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Leaders Descend On Copenhagen For Climate Talks

GUY RAZ, host:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Guy Raz.

Diplomats from nearly 200 countries are gathering in Copenhagen today to prepare for a two-week negotiation session on global warming. The goal of the United Nations process is clear: Get the nations of the world to work together and limit the build-up of carbon dioxide and other gases that are warming our planet. But there are huge disagreements about how to get that done.

NPR's Richard Harris will be in Copenhagen. But right now, he's here with me in the studio.

Hi, Richard.


RAZ: Now, Copenhagen originally was supposed to produce a legally binding climate treaty. That is not going to happen now. So, what do world leaders hope to accomplish over the next two weeks in Copenhagen?

HARRIS: What they're really hoping to come up with is at least a political agreement, sort of a meeting of the minds to set the stage for next year coming back and actually coming up with a legally binding agreement. But what that political agreement's going to be is in play very much. They don't really know. They've got huge, huge questions to deal with.

One thing is how much are people going to step forward and say we'll cut our emissions by X, Y and Z. We're already hearing some of those pledges. The United States did it around Thanksgiving, as did China, Europe's on the record. So that part is at least happening.

But we don't even know what a legally binding agreement will even end up looking like. It could look like the old Kyoto Protocol, which is the current climate deal, or it could look like something completely different.

RAZ: Well, describe some of the political fault lines right now.

HARRIS: Well, the biggest political fault line is really north-south, the rich countries versus the poor countries. Under the Kyoto Protocol, developing countries had no obligation to do anything, and the rich countries did have obligations to do things. The developing countries would like to hang onto that sweet deal and not be forced into doing something. But by now, the United States and other countries are saying, look, if China's not going to promise to do something, we aren't either. We'll never be able to sell it to the Senate. So that's the biggest fault line.

But there are many other ones. Money is always a big issue here. The poorest of the poor countries will not be asked to do anything in Copenhagen, but they're saying, how much money are you going to give us to help adjust to climate change and to build a clean economy?

RAZ: Now, Richard, the Copenhagen talks were sort of put together because the current climate treaty, the Kyoto Protocol, didn't work out well, right?

HARRIS: That's right.

RAZ: Now, here, of course, in the U.S., the Clinton administration signed it. It wasn't ratified by the Senate. Most of the countries that did sign it won't cut their emissions by anywhere near as much as they promised. Does that experience in any way affect the talks at Copenhagen?

HARRIS: It sure does. And one of the most important ways it does is the United States decided this time, we're not going to promise something and then try to bring it back and get the Senate to buy into it. It's why the process has been slow is they've been waiting for the Senate to step up and say this is what we envision, what we're willing to do as a domestic climate deal, and then take that to Copenhagen as the U.S. position, and that's pretty much what President Obama has done, although, in fact, the Senate hasn't come to terms with what it's going to do for climate change.

So there's a big asterisk when Mr. Obama said we'll do thus and such. He said it's provisional, essentially, on the Senate actually acting. So that's one major thing that's different.

The other thing that is happening is, I think, that Europe and other countries also are tired of working under the Kyoto Protocol, which does not include us and which does not include many of the other rapidly developing nations like China and India in any serious way. So I think there's a determination from many sides to have something with a lot more teeth than Kyoto had.

RAZ: That's our science correspondent, Richard Harris.

Richard, thanks so much.

HARRIS: My pleasure.

RAZ: And have fun in Copenhagen.

HARRIS: Thanks. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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