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Many countries are frustrated that the U.S. isn't doing more to combat climate change

JUANA SUMMERS, HOST:

On the first day of the COP28 climate summit in Dubai, negotiators finalized a new fund to help poor countries pay for damage caused by climate change. The host nation, the United Arab Emirates, committed $100 million to that fund. The United States pledged just under 18 million. And that highlights the U.S. role in these negotiations. Other nations are often frustrated the U.S. isn't doing more as the world's wealthiest country, which has done more to cause climate change than any other nation. But it's also indispensable in addressing the problem. NPR's Jeff Brady reports.

JEFF BRADY, BYLINE: U.S. climate envoy John Kerry delivers a positive message about U.S. action on climate change these days.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JOHN KERRY: I'm happy to report that the United States has stepped up under President Biden's leadership.

BRADY: As evidence, Kerry often points to landmark climate legislation passed last year, the Inflation Reduction Act, which includes billions of dollars to move the U.S. away from fossil fuels and cut the emissions that drive global warming. But many countries aren't impressed. Developing nations point out that though they've contributed the least to climate change, they are often suffering the worst effects of it. And they say the U.S. hasn't done enough to help.

NISHA KRISHNAN: There's just a trust deficit in particular with the U.S.

BRADY: Nisha Krishnan is climate director for the World Resources Institute's Africa office in Nairobi. She says the issue often comes down to money. Rich countries like the U.S. promise to pay hundreds of billions of dollars to help poorer countries transition to clean energy and adapt to climate change. But Krishnan notes that Congress hasn't allocated much of the money to make those payments.

KRISHNAN: Even delivering on one of these promises for the U.S. would really, I think, help bolster its reputation on the continent.

BRADY: But even as countries are frustrated with the U.S., there's an understanding that it's essential for major breakthroughs, such as the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement. Johns Hopkins University anthropology professor Naveeda Khan recently published a book on negotiations between the U.S. and developing countries.

NAVEEDA KHAN: The Paris Agreement, for example - it really did take Obama to do all this backchannel diplomacy with China to be able to bring China to that table.

BRADY: Ahead of the Paris Agreement, the Obama administration struck an important deal with China to limit greenhouse gas emissions, paving the way for the global deal. China and the U.S. are the two largest economies and biggest emitters, so international climate progress often depends on U.S. outreach to China.

LI SHUO: This relationship is a tone-setting relationship.

BRADY: A tone-setting relationship, says Li Shuo with the Asia Society Policy Institute. Li says the U.S.-China relationship went into hibernation during the Trump administration and has been rocky under Biden. But this summer, Li says it was rekindled, at least on climate issues. Earlier this month, climate envoys for both countries met in California, where they committed to triple renewable energy globally. Li says that engagement...

LI: Will help improve or stabilize the politics at COP28. I think it is like an insurance policy to the U.N. climate summit.

BRADY: An insurance policy that at least the meeting won't be a failure, says Li. Still, nobody expects something on the scale of the Paris Agreement in Dubai. The conference could adopt the U.S. and China renewable energy commitment and make more progress on finance issues. That may be enough to call it a success, considering the other geopolitical challenges in the world now, such as the wars in Ukraine and Israel. But people like Denise Fontanilla say the world needs more to meet the scale of the climate problem.

DENISE FONTANILLA: It's just high time that the United States has to come to terms with its role in global warming.

BRADY: Fontanilla is with the Institute for Climate and Sustainable Cities in the Philippines. She isn't expecting much from this climate summit.

FONTANILLA: I certainly hope that the U.S. will surprise me and other people watching the negotiations. I would love to be proven wrong.

BRADY: But another indication that success may be modest - instead of President Biden attending this year's climate summit as he did the last two years, he's sending Vice President Kamala Harris in his place.

Jeff Brady, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF ADRIAN YOUNGE SONG, "LA BALLADE") 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.

Jeff Brady is a National Desk Correspondent based in Philadelphia, where he covers energy issues and climate change. Brady helped establish NPR's environment and energy collaborative which brings together NPR and Member station reporters from across the country to cover the big stories involving the natural world.