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President Biden arrived in Egypt for the COP27 U.N. climate talks. The president pledged new money for renewable energy projects around the world, and a greater push to cut emissions of methane. But he also is hearing a plea from the developing nations that are suffering the worst damage from climate change. William Brangham reports.
As we reported, President Biden is at the so-called COP 27 U.N. climate talks in Egypt today.
The president pledged new money for renewable energy projects around the world and a greater push to cut emissions of the powerful greenhouse gas methane. But he also is hearing a plea from the developing nations that are suffering the worst damage from climate change.
William Brangham has the latest.
This is the image industrialized nations want the world to see, hundreds of world leaders gathering to discuss critical action to head off the worst potential future of a warming planet.
Joe Biden, President of the United States: We see our mission to avert climate catastrophe and seize a new clean energy economy not only as an imperative for our present and future, but through the eyes of history.
But developing nations want the world to focus on a different picture, a picture of devastation happening here and now, like tropical cyclones in Bangladesh, sending already rising sea levels rushing into communities, an ongoing deluge that could force tens of millions of people to move, or this in Pakistan earlier this year, a long deadly heat wave and drought that left farmers desperate for water.
But then, in a brutal turn, came a catastrophic monsoon season, where rains flooded roughly a third of the country and killed at least 1,700 people. Roads and bridges were lost, farms submerged, over two million homes gone, the price tag estimated at $30 billion.
These countries and many others say they did little to cause the pollution that's exacerbating these disasters and they are owed some compensation for this destruction. At this year's COP 27 conference, United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres echoed this plea for what's called loss and damage.
Antonio Guterres, United Nations Secretary-General:
Loss and damage can no longer be swept under the rug. It is a moral imperative. It is a fundamental question of international solidarity and climate justice.
Those who contributed least to the climate crisis are reaping the whirlwind sown by others.
Saleemul Huq, Director, International Center For Climate Change and Development: The developing countries have really been suffering from the impacts of climate change and feel that the developed world, in particular, has not been doing enough to reduce their emissions, pay the money that they promised and now provide additional funding for the impacts that are now happening.
Saleemul Huq, a veteran of these U.N. climate meetings, is the director of the International Center for Climate Change and Development in Bangladesh.
In the past, the argument was, it's going to happen. We need to prepare for it. And, to some extent, we did, but we didn't do enough.
Now it's already happened, so it's become an emergency. We have to deal with it, whether we like it or not. People are losing their lives. They're losing their livelihoods. They're losing their homes. They need to be compensated.
It's an argument that's been made all this week in Egypt from leaders of small and large countries.
Mia Mottley, Prime Minister of Barbados: The addition of loss and damage on the agenda is a significant achievement and one that we have been fighting for, for many years.
Philip Davis, Prime Minister of the Bahamas: I'm asking, what is it worth to you to prevent millions of climate refugees from turning into tens of millions, and then hundreds of millions, putting pressure on borders and security and political systems across the world?
Shehbaz Sharif, Pakistani Prime Minister:
We became a victim of something with which we had nothing to do. And, of course, it was a manmade disaster.
Pakistan's Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif argued the drought and floods in his country are made worse because of pollution that his country barely emits.
Pakistan contributes under 1 percent of global carbon emissions, and is now one of the nation's leading the call for loss and damage compensation.
It is now or never. For us, there is indeed no planet B.
At last year's U.N. meeting in Glasgow, establishing a fund for loss and damage was rejected by world leaders. But this week, for the first time ever, leaders have formally agreed to discuss the issue.
America's climate envoy, John Kerry, has been hesitant about the idea, saying it could interfere with other vital climate action. But, this week, several European nations did pledge for the first time ever tens of millions of dollars for a fledgling fund to compensate nations for past damages and losses.
But those totals pale in comparison to the need. Studies have estimated that the developing world is facing climate-related damages in the hundreds of billions of dollars now, a total that could rise to a trillion or more by 2050.
The price tag is many orders of magnitude bigger than what is being offered. But what was being offered yesterday was zero. What is being offered today is a few tens of millions, which is a hell of a lot better than zero. Then we can argue about how much we can up the ante in terms of reaching the requirements that are in the many billions.
President Joe Biden:
This gathering must be the moment to recommit our future and our shared capacity to write a better story for the world.
President Biden, in his comments today, stressed again the need to cut emissions and boost renewable energy projects going forward. But he made only passing mention of compensation for climate change's present-day impacts.
For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm William Brangham.
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William Brangham is a correspondent and producer for PBS NewsHour in Washington, D.C. He joined the flagship PBS program in 2015, after spending two years with PBS NewsHour Weekend in New York City.
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