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How COP28 could help developing countries confront climate change


As countries negotiate how to deal with a warming planet, there is a central tension. Big, wealthy nations contributed most to the problem by emitting lots of carbon, and smaller, poorer countries feel outsized impacts even though they didn't do much to bring about this crisis. So who should pay to deal with loss and damage to the smaller countries? That's one of many questions at the heart of this year's U.N. climate conference, COP28. The annual summit is taking place in Dubai this year, and Janine Felson of Belize is there negotiating on behalf of small island nations. Welcome.

JANINE FELSON: Thank you very much.

SHAPIRO: Before we talk specifically about these negotiations, just to give us a sense of what's at stake, can you tell us one or two ways that you are already seeing climate change impact Belize?

FELSON: Well, Belize is seeing regular impacts from climate change, whether it's in variability in precipitation patterns, sudden impacts from hurricanes or from storm surges. And most significantly, I think, is the impact that climate change is having on our reef, which is the largest reef in the Western Hemisphere, and it is dying. And that's impacting many different things because we depend on our reef not only as a physical barrier for storm surges, but it is the source of livelihood for many Belizeans.

SHAPIRO: Well, in the first days of this summit in Dubai, there was a breakthrough where countries settled on how to create a loss and damage fund. Wealthier nations pledged several hundred million dollars to address the harm that climate change is doing to developing countries. I know you have been working on getting this for years. Before we get into the details of how it works, first, just how does it feel to have that agreement in place?

FELSON: You know, it's bittersweet because the fact that we actually need a fund for loss and damage means that there are some countries who are simply not going to be able to adapt to climate impacts. At the same time, it is a demonstration of international solidarity with vulnerable countries.

SHAPIRO: And how will it actually work? I mean, who will decide how the money gets dispersed and to whom and for what projects?

FELSON: It's set up like a climate fund in that it will eventually have a board, and the board will be the one that determines what funds or how funds will be allocated. But there are certain principles underlying loss and damage, principles that ensure that we're not just going to projectize these loss and damage requests for funding but, in fact, we're going to try to make it so that countries can establish programs and immediately try to access funding in accordance with the rules that are set up.

SHAPIRO: One consistent theme at these climate summits over the years has been countries making bold, ambitious promises that they then fail to keep. At the U.N. climate summit in Glasgow in Scotland two years ago, I met a Malaysian climate activist named Hailey Tan, and she told me this.

HAILEY TAN: I hear lies, and I hear broken promises. As we know, President Obama has promised the Global South hundred billion since 2009, and yet we are in 2021, and we have not received finance.

SHAPIRO: And so, Janine Felson, how worried are you that, despite these pledges, the money won't actually show up?

FELSON: Well, it is a very big concern. And indeed, we argued every year about, actually, how much is on the table. But the fact of the matter is we are certainly seeing some funding come through. I think the big issue now is whether or not we can bring others to the table, other stakeholders who have been profiting from some of the very industries that have hurt our countries. And there are new ways that we need to think about how we ensure that there are finance flows that are coming into countries. But the person that you interviewed is right. There have been many broken promises, and I cannot deny that.

SHAPIRO: Negotiations in Dubai are continuing, and I know that this is a long process, and you do it every year. How will you measure the success of this conference at the end of the day?

FELSON: That's a very hard question to answer, and it's very hard because I come from a country, I come from a group of countries who are not seeing any sort of relief from the impacts of climate change. And I would want to say that, you know, we leave Dubai, and I can go home to the people of Belize and say, you know what? Things are going to be OK for you. The truth is I can't do that. But what I can say is that we will make this effort to ensure that what we have to face in the future will be alleviated in different ways because of the cooperation and the solidarity that we have from the international community.

SHAPIRO: That is ambassador Janine Felson, a climate negotiator from Belize, speaking with us from the COP conference in Dubai. Thank you very much.

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

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Ari Shapiro has been one of the hosts of All Things Considered, NPR's award-winning afternoon newsmagazine, since 2015. During his first two years on the program, listenership to All Things Considered grew at an unprecedented rate, with more people tuning in during a typical quarter-hour than any other program on the radio.
Alejandra Marquez Janse is a producer for NPR's evening news program All Things Considered. She was part of a team that traveled to Uvalde, Texas, months after the mass shooting at Robb Elementary to cover its impact on the community. She also helped script and produce NPR's first bilingual special coverage of the State of the Union – broadcast in Spanish and English.