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The financial impact of climate change

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

It's the final scheduled day of the U.N. Climate Summit, billed as our last best chance to avoid the worst disasters related to global warming. And one of the most contentious remaining issues is this - how much money will wealthy nations that caused the climate crisis provide to poorer countries suffering the greatest consequences? More than a decade ago, rich countries pledged $100 billion a year to help with this. Many environmentalists and government officials came here angry that the promise has not been met. Here is Emmanuel Tachie-Obeng deputy director of Climate Change in Ghana.

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EMMANUEL TACHIE-OBENG: I look at what's happening, the disaster that's come along with climate change all our livelihood are being wiped away. So who is paying this damages?

SHAPIRO: NPR's London correspondent Frank Langfitt has been here covering the summit with me this week.

And it's good to see you, Frank.

FRANK LANGFITT, BYLINE: It's great to see you too, Ari.

SHAPIRO: We've both talked to a lot of people from the most vulnerable nations about this. Give us some background on the issue of finance and the urgency the delegates brought here to Glasgow.

LANGFITT: Yeah. I think for developing nations, what you and I both been hearing is this is about fairness and, frankly, survival for some of them. Historically, wealthy nations like the United States benefited tremendously from the industrial revolution. They've driven greenhouse gas emissions. But these poor nations, they've contributed little or nothing to the problem, and they're suffering. In some cases, this actually threatens their existence. So take Tuvalu, the archipelago. It's in the South Pacific. It's losing land to rising seas. And this is Seve Paeniu. He's the country's minister of finance.

SEVE PAENIU: My country is a low lying atoll, barely two meters above the highest high tide, and therefore we are actually being submerged. So what we would like the money used for is to raise our land and reclaimed. And that has been done in places like Maldives.

LANGFITT: And so it would be basically talking about, Ari, is pumping sand off the seabed and building up the elevation of these tiny islands.

SHAPIRO: How else would some of these countries use the money that they have been promised to adapt to climate change?

LANGFITT: Well, take Bangladesh. Seawater has been inundating farm fields there for a long time. I met a woman named Lamia Mohsin. She works for the U.N. development program there. And what she says is the country needs more funding for crops that can actually grow reasonably well in these conditions.

LAMIA MOHSIN: A saline tolerant crop is something that you can grow all year round, which will not be impacted by the salinity that comes after a cyclone.

LANGFITT: And what Mohsin says also is that people along the country's coast, they could use funding for equipment for what's called rainwater harvesting. And this is where you catch rainwater off your roof and you end up filtering it and purifying it and putting it in home storage barrels, you know, at your house. Another guy I ran into here is a man named Wilber Otichilo, and he's the governor of Vihiga county - that's in Kenya - where he says climate change has completely scrambled the planting season.

WILBER OTICHILO: We need now to go to a small-scale irrigation, you know, things like greenhouses.

LANGFITT: And the reason for that is so that farmers can, in a sense, control the climate themselves. But the governor, he doesn't have a lot of hope that wealthy nations are going to provide the funding that his country needs.

OTICHILO: I am not very optimistic. And that's why for us in Kenya, we have decided that climate change is a threat to our own survival, and we must start funding ourselves.

SHAPIRO: When I spoke to the president's climate envoy, John Kerry, here, he defended the U.S. and said these cuts were because of Donald Trump. And now he says President Joe Biden is on track to meet the $100 billion goal soon. But he also acknowledged that the need is really in the trillions of dollars. So why aren't wealthy nations doing more?

LANGFITT: I think the short answer is one that's pretty familiar - all politics is local. I talked to Achim Steiner. He's head of the U.N. development program. He says national leaders, they naturally are going to think first of the financial needs they have at home.

ACHIM STEINER: It's always difficult to take money that you would spend on yourself and invest it in someone else. Virtually, everything that is being negotiated here comes down to national political dynamics. And this is where political leadership is really called for because if we simply decide the future of the world in terms of what my price per gallon of fuel is or how much electricity I'm being charged for, you essentially have a recipe for paralysis and for disaster.

SHAPIRO: A sobering message from the United Nations, which is running this climate summit in Glasgow. That's NPR's Frank Langfitt with me here in Scotland.

Thanks, Frank.

LANGFITT: Good to talk, Ari. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.