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News brief: climate meeting, Texas abortion law, Election Day in Virginia

NOEL KING, HOST:

At the U.N. Climate Summit in Scotland yesterday, world leaders got on stage one by one to talk about the threat of climate change and what they plan to do about it.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

They'd already submitted the broad strokes of their plans in writing, so nobody really expected surprises. And then there was one from the third-biggest source of the world's greenhouse gases, India.

KING: NPR's Dan Charles is in Scotland. Good morning, Dan.

DAN CHARLES, BYLINE: Good morning.

KING: What was this big surprise announcement from India?

CHARLES: Yeah, so India's prime minister, Narendra Modi, has a dramatic stage presence with his white beard. He was looking very stern yesterday making these announcements.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRIME MINISTER NARENDRA MODI: (Non-English language spoken).

CHARLES: So one headline, he said India will reach net zero greenhouse emissions by 2070.

KING: 2070 is 49 years away. But India is a giant economy and a giant country.

CHARLES: Right. So a lot of experts are saying this is more significant than it looks. Other countries are saying they'll get to net zero faster, but India really depends on its huge deposits of coal. And Ulka Kelkar, who's with the World Resources Institute in India, says it's a huge shift having Prime Minister Modi even mention this idea, that net zero emissions are even possible for India.

ULKA KELKAR: Just six months ago, nobody was talking about net zero. Now it's on the front pages of business newspapers and on prime-time national television.

CHARLES: And there's also other things. Modi laid out some near-term targets. By 2030, he said, 10 years away, India will have a huge amount of clean electricity generation installed. Fifty percent of its energy will come from renewable sources. What exactly is included in those numbers is not really clear, but Kelkar says it clearly means a huge expansion of wind and solar power.

KING: And that's within the next 10 years.

CHARLES: Right. Which, is significant. Environmental advocates are saying this is a lot more specific than what's coming from, say, Australia, which says it'll be carbon neutral by 2050 but isn't laying out specific policies to get there.

KING: OK. So India is remarkably on the ball at this summit. President Biden was there, too. He was making a speech to promote his climate spending bills, which he wants Congress to approve. Did he have anything to say that is not related to the messiness in Congress?

CHARLES: Well, the Biden administration is making a couple of big announcements today here on methane.

KING: Methane is the main ingredient in natural gas.

CHARLES: Right. It's burned as fuel in everything from big power plants to the gas range in your kitchen releasing carbon dioxide. But methane by itself is the second-most important greenhouse gas behind carbon dioxide. Some climate scientists think we ought to be focusing a lot more on it. Well, the Biden administration is announcing a big new push to cut down on methane emissions.

KING: Where do the methane emissions come from? You mentioned the gas range in my kitchen. Are there bigger sources, though?

CHARLES: Well, from oil and gas wells, for one thing, but also landfills from manure pits at hog farms and dairies. But the most new and interesting thing about this initiative is it's focusing on the gas pipes that go from house to house in cities. Some of that infrastructure seems to be leaky. There was a scientific study recently that said, like, in Boston, 2.5% of all the gas delivered to that area actually leaked into the atmosphere.

KING: Wow.

CHARLES: So the administration is coming up with regulations or financial incentives that will cut back on all these methane sources.

KING: But interestingly, that's not part of these climate negotiations.

CHARLES: No, that's the thing about this event. A lot of things are going on. You know, governments and businesses are just using the occasion to announce things. It'll go on all week. There's a global methane pledge. There's a big announcement today about deforestation. There are more of these announcements than I can even keep track of.

KING: OK. Announcements - we'll see if there's action. NPR's Dan Charles in Glasgow. Thank you, Dan.

CHARLES: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

KING: All right. Today is Election Day in Virginia.

INSKEEP: The race for governor there is very tight and may be telling. Virginia's odd-year elections are often seen as representative of national trends. Democrat Terry McAuliffe was governor once before and campaigned on his past performance. Republican Glenn Youngkin is a former private equity CEO who picked up Republican criticism of schools, often criticizing them for things the schools don't teach.

KING: Ben Paviour covers state politics at member station VPM in Richmond. Good morning, Ben.

BEN PAVIOUR, BYLINE: Good to be here.

KING: All right. So it's the last couple of hours for these candidates before the vote. What are they saying?

PAVIOUR: The overriding message from the candidates is just vote. These off-year elections usually don't get the same level of turnout as presidential or even midterm ones. We did see very different strategies for animating the base. For Youngkin, that means drawing on conservative anxieties around education. At a packed rally at an airport hangar, he first cited Martin Luther King Jr., saying we should judge people based on their character, not race. Then he said schools were teaching students to view everything through the lens of race.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

GLENN YOUNGKIN: And so on day one, I will ban critical race theory from being in our schools.

(CHEERING)

PAVIOUR: It's worth noting here that critical race theory isn't actually in Virginia's K-12 curriculum.

KING: OK, so he's going to ban a thing that isn't happening. Is Terry McAuliffe, the Democrat, even bothering to respond to that? Or do people in Virginia get it, like, this is not real?

PAVIOUR: He says what you just did. And he says that banning critical race theory is also, quote, "a racist dog whistle." He also spent a lot of this rally at a Richmond brewery talking up what he could claim as his earlier accomplishments in the governor's office. That includes things like restoring voting rights for felons and increasing funding for education.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

TERRY MCAULIFFE: So all I'm trying to say is when you give Democrats the power, good things happen.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Yes.

MCAULIFFE: Right?

PAVIOUR: And he also spent a lot of time connecting Youngkin to former President Trump, who lost Virginia twice. When he was trying to win the Republican nomination, Youngkin's only real campaign issue was promoting what he called election integrity, and Trump endorsed Youngkin as recently as last night in a phone call that was described as a telle-rally. McAuliffe is making the argument that Youngkin is a kind of Trump enabler.

KING: Ben, why is Virginia reflective of the national political mood?

PAVIOUR: Well, both parties are using it as kind of a staging ground and testing strategies for next year. For Democrats, one big question is whether Trump is still a motivator to get their base out and vote even when he's not actually on the ballot. I'd also say Democrats passed a lot of their priorities in Virginia, things they want to do nationally, like expand access to voting and raise the minimum wage. So there's also the question of how voters respond to Democrats' narrow control of Richmond and Capitol Hill, too. And I think for Republicans, they're looking at Youngkin for maybe a way to win over the MAGA faithful without making the election too much about Trump himself. And they're testing messaging here around critical race theory and school curriculum.

KING: OK. Ben Paviour covers state politics for VPM in Richmond. Thank you, Ben.

PAVIOUR: Thanks for having me.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

KING: Texas' strict new abortion law has a unique method of enforcement. Instead of officials enforcing it, ordinary people will report on and then sue each other.

INSKEEP: We've reported on the reason for this. The law bans abortions after six weeks, which is flatly unconstitutional, so officials can't enforce it. Instead, random people anywhere in the country are encouraged to sue. Reproductive rights advocates and the Biden administration challenge that law. And the Supreme Court yesterday heard arguments. So how did those arguments sound from Texas?

KING: Ashley Lopez is with member station KUT in Austin. Good morning, Ashley.

ASHLEY LOPEZ, BYLINE: Good morning.

KING: What did the justices hear yesterday?

LOPEZ: Well, these hearings were actually pretty limited in scope. They were mostly focused on this way that Texas is enforcing its ban by having private citizens sue people who provide or even help provide an abortion to someone passed that six-week limit. This enforcement mechanism has actually made it really hard for folks like abortion providers to challenge this in court because it's been difficult for them to figure out who to sue to stop from enforcing the law since basically anyone can. So the justices are weighing in on whether the state should even be allowed to do this.

KING: And what did abortion providers or their attorneys say yesterday? And what did the justices want to know from them?

LOPEZ: So after the hearing, attorneys representing the abortion providers said they thought a lot of the questions, including from some of the more conservative members like Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett, indicated that they had some concerns about how this law seems to skirt the courts. One of the lawyers is Julie Murray with Planned Parenthood. She says this could be a good sign for plaintiffs, but it doesn't change the fact that the same court has refused to temporarily block the law while these legal challenges continue.

JULIE MURRAY: Certainly, you know, we are heartened by the vigorous questioning of today's hearing. But the reality on the ground is that until SB 8 is stopped with some sort of injunction, patients are still suffering irreparable harm.

LOPEZ: Murray pointed out that it's now been more than 60 days during which Texas has had very different abortion rights than the rest of the country. And it's not clear whether yesterday's hearing might convince the justices to change their minds and block the law even temporarily.

KING: And so what are anti-abortion groups in Texas telling you about these hearings?

LOPEZ: I talked to John Seago with Texas Right to Life. He said he was glad to see that the court seemed skeptical about the suit brought by the Justice Department. I think one of the big takeaways by legal observers is that the court seems more inclined to allow the suit brought by the abortion providers to move forward compared to the case brought by the federal government. But either way, anti-abortion groups continue to claim a big victory in the fact that the law has stayed in effect throughout all of this back and forth in the courts. And John Seago told me he thinks the court will probably keep the law in place despite any concerns about how this law was crafted.

JOHN SEAGO: So we believe that's going to be the case is that no matter how they rule on these standings, the jurisdiction questions for the case to move forward, they seem to be in a position to allow the law to stay in effect.

LOPEZ: And, you know, for their part, abortion providers in Texas are really concerned about what will happen to clinics and abortion access in the state if this law is allowed to stay in effect, even if it's just a little longer. The longer it stays in effect, the more of a financial crunch they face because the majority of the people coming to them for an abortion are no longer able to receive one. And they say this could eventually lead to many clinics to shut down indefinitely and maybe forever. And when we've seen past abortion laws go into effect in Texas, when clinics shut down, it's very hard for them to come back.

KING: OK. Thank you, Ashley.

LOPEZ: Thank you.

KING: Ashley Lopez is a reporter with KUT in Austin. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.