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Lauren Sommer

As the United Nations climate summit enters its last hours, there is modest progress on reducing reliance on fossil fuels and giving aid to countries most at risk from extreme weather. But stubborn divisions over the details of key issues remain.

In what would be a first in decades of such negotiations, nations could call for an end to using coal and subsidizing fossil fuels. Despite some weaker language, those two elements remain in the most recent draft being circulated for consensus agreement among the more than 100 participating countries.

At a small house outside of Nairobi, Kenya, a big event took place on a late October afternoon — one that also has big repercussions for climate change. Winifred Mumbua Muisyo got electricity at her home for the first time.

An installer from the solar company d.light climbed onto her metal roof and attached a small solar panel. He then began connecting the appliances that come with it: several lights, a phone charger and a small television.

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ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

There's one number you hear a lot at the international climate talks in Glasgow, Scotland.

(SOUNDBITE OF MONTAGE)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: One-point-five degrees.

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: To just 1.5 degrees Celsius.

At 22 years old, Hilda Flavia Nakabuye stepped onto a very big stage. The audience was filled with hundreds of international delegates attending the 2019 United Nations Climate Change Conference, where countries were hashing out efforts to slow climate change.

Leaders from around the world are gathering in Glasgow, Scotland, to hammer out new pledges to fight climate change. The stakes are high. Scientists warn that heat-trapping emissions must fall dramatically by 2030. Otherwise, the world faces more extreme hurricanes, floods and droughts, likely displacing millions of people. Still, negotiations at the COP26 meeting are expected to be tough. Here are four reasons why.

Being seven months pregnant is not exactly comfortable. Then there's being seven months pregnant in 110-degree heat with a broken air conditioner.

"It was the most challenging time," says Keishell Brown, a pregnant mother in Fresno, Calif. "It was very hard to sleep. There's no cool air coming. The fan is just blowing hot air."

President Xi Jinping says China will stop financing the construction of new coal-fired power plants abroad. The move could sharply limit the worldwide expansion of coal, which produces significant heat-trapping emissions.

On a hot afternoon in California's Sequoia National Park, Alexis Bernal squints up at the top of a 200-foot-tall tree.

"That is what we would call a real giant sequoia monarch," she says. "It's massive."

At 40 feet in diameter, the tree easily meets the definition of a monarch, the name given to the largest sequoias. It's likely more than 1,500 years old.

Still, that's as old as this tree will get. The trunk is pitch black, the char reaching almost all the way to the top. Not a single green branch is visible.

With tens of thousands of people displaced by floods, wildfires and hurricanes this summer, researchers warn that the majority of untapped fossil fuels must remain in the ground to avoid even more extreme weather.

The rapidly warming climate is the "greatest threat" to global public health, more than 200 medical journals are warning in an unprecedented joint statement that urges world leaders to cut heat-trapping emissions to avoid "catastrophic harm to health that will be impossible to reverse."

In early May, flames began to spread through a pine forest, consuming a dense carpet of leaves and underbrush. The burn was the definition of a "good fire," intentionally ignited to clear vegetation that could fuel future infernos.

It happened in the state leading the nation in controlled burns: Florida.

More than 200 climate scientists just released a stark look at how fast the climate is warming, showing heat waves, extreme rain and intense droughts are on the rise. The evidence for warming is "unequivocal" but the extent of future disasters will be determined by how fast governments can cut heat-trapping emissions. Here are the top findings from the report.

Facing record-breaking dry conditions across the West, the U.S. Forest Service announced it will aggressively put out wildfires this summer. As a result, the agency's use of "good fire," the lower-intensity blazes that clear out overgrown forests, will also stop.

Coastal cities need billions of dollars to build defenses against sea level rise. Tensions are rising over where that funding will come from: taxpayers or private companies with waterfront property?

Explore the project: https://apps.npr.org/sea-level-rise-silicon-valley/

By almost every measure, the drought in the Western U.S. is already one for the record books.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Coral reef biologists are often asked the same question again and again: "When my kids grow up, will there still be coral reefs?"

"That's a question I ask myself," says Christopher Cornwall, a research fellow at Victoria University of Wellington in New Zealand. "The greatest fear is that all the coral will be gone at a certain point in time."

Updated May 25, 2021 at 2:56 PM ET

The Biden administration plans to open the California coast to offshore wind development, ending a long-running stalemate with the Department of Defense that has been the biggest barrier to building wind power along the Pacific Coast.

In a hotter climate, dirt is a hot commodity.

With sea levels expected to rise three to six feet by the end of the century, coastal communities are moving fast to construct major shoreline projects to protect themselves. As the size of these projects expands, the primary building materials--dirt and mud --are getting scarce.

Updated April 22, 2021 at 10:27 AM ET

President Biden announced on Thursday a number that could shape the rest of his presidency: a goal to cut U.S. greenhouse gas emissions between 50 to 52 percent by 2030. The announcement marks the country's renewed commitment to the Paris accord, the international climate change agreement that former President Trump withdrew from.

They're purple, spiky and voracious, and just off the West Coast, there are more of them than you can count.

Purple sea urchins have exploded in recent years off California, covering the ocean floor in what divers describe as a "purple carpet." And they devour kelp: the once-lush forests of seaweed that hugged the coastline are disappearing. Since 2014, 95 percent of the kelp have vanished across a large part of Northern California, most of it bull kelp.

A few years ago, marine biologist Kyle Van Houtan spotted an online video that he couldn't quite believe. It showed a young great white shark, about five-feet long, swimming just off a pier in Central California.

"Our initial reaction was that it can't be true," Van Houtan says. "We know that they're in Southern California and Mexico, not in Monterey."

When they're young, white sharks typically live in the warm waters of Southern California, hundreds of miles from the cold, rough surf up north off Monterey.

As the blackouts in Texas dragged on, millions of residents quickly realized they had more to worry about than trying to light and heat their homes. The water coming out their faucets was no longer safe to drink.

Like falling dominos, infrastructure around Texas, dependent on electricity, began failing in the extreme cold. In Austin, the Ullrich Water Treatment Plant shut down due to an electrical failure. That, combined with low water pressure from broken pipes, meant residents had to boil their water.

Off the coast of England, there's a tiny, wind-swept island with the remains of a lifeboat rescue station from the mid-1800s. The workers who once ran the station on Hilbre Island did something that, unbeknownst to them, has become crucial for understanding the future of a hotter climate: They recorded the tides.

In a flurry of first-week executive orders, President Biden sent a definitive message that his administration would move faster on climate change than any before. Now, the question is whether it will be fast enough.

President Biden is moving quickly on climate change on his first day in office, saying he plans to sign a sweeping executive order to undo many of the Trump administration's environmental rollbacks.

As commuters stayed home in 2020 and airplanes remained on the ground, the nationwide slowdown led to a sizable drop in heat-trapping emissions. U.S. greenhouse gas emissions fell by 10 percent, the largest annual drop since World War II, according to a report by the Rhodium Group.

Still, the climate diet isn't likely to stick. The reductions were largely due to temporary changes during lockdown orders. By the end of the year, Americans were already back to driving and flying more.

With just a few weeks left, 2020 is in a dead-heat tie for the hottest year on record. But whether it claims the top spot misses the point, climate scientists say. There is no shortage of disquieting statistics about what is happening to the Earth.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

The pandemic is having some unintended consequences on the environment. There's less air pollution. And now scientists are finding that water quality is improving, too. NPR's Lauren Sommer reports.

After record-breaking wildfires this year, thousands of people across the West are still clearing piles of charred debris where their homes once stood in the hope of rebuilding their lives.

With climate change fueling bigger, more destructive wildfires, rebuilding offers an opportunity to create more fire-resistant communities by using building materials that can help homes survive the next blaze.

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