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Halfway through COP26, here's what has happened so far and what lies ahead


I'm Ari Shapiro in Glasgow, Scotland, where this year's big U.N. climate summit is just past the halfway point. This venue is already at capacity. Ten thousand people squeezed in here today. And that's one sign of how high the stakes are in this final week. NPR's Dan Charles has been covering COP26 from the start. He is here to help us understand what's been accomplished and what lies ahead. So good to see you face to face, Dan.

DAN CHARLES, BYLINE: Nice to have you here, Ari.

SHAPIRO: I want to just start by painting a scene for people. We're in this kind of pavilion area where there are panels on everything from melting sea ice to new technologies, people from all over the world streaming by. To bring us up to speed, what were the big accomplishments from last week, the first week of the summit?

CHARLES: So some of the biggest accomplishments or the biggest announcements had very little to do with the formal negotiations. They were announcements by groups of countries, also industry groups, promises to cut releases of methane, the second most important greenhouse gas after carbon dioxide. There were pledges to stop deforestation. Countries like Brazil were on board with that, billions of dollars pledged to help make it happen. There were promises to stop financing coal plants, start shutting a lot of them down. And after a start to the conference where people were sort of focused on what still remains to be done and worries about whether it was possible, a lot of people told me it did shift the mood and made people think that things are changing.

SHAPIRO: And that brings us to this all-important final week of the summit. Everybody from President Biden on down has said this decade may be our last best chance to stop catastrophic climate change. Where do we stand on reaching those goals?

CHARLES: So this is the climate summit where it's become standard for countries to say we are going to get to net-zero emissions. Many of them say by 2050, which is in fact what's required to meet this goal they set six years ago to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, keep it from getting so bad that it causes irreparable harm. Not all countries are on board with this. But if you believe that every country is actually going to do what it's promised, we have moved a good way toward that goal.


CHARLES: Exactly.

SHAPIRO: That's a big if.

CHARLES: A lot of countries have not put policies in place to actually get to that goal. The U.S. is one example.

SHAPIRO: So there's this gap between promises and policies. What are the other major debates this week likely to be?

CHARLES: I'd point to three things. The first one is what we were just talking about. Some negotiators want a system in place to audit what countries are actually doing to cut emissions so they can't get away with, you know, creative accounting or making promises to look good, what some people call greenwashing. I talked to Rachel Kyte, who's dean of the Fletcher School at Tufts University and a longtime climate expert. This is how she put it.

RACHEL KYTE: Transparency is absolutely critical because, you know, outside of the conference room, you've got hundreds of thousands of people marching because they are terrified by greenwash, and they're sick of greenwash. And the only way to drive greenwash out by government or by company is sunlight, the sunlight that comes from transparency.

CHARLES: So the second thing is some countries want to force everybody to come back in a year or two with new and better plans. The phrase they use is keep 1.5 alive because countries have to do better very quickly in order to keep global temperatures from just blowing right past that goal.

SHAPIRO: Countries are in such different situations, though, depending on whether they are wealthy or poor, hard-hit by climate change or less so. And so how are they going to negotiate burden-sharing, finance, some of those questions?

CHARLES: Right. And so this is the third thing. It is the key to any agreement here. A decade ago, rich countries promised to send $100 billion a year to poorer countries to help them deal with climate change, and the rich countries never met that target. The countries that need the help are now demanding more money and also stronger assurances that they'll actually get it. Here's Rachel Kyte again.

KYTE: The developing countries, you know, basically will say, well, we'll agree to things that you care about but only if you front up the money that we care about. And so it becomes a massive sort of trade-off in those last minutes of huddled negotiations.

CHARLES: That is what's going to happen at the end of this week. It typically only comes together at the very last minute.

SHAPIRO: All right. We'll stay tuned. Thanks for covering this with us. We'll check in with you later in the week. NPR's Dan Charles here in Glasgow, thanks a lot.

CHARLES: Thank you, Ari.


And lots more coming from Ari and team in Glasgow. In our next hour, the message from a group of young activists for the world leaders who converged there in Scotland. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Dan Charles is NPR's food and agriculture correspondent.