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What's on the table at COP27 this year

AYESHA RASCOE, HOST:

And we're joined now by Kaveh Guilanpour, who is in Egypt right now, where the COP meeting is just underway. He's the vice president of international strategies at the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions and a former advisor to the U.N. secretary general's climate team. Welcome to the program.

KAVEH GUILANPOUR: Thank you very much.

RASCOE: OK, so let's start with this. This is the 27th annual U.N. climate meeting. Like, how are these climate talks going to be different from previous years?

GUILANPOUR: Well, that's a good question. Every COP has its unique challenges, and it has its own context. And I think the context for this one, obviously, is the geopolitical situation that we face around the world. We have the economic crisis and the energy crisis and also the food crisis. And of course, also that - what makes us different is that the impacts that we're seeing around the world from climate change are increasingly evident. They are more frequent, and they are more severe.

RASCOE: I mean, there does seem to be this gap between what we're told needs to happen, especially when it comes to cutting emissions, and what countries are actually doing. It was voluntary to sign on to these emission goals. Do you see any real appetite for being able to enforce the policies in these countries that are the biggest polluters who may be setting targets but not meeting them?

GUILANPOUR: I think what we've seen just in the last couple of weeks - the UN released a report that sort of aggregated the level of ambition represented by country targets. And what it shows is that with every annual meeting that we go to, the direction of travel is in the right direction. But what also these reports show is that that action and acceleration isn't fast enough. The Paris Agreement has a very specific requirement that all countries have to have a target to reduce their emissions. And it also has a legally binding requirement that countries have to try to achieve those targets. So in that sense, the Paris Agreement is not voluntary. It's a binding international agreement. But you're right, there's no way under the Paris Agreement to actually enforce that. And it relies really on political pressure and peer review to ensure that countries deliver on the promises that we make.

RASCOE: I mean, so is climate justice and equity going to be a part of the conversation this year? Because countries like Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan are seeing some of the worst consequences of climate change, but they aren't the highest emitters and can't really afford to fund the initiatives that are part of the solution.

GUILANPOUR: The vast majority of countries around the world are not responsible for the majority of emissions. So the G20 leading industrial countries are responsible for something like 80% of global emissions, and the least-developed countries, which are I think around 50 countries, are responsible for less than 1% of emissions in total. So there's a huge disparity, and things like climate justice and equity will have to be part of the discussion. But all countries are keen to play their part. But we really need the major economies like the United States, the European Union, China, India and others to really lead the way because they are the biggest emitters.

RASCOE: Because some of these impacts are being felt now, should there be more funding for mitigation of the impacts that are already being felt?

GUILANPOUR: I mean, the short answer to that question is yes, more finance is needed both for mitigation but also for countries to adapt to the impacts of climate change that are happening. And that's not limited only to developing countries, although the problems are more acute there, particularly in the most vulnerable. In the United States, you're seeing communities all over impacted - also in the European Union, but challengingly also to get that finance going for adaptation. In the jargon, it's called shifting the trillions, because we're not talking about billions. We're talking about trillions here to solve this problem, which sounds like a lot. But all of the analysis shows that if we don't act, in every moment that we delay, the cost in the end will be much higher.

RASCOE: You mentioned there's a U.N. climate change report that came out a couple weeks ago, showed that countries that signed the Paris Agreement six years ago are doing some things to move the needle on climate change, but not nearly enough. How optimistic are you that net-zero goals can be met in time to slow down or even halt the threats that the globe is facing?

GUILANPOUR: I'm optimistic. At the time that the Paris Agreement was adopted, the actual global goal was to try to reach net-zero emissions sometime in the second half of the century. That was only just over six years ago that we agreed that, almost seven years ago. Now we have countries making solid commitments to reach net-zero by the middle of this century, not by the end. And what's interesting about that is that we've had that shift in perception just in the space of five years. So things are going in the right direction. And we are seeing a huge acceleration in the transition of renewable energy, but also the uptake by the private sector and the reduced costs of making that transition. So I am optimistic. I think things like the United States coming forward with the Inflation Reduction Act that really put concrete domestic national-level policies in place are important and that will just trigger further action in the marketplace. So I am optimistic that we can do this, also because we have to.

RASCOE: That's Kaveh Guilanpour of the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions. Thank you so much for your time.

GUILANPOUR: Thank you very much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ayesha Rascoe is a White House correspondent for NPR. She is currently covering her third presidential administration. Rascoe's White House coverage has included a number of high profile foreign trips, including President Trump's 2019 summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Hanoi, Vietnam, and President Obama's final NATO summit in Warsaw, Poland in 2016. As a part of the White House team, she's also a regular on the NPR Politics Podcast.