China, U.S. Try To Get Climate Talks Moving

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The special meeting on climate at the United Nations Tuesday produced strong rhetoric, but no breakthroughs. U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon called the meeting in advance of a December deadline. That's when talks in Copenhagen are supposed to produce a new treaty to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases.


The president's speech followed a special meeting at the United Nations on climate change that produced strong rhetoric but no breakthroughs. U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki Moon called this meeting in advance of a December deadline. That's when talks in Copenhagen are supposed to produce a new treaty to reduce emissions of greenhouse gasses around the world.

From New York, NPR's Richard Harris reports on the prospects for an agreement before year's end.

RICHARD HARRIS: About a hundred world leaders attended the meeting in New York and eight of them had a chance to address the General Assembly. Sweden's Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt bluntly stated the central dilemma.

Prime Minister FREDRIK REINFELDT (Sweden): Ladies and gentlemen, we are only 76 days from the Copenhagen meeting, but the negotiations are going far too slow and they are still lacking real progress. We are close to a deadlock. As leaders, we now have a job to do.

HARRIS: That job, he said, is to flex their political muscles and give clear direction to the diplomats who are stuck trying to resolve hundreds of contentious issues. For example, the nations can't agree about how much to cut their emissions and they can't agree about how to provide funds for the developing world to help poor countries adapt to a changing planet. And nothing from the morning speeches suggested that the world leaders are finding a way out of that morass. President Obama said his administration has setup numerous international meetings and taken serious steps at home to start the nation down the path toward lower emissions.

President BARACK OBAMA: We understand the gravity of the climate threat. We are determined to act. And we will meet our responsibility to future generations.

HARRIS: But the president didn't spell out what shape that would take in the international climate talks. The administration is constrained by the U.S. Senate, which must cast at least 67 votes in favor of a treaty to ratify it. But the Senate hasn't settled on domestic climate legislation, let alone the ground rules for an international agreement.

China's President Hu Jintao also spoke of his nation's ambitious domestic plans. China is now the world's largest emitter of greenhouse gases. China plans to slow the pace of emissions growth, but that's not at all the same as actually reducing emissions overall. Speaking through an interpreter, Hu said China also plans to grow more forests to soak up carbon dioxide.

President HU JINTAO (China): (Through translator) Dear colleagues, out of a sense of responsibility to its own people and people across the world, China has taken and will continue to take determined and practical steps to tackle this challenge.

HARRIS: Hu did not suggest a way out of the climate talk deadlock. Even so, his comments drew kudos from French President Nicolas Sarkozy. Sarkozy also complimented the new government of Japan for adopting a tough new emissions reductions target. But on the whole, Sarkozy's tone was angry and that was evident even through an interpreter's voice. He called for a new meeting of the countries that contribute most to climate change.

President NICOLAS SARKOZY (France): (Through translator) To transcend the role playing, the empty speeches, the petty diplomatic games, and to table concrete proposals.

HARRIS: And for an emotional appeal, President Mohamed Nasheed of the Maldives reminded the assembled leaders what's at stake. His island republic is barely above sea level today. Global warming could soon raise the oceans and flood the Maldives out of existence. Nasheed said he's often called upon to remind people in the rich countries about the fate of small island states, but he says the world continues on, business as usual.

President MOHAMED NASHEED (The Maldives): When the Maldives desperately want to believe that one day our words will have an effect. And so we continue to shout them even though deep down we know that you're not really listening.

HARRIS: Time's running out, he said.

Pres. NASHEED: We cannot make Copenhagen a pact for suicide. We have to succeed and we have to make a deal in Copenhagen. Thank you very much.

(Soundbite of applause)

HARRIS: Negotiators have two more preparatory sessions before the Copenhagen talks open in December, and some of that time will no doubt be spent figuring out how to make sure the climate talks don't collapse entirely.

Richard Harris, NPR News, New York.

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