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Climate Rift Grows Between U.S., Poor Nations

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Climate Rift Grows Between U.S., Poor Nations


Climate Rift Grows Between U.S., Poor Nations

Climate Rift Grows Between U.S., Poor Nations

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

As the world prepares for crucial climate-change talks in Copenhagen next month, there is a growing rift between the United States and some of the world's poorest nations. The gap grew wider this past week, at the final official pre-Copenhagen talks in Barcelona.

GUY RAZ, host:

The health of the planet will top the agenda in Copenhagen next month at a meeting of environmental officials from around the world. Organizers hope to hammer out a major new treaty to fight global warming. This past week, negotiators met in Barcelona for the final proceedings before the Copenhagen event.

And as NPR's Richard Harris reports, the rift between the United States and some of the world's poorest nations grew even wider.

RICHARD HARRIS: Every nation will eventually have to take action to address climate change. The fight now is who does what when? At a news conference in Barcelona, U.S. diplomat Jonathan Pershing laid out what the United States wants to happen. The rich industrial nations will recommit to reducing their emissions. Meanwhile, major developing countries will have to slow down the rate at which their emissions are growing.

Mr. JONATHAN PERSHING (Deputy Special Envoy for Climate Change): China, India, Brazil, Indonesia, many, many others are beginning to outline their domestic efforts to do just this.

HARRIS: The world's poorest countries, like Niger and Cote d'Ivoire, won't have to cut emissions at all. But they will need to start figuring out how they can develop with clean energy. Under the deal Pershing envisions, rich countries will help them to do that.

As part of this package, the United States wants all countries, rich and poor, to agree to let the world review and judge their plans. And this is where the rift between rich and poor appears. Pershing says the developing world won't agree to submit formal plans for other nations to see.

Mr. PERSHING: They would like us to make binding commitments on finance, binding commitments on emissions targets and they are not even prepared to take a review obligation, much less make it binding.

HARRIS: This refusal stems from a deal that was negotiated long ago. Under the Kyoto climate treaty of 1997, developing countries were given a free pass on all obligations and they're loaf to give that up.

Mr. PERSHING: The developing countries in particular would like a legal deal that applies to us but not to them, and we are not prepared to have such an agreement.

HARRIS: The developing countries, naturally, have a different take on all of this. They point out that the United States and Europe are responsible for most of the excess carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, so the poor nations say it's the job of the rich nations to fix the problem.

Martin Khor runs the South Centre, which is a research group funded by the developing world. He says poor nations want the rich to slash emissions by a dramatic 40 percent in the next decade, and even the most ambitious promises come nowhere close.

Mr. MARTIN KHOR (Executive Director, South Centre): So the developing countries are aghast - that's the word, aghast, astonished - at such a low level of commitment.

HARRIS: Another part of the rift is over money. Poor countries say they need a huge amount of money to deal with climate change, much more that is on the table. They are asking for at least one percent of the rich countries' gross domestic product.

Mr. KHOR: One percent on GNP is $400 billion - to five percent of GNP - this is the proposal of the Africa Group.

HARRIS: At one point this week, African nations walked out of the talks to press their demands. Eventually, they went back in but the rift persists.

Jake Schmidt from the Natural Resources Defense Council says part of this is a negotiating tactic. Poor nations may eventually agree to develop plans and let the world review them, but they're not prepared to say so just yet.

Mr. JAKE SCHMIDT (International Climate Policy Director, Natural Resources Defense Council): I'm not surprised that they won't budge on that until they know exactly what the U.S. is going to do.

HARRIS: And the U.S. isn't quite sure itself what it will put on the table in Copenhagen. Any deal will need to be ratified with 67 votes in the U.S. Senate and it's not yet clear how far the Senate will go on climate commitments. U.S. diplomats don't want to cut a deal in Copenhagen. It will be a dead letter in Washington.

Richard Harris, NPR News.

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