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The climate summit is over and there is a lot of discontentment


At the U.N. climate summit, which wrapped up over the weekend, some countries agreed to cut more greenhouse gas emissions in hopes of preventing the worst damage from climate change. But many nations hardest hit by climate change say the cuts are not coming fast enough. NPR's Frank Langfitt reports.

FRANK LANGFITT, BYLINE: When the summit released a final agreement on Saturday, U.S. Climate Envoy John Kerry chose to see the glass half full.


JOHN KERRY: Obviously, we know the old adage of negotiation. You can't let the perfect be the enemy of the good.

LANGFITT: But Aminath Shauna, minister of environment for the island nation of the Maldives, described the situation in starker terms.


AMINATH SHAUNA: We have 98 months to halve global emissions. The difference between 1.5 and two degrees is a death sentence.

LANGFITT: The Maldives and other island nations facing rising sea levels objected to language in the final agreement. For instance, a call to phase out coal was weakened to phase down. At the last minute, India, which relies heavily on coal to drive its economy, called for the change.

Maina Talia is a climate activist from Tuvalu, a low-lying archipelago in the South Pacific.

MAINA TALIA: It's not just a disappointment for all of us, but it's also scary. You know, we are heading towards a point of no return.

LANGFITT: This was the first time a summit agreement addressed phasing out fossil fuels - progress of a sort. But for Tuvalu, which is losing land to rising seas, the continued pumping of massive amounts of heat-trapping gases into the atmosphere is terrifying.

TALIA: It seems like the rich countries and industrialized country does not give a damn about us. Because I think they are thinking that we are small in number and we are small nations, you know? And we have no value for them.

LANGFITT: The final statement also urged countries to aim to keep temperatures from rising more than 1.5 degrees Celsius to avoid the worst impacts of climate change. But Vanessa Perez-Cirera of the World Wildlife Fund said without clear plans to slash emissions, temperatures are headed towards dangerous levels.

VANESSA PEREZ-CIRERA: What changed in this document was the language (laughter) - the language of what countries need to do. But until we see that reflected in actual pledges and actual policies, we cannot say we are on track.

LANGFITT: Perez-Cirera says if global temperatures continue to rise above 1.5 degrees, the damage will only grow.

PEREZ-CIRERA: It looks really, really bad, Frank. The science predicts that at 1.7, we will lose all coral reefs. Imagine the amount of livelihoods of fisherwomen and fishermen and other fisherfolk that depend on fishing for their livelihoods.

LANGFITT: There were bright spots. Developed nations said they would provide more funding for the most vulnerable countries to adapt to climate change. Lamia Mohsin, who works for the U.N. Development Programme in Bangladesh, was glad to see this, but unhappy there were no details.

LAMIA MOHSIN: Needs to be very, very specific. What kind of adaptation for finance are you going to be providing? Is it going to be a loan? Is it going to be a grant? What are the strings attached? Do we have to pay interest? Is there a timeline?

LANGFITT: Salt waters damage more than half the farmland along Bangladesh's low-lying coast. Mohsin says more funding would allow more farmers to buy saltwater-tolerant crops, including rice, beets, carrots and potatoes.

MOHSIN: We already have successful examples. We have successful prototypes.

LANGFITT: Mohsin arrived at this, her first summit, enthusiastic and hopeful. Two weeks later, she's disappointed. But she says countries like hers have to keep fighting. As she puts it, There's no other way for us.

Frank Langfitt, NPR News, London. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Frank Langfitt is NPR's London correspondent. He covers the UK and Ireland, as well as stories elsewhere in Europe.