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The annual climate negotiations begin this week in Dubai


Annual climate negotiations begin this week in Dubai. Leaders from around the world will attend.


But absent from the lineup will be U.S. President Joe Biden. White House aides reportedly say he'll be busy with other issues, such as the Israel-Hamas war.

MARTIN: Meanwhile, United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres says it's time to get serious about cutting emissions.


ANTONIO GUTERRES: It requires tearing out the poison root of the climate crisis, fossil fuels.

MARTIN: Rebecca Hersher from NPR's climate desk is here with us now to tell us more about these upcoming talks and what's at stake. Good morning.


MARTIN: OK, so the leader of the U.N. is calling out fossil fuels as the poison roots of climate change, but this year's talks are hosted in Dubai in the oil rich United Arab Emirates. You know, not to be mean, but how does that work?

HERSHER: Yeah, I mean, it's definitely controversial. The UAE has put an oil executive in charge of the climate meeting. And, you know, that person does have some control over what gets on the agenda, you know, how negotiations play out. So there's been some concern from climate activists, even from some scientists, about whether everyone is on the same page, because the science is really clear. You know, fossil fuel use needs to decrease very, very quickly. On the other hand, though, the whole point of these negotiations is that every country is at the table. And here's how Inger Andersen, the director of the United Nations Environment Programme, explains it.

INGER ANDERSEN: Look, the reality is that many, many economies are coal-, oil- and gas-dependent. Some of these - right now, we have one such state being the host. The challenge will be for us all, how do we step down from that dependency, still remain with vibrant economies? And that's really the issue here.

MARTIN: So, Rebecca, you cover this all the time, but for those of us who don't keep up with it as closely as you do, how is the world doing on phasing out fossil fuels?

HERSHER: Not good, not good. Right now, global emissions of planet-warming pollution, you know, mostly from fossil fuels, are going up slightly when they need to be falling in order to avoid catastrophic climate change. You know, the planet is currently on track for at least 2.5 C of warming by 2100. That's compared to temperatures in the late 1800s. And 2.5 degrees of warming is way beyond the limits set by the Paris climate agreement. It would lead to massive sea level rise and mass extinction of plants and animals, really bad stuff. But humanity is on a better trajectory now than when the Paris Agreement was signed in 2015. So at that point, the planet was on track for more than 4 degrees Celsius of warming. So it's not enough, but we are making some progress.

MARTIN: So what are the big sticking points that are expected to come up at the upcoming negotiations?

HERSHER: Money and money. Less wealthy nations need trillions of dollars to transition to renewable energy like wind and solar. So far, most of that money is not available, which is making it harder to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from low- and middle-income countries. The other big money topic is about getting wealthy nations, including the U.S., to follow through on a promise from last year's talks, and that was to set up a special fund for the damage caused by climate change in poorer countries. So far, that fund is empty, so that will be a really big topic of discussion.

MARTIN: That's Rebecca Hersher from NPR's climate desk. Thanks so much.

HERSHER: Thanks. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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.

Michel Martin is the weekend host of All Things Considered, where she draws on her deep reporting and interviewing experience to dig in to the week's news. Outside the studio, she has also hosted "Michel Martin: Going There," an ambitious live event series in collaboration with Member Stations.
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.