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At COP28, countries pledge hundreds of millions of dollars to help vulnerable nations


International climate talks kicked off today in Dubai, and they started with a landmark moment.


SULTAN AL JABER: I congratulate all parties for this historic decision.


KELLY: Hundreds of millions of dollars were pledged in a new effort to help the most vulnerable countries with climate change. It is for what is known as loss and damage. And Lauren Sommer is here from NPR's Climate Desk to explain what that is. Hey, Lauren.


KELLY: OK, explain. What is loss and damage?

SOMMER: Yeah. So a good way to explain it is through the eyes of one country, and I spoke to one that's been leading the charge. It's Antigua and Barbuda, a small island nation in the Caribbean. And in 2017, they were hit with Hurricane Irma, which was a Category 5. The storm was so big that it engulfed their entire country, Diann Black-Layne told me, who is their ambassador for climate change.

DIANN BLACK-LAYNE: You just have to replace every single thing. The homes are damaged, and there's no place to go. And the whole island gets hit. Like, the entire population is affected.

SOMMER: And few people on the islands have insurance to pay for rebuilding.

KELLY: OK. So I think you're starting to explain to me how this would work. This loss and damage fund would be an emergency fund, sort of, for when disasters hit.

SOMMER: Yeah. It would be that, but it actually goes way beyond that. Antigua and Barbuda need to retrofit all the buildings on their islands against storms that are getting stronger with climate change. And then with rising sea levels, entire communities will need to be relocated. So, you know, it really adds up. They estimate it'll cost between two and three times their entire GDP.

KELLY: Which is obviously a huge amount for any country to raise. Forget a small country. Where would the money come from?

SOMMER: Yeah. The case that developing nations have been making for years is that it's up to the biggest polluters, the wealthiest nations. If you go back to the Industrial Revolution, the U.S. and Europe are responsible for a lot of the heat-trapping pollution in the atmosphere. That's what Avinash Persaud told me, who is special climate envoy for Barbados.

AVINASH PERSAUD: The climate problem was caused by the industrialization of rich countries. It is, in fact, how they got rich. And so they do need to show recognition and some responsibility in helping to finance the reconstruction and rehabilitation costs of climate impacts.

SOMMER: Developing countries say, you know, they're suffering from a crisis that they did very little to cause.

KELLY: OK. So the countries that did cause it, wealthier nations - what are they committing to? How much funding was announced today?

SOMMER: Yeah. So it's more than $400 million for a number of countries. That includes Germany and the United Arab Emirates. The U.S. pledged $17.5 million, but, you know, it's been challenging for the Biden administration to do more since Republicans in Congress tend to oppose that kind of spending. So this is really just a tiny first step in getting things going. The real need, according to reports from the United Nations, is something like 200 or $300 billion per year.

KELLY: And is there hope? Is there optimism that rich countries will actually contribute anything like that?

SOMMER: Yeah. There's a lot of concern about that from developing countries. It's something they talked about today, including Angela Rivera, who spoke for Colombia.


ANGELA RIVERA: We need to scale up quickly to make up for 30 years of lost time.

SOMMER: You know, it's still not clear which countries will pay into this fund. China has not currently committed anything, and it's the world's largest emitter of greenhouse gases currently. And developing countries know, you know, relying on wealthy countries is going to be tough, so a number that I spoke to are looking for other ways to fund this. Maybe it's a new tax on oil sales or other fossil fuels, kind of like a polluter-pays principle. All of this has yet to be worked out, you know, but for many, today was a really important first step.

KELLY: Thank you, Lauren.

SOMMER: Thanks.

KELLY: Lauren Sommer from NPR's Climate Desk. 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.

Lauren Sommer covers climate change for NPR's Science Desk, from the scientists on the front lines of documenting the warming climate to the way those changes are reshaping communities and ecosystems around the world.