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What’s going on with the UN climate talks

Guests enter the convention center hosting the COP27 U.N. Climate Summit, Friday, Nov. 4, 2022, prior to the start of the summit on Nov. 6, which is scheduled to end on Nov. 18, in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt. (AP Photo/Peter Dejong)Peter Dejong/Associated Press

At the end of a year of devastating record-breaking floods, fires, and heat waves, more than 100 leaders will gather in Egypt this weekend for official United Nations climate talks.

The meeting, known as COP27, will give countries a chance to show that they’re serious about meeting their own climate goals — or not.

Tensions will be high, especially between wealthy, highly polluting countries like the United States, which is the biggest historical contributor to climate change, and poorer, highly vulnerable nations like Pakistan, which was ravaged by never-before-seen floods this year.

Here’s what you need to know about the upcoming talks.

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What even is COP27?

COP stands for Conference of the Parties. “Parties” refers to the 198 countries who signed a 1992 UN pledge to establish an international treaty to combat “dangerous human interference with the climate system.”

Each meeting about this pledge is called a “conference,” and this is their 27th meeting.

When and where is this happening?

Egypt is hosting this year’s conference. That’s been a major tension point since the nation is under fire for human rights abuses.

The summit will be held in the Red Sea resort city of Sharm el Sheikh. It is officially slated to run from Sunday Nov. 6 through Friday Nov. 18, but since climate negotiations tend to get heated, they often run long.

Who’s going?

More than 35,000 delegates are set to attend the negotiations, including President Biden and some 100 other heads of state.

What’s going to happen with countries’ climate pledges?

While last year’s negotiations in Glasgow were all about making pledges to take on climate change, this year’s meeting is all about implementation. Leaders will be expected to flesh out plans to carry out their climate commitments, and to make them even stronger.

Some important context: At last year’s talks in Glasgow, countries agreed to “revisit and strengthen” their official national plans — called Nationally Determined Contributions — by the end of 2022. But few countries kept that promise: Of the 193 that signed the agreement, only 24 nations actually submitted updated commitments, and those new plans don’t all contain more ambitious emission reduction goals. The United States didn’t submit an updated plan.

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These plans are crucial. According to recent UN report, even if current plans are completely implemented, temperatures could rise by up to 2.6 degrees Celsius (4.1 degrees Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial levels by the end of the century. That would mean blowing past even the less ambitious goals of the Paris Climate Agreement and ushering in total climate catastrophe.

Why am I hearing so much about inequality?

Poorer nations have fewer resources than rich ones to fund their climate action plans. They are also, by and large, hit harder by climate disasters, even though they’ve contributed far less to global carbon emissions.

With that in mind, another big question looms over COP27: Who should pay for climate action?

Back at 2009′s COP15, rich and highly carbon-polluting nations — like the United States, the United Kingdom, and Japan — agreed to send low- and middle-income countries $100 billion per year starting in 2020 to help them carry out their climate plans. But it’s now 2022 and wealthy nations still haven’t met that goal — the latest estimates show rich countries provided less than $85 billion for climate finance in 2020.

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What’s up with adaptation?

Last year in Glasgow, rich countries agreed to double the amount of money they’re sending poorer nations for climate adaptation, to at least $40 billion in 2025.

These climate adaptation projects can include everything from building seawalls to protect communities from rising oceans, to changing agricultural practices to ensure people don’t go hungry during droughts.

At this year’s COP, countries are expected to explain how they intend to meet that financial commitment.

What’s loss and damage?

Some parts of the world, especially in the global south, are already experiencing impacts of climate change that can’t be avoided through adaptation. The United Nations’ term for this is “loss and damages” — as in, the things that are irreversibly lost and damaged due to climate change.

Many climate-vulnerable nations want to create a new fund to help them handle these burdens. It’s a highly divisive issue, and one that’s seen as fundamental to the future of climate justice.

Back in 2015′s Paris Climate Agreement, countries agreed to come up with a plan for loss and damages, but they’ve been kicking the can down the road ever since. Against the backdrop of historic flooding in Pakistan and other stunning climate disasters, though, the pressure to finally address the issue has never been greater.

This year, for the first time ever, loss and damage is on the provisional agenda for COP27. On the first day of the summit on Sunday, countries will finalize that agenda, which is sure to be contentious.


Dharna Noor can be reached at dharna.noor@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @dharnanoor.