial Revolution started spouting carbon dioxide into the atmosphere in the 1800s. So we, and that being the U.S., the EU - major industrialized nations who have been industrialized for a long time - are responsible for most emissions, and yet other countries are, right now, paying some of the price. And so the question is what kind of - I'll use the term reparations, but we're talking about payments for that loss and damage. In the past, those have been on the table.

But as of right now - and we're going into overtime here - there is nothing specific so far coming out of this meeting. So one of the big questions in the next - who knows? It could be a couple hours. It could be a whole other day - is what type of payment might we be able to get coming from richer countries and going to poorer countries for that sort of thing?

SIMON: NPR's Rebecca Hersher in Poland. Thanks so much for being with us, Becky.

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

Rebecca Hersher (she/her) is a reporter on NPR's Science Desk, where she reports on outbreaks, natural disasters, and environmental and health research. Since coming to NPR in 2011, she has covered the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, embedded with the Afghan army after the American combat mission ended, and reported on floods and hurricanes in the U.S. She's also reported on research about puppies. Before her work on the Science Desk, she was a producer for NPR's Weekend All Things Considered in Los Angeles.