Rich, Poor Nations Divided Over Reducing Emissions

More than 110 heads of state are expected to arrive in Denmark this week, as diplomats try to bridge enormous disagreements over a new climate deal. Developing countries want rich countries to raise their pledges for reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

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ARI SHAPIRO, host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Ari Shapiro.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

And I'm Renee Montagne.

This is the week that the big names show up at the climate talks in Copenhagen, heads of state from a hundred countries, including, later this week, President Obama. This morning, the talks went into high gear. Some countries stepped up their pressure tactics to press for their points of view. NPR's science correspondent Richard Harris is there. Hello.

RICHARD HARRIS: Hi, Renee.

MONTAGNE: So we're hearing that China and India and other developing nations boycotted talks. What's happening, exactly?

HARRIS: Well, there's a lot of maneuvering and a lot of drama. Boycott is far too strong a word, but they did, basically, interrupt one of the meetings and they temporarily walked out of some meetings because they were trying to make their point, trying to press their case. And it's true that some news reports say that it's - the meeting's in chaos or disarray, but, you know - and it may be chaos, but it's actually very typical of what we see. In this case, the tactics are over the fate of the existing climate treaty, the Kyoto Protocol, and the developing countries want to negotiate it first and then a new treaty, if there is a new treaty, second. And so there's - it's just been a back-and-forth about that. But it's - you know, the talks still move forward. They're moving forward.

MONTAGNE: And what are the other issues that the countries are getting heated about?

HARRIS: Well, in addition to what exact treaty will be negotiated when, there are issues about money. There's about $10 billion a year on the table right now for the next couple of years. But that's just a tiny fraction of what many studies and many developing countries will say will be needed in the long run. So there's no clear sense now of where all that more money is going to come from. And that's a huge sticking point. Another is a back-and-forth about what the developing world such as China will be - whether they'll be part of a legally binding agreement. This is related to the debate over Kyoto, but China has been saying we're willing to do things, but we don't want it to be in a legal deal, and the U.S. says we aren't going to sign a deal unless China is part of a legal deal. So that's another huge stumbling block.

MONTAGNE: And Richard, these talks have been going on for over a week, now. What has been accomplished?

HARRIS: Well, there has been some movement on the technical details. I mean, these things always get pushed to very end to get the major breakthroughs. So there have been no really major breakthroughs as yet. But one thing that we have seen progress on is what's happening with the tropical forests. And what's shaping up here is a deal that would ultimately put a dollar value on tropical forests. And the idea is that there'd be a financial incentive for developing countries to preserve their forests rather than to cut them down. Conservationists have been working hard on this for years. And although it's not a done deal, it seems to be really heading in a direction that a lot of them are pretty pleased with.

MONTAGNE: Now, I gather that negotiators took a little break over the weekend, but Copenhagen didn't quiet down. There were protests.

HARRIS: Yes, there were. There were - more than a thousand protestors were detained. And so - and very few were arrested, actually. But it was a peaceful protest, by and large. You know, it was sort of part of the festival atmosphere that surrounds these talks. And we also, you know, are starting to see some of the big names come in, like Archbishop Desmond Tutu came in yesterday and gave a speech, and Al Gore is now on the premises, if you will. So we're starting to see, you know, sort of build up beyond just the thousands of formal negotiating delegates who are here.

MONTAGNE: And just briefly, what happens if the negotiators there can't reach an agreement this week?

HARRIS: Well, that's a really important question. And that's, I think, the source of a lot of the pressure, here, is that they have to come up with something, with the president coming and China's premiere coming. They've got figure something out. They know they're going to have talks next year, as well. And so they can work out some of the fine details and some of the issues that they can push down the road, but they do need to come away from Copenhagen with a credible agreement.

MONTAGNE: Thank you very much. NPR science correspondent Richard Harris, covering the climate talks in Copenhagen.

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