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An island nations representative says COP26 failed to set actionable response plan


After weeks of negotiations, nearly 200 countries reached a deal at the U.N. climate talks known as COP26. The top line from the deal - countries agreed to set more ambitious targets for cutting greenhouse emissions. The agreement was reached after a last-minute compromise on coal use. Critics of the plan say it doesn't go far enough in reducing emissions fast enough or in providing assistance to developing countries.

As we are learning more about the deal, we want to hear more about how the negotiations went, how different participants feel about it and next steps after COP26. So we've called Ambassador Janine Felson once again. She is the deputy head of the Belize delegation that attended the U.N. climate conference, and she is with us now.

Welcome back to the program. Thanks so much for talking with us again.

JANINE FELSON: Thank you very much, Michel. It's a pleasure to be back with you.

MARTIN: So you were on this program just before COP26. And you said your major goal was to get the world's wealthiest countries to commit to more ambitious climate goals. So what's your sense of the deal? Are you pleased?

FELSON: I would say that the glass is half full. We have ambition on the agenda. We think that we have a good enough chance to keep our developed country partners' feet to the fire to raise their ambition in respect of their 1.5 degree target. But, of course, there are areas where we still need to see progress.

MARTIN: I feel like you're - forgive me for saying this, but I feel like you're choosing your words carefully. And I'm wondering, is that because you're still kind of evaluating how you feel about it or because you're still processing all that you went through? Or what - am I right about that?

FELSON: (Laughter) There's a little bit of processing. And so yes, I am choosing my words carefully because I don't want to throw the baby out with the bathwater. I don't want to say, you know, this isn't something that's workable. And I don't think it's good enough for me to just look at, you know, the final - what the press sees as the Glasgow climate pact. There are so many different agenda items that were negotiated that are under that decision, and those different agenda items all put in place something different, something new.

MARTIN: Well, thanks for your candor. I appreciate it because you were there to represent Belize and developing island nations that are experiencing the worst effects of climate change. Do you feel that you were heard in the course of the negotiations?

FELSON: I think that there definitely could have been much stronger outcomes for small island developing states, and that really goes to the whole point of the issue on loss and damage. Loss and damage is something that we are currently experience. It's not a matter of adapting to sea level rise that inundates your island, or it's not global warming that impacts the variability of climate or impacts the chemistry of the oceans and your coastal ecosystems. In the case of Belize, our barrier reef, which is under more stress than it ever has been since our independence back in 1981, we didn't get far enough on that. And that's where - I think that's where our voices didn't carry - maybe it wasn't that it didn't carry loud enough because I think we were loud enough. But to put it in the terms of your question, it wasn't heard.

MARTIN: So before we let you go, COP27 is scheduled to take place in Egypt next year. Many of the goals in this year's plan will be followed up on at that time. What's the most important thing that needs to happen between now and then?

FELSON: Between now and then, there's going to be more advocacy. There's going to be more consolidation of support around areas that we had a few misses on. We also need to see a lot more accountability on the part of the private sector to ensure that they are taking climate risk into account and that, in fact, they are thinking about the greater common good.

MARTIN: That is Ambassador Janine Felson. She's the deputy head of the Belize delegation that attended COP26, the U.N. climate conference. Ambassador Felson, thank you so much for joining us once again. I do hope we'll keep in touch.

FELSON: Thank you, Michel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.