Climate Conference Winding Down In Copehagen

With President Barack Obama and other world leaders arriving in Copenhagen, negotiators have been working through the night to craft a political declaration for Friday's climate summit.

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It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

And I'm Renee Montagne.

President Obama is having a hectic day. He flew into Copenhagen this morning for the final day of the climate talks, and he's one of many heads of state trying to rescue the negotiations there. Negotiators worked through the night, but still haven't reached an agreement. At this hour, it's not clear exactly what, if anything, the talks will produce. And let's bring in NPR's Richard Harris, who's there in Copenhagen. Hello.

RICHARD HARRIS: Good morning, Renee.

MONTAGNE: Tell us what happened overnight and also so far this morning.

HARRIS: Well, overnight, there were a series of meetings where ministers and secretaries of state and so on were supposed to come with a deal after almost two weeks of meetings for the presidents and heads of state to sign. But as dawn broke, there were still no such deal and there were big rifts. So Mr. Obama arrived on Air Force One this morning, and he was supposed to come to the podium to give a talk. Instead, he went - disappeared behind closed doors and met with 19 other world leaders for an unscheduled meeting, including leaders of China and Russia and the U.K., Bangladesh and so on. And they locked themselves up for quite a while to see if they could reach an accord.

We don't actually know what transpired in that meeting just yet. The meeting is now over, and what we do know is the world leaders are out, the plenary hall here is full, and the speech has just started. So we're just maybe getting the first clues, but President Obama has not spoken, as yet.

MONTAGNE: And what are the key things - you may not know exactly what happened, but we would know what the key things are that they are arguing over.

HARRIS: Yeah. They are arguing over, really, some deep, core issues, for example, whether the emission cuts that have been promised so far by rich nations are ambitious enough. The developing world in general is concerned that they might get too warm and, you know, sea level could rise and wipe out small islands, states and so on. So, also a question whether there's enough money to be put on the table to help them cope with those changes. And one of the real nub issues here is whether the China will allow the world to monitor its emissions. That would be a key step to bring them into a binding international treaty, and they've been really reluctant to do that. So there have been progress with some of those issues, but each and every one is a tough one, and no one has declared consensus on any of them.

MONTAGNE: Well, you know, with China - it, along with the United States - these are the two biggest Greenhouse gas producers in the world. And there are some who say that any really important agreement comes down to the U.S. and China agreeing.

HARRIS: That's exactly right, and that's the dynamic we've seen played out in these past couple of weeks, and - with the U.S. being very insistent and China being very insistent. So that's - you've got it exactly right. That's the key issue.

MONTAGNE: And, though, the prospects for an agreement between these two countries or any agreement that matters, how - what are they?

HARRIS: Well, we'll see. They did come out of their meeting, and so we'll find out where they agreed. The - it's, you now, I think it's a real cliff hanger. Obviously, nobody wants to be blamed for having this meeting be a failure. They don't want to go home empty handed, but they also don't want to just go home with a weak agreement and just promises to talk more, because that could also be a failure. So the pressure is really on both the U.S. and China to resolve this very deep conflict.

MONTAGNE: Well, since we don't know how this is going to end, why don't we go back for a moment to the very beginning of these talks and the run up of the talks? What - reminds us what people were hoping for.

HARRIS: Well, this conference was proposed about two years ago, and it was supposed to result in a new legally binding treaty to combat global warming. In the intervening time, it's become evident that a new treaty was impossible. The U.S. was just not ready to sign on, partly because President Obama decided to wait for Congress to act first, and the Congress has not really acted on this. So - then it turned into, OK, no treaty, but maybe there could be a politically binding declaration. And that's what they have been trying to work toward, but not everyone in the meeting agrees that it should have been the goal. In fact, many people thought we should still try to work for a treaty here.

So the African countries and so on have sort of put the brakes on the talks and said, no, we don't want a political declaration. We want a treaty. And so that has really bogged down the talks. And so, that's, you know�

MONTAGNE: Right.

HARRIS: �and the U.S. has been very insistent that whatever comes up now really could be something that could be enacted immediately, not just broad prose, but something, you know, something that - the word they use is operational, you know. And it's not clear right now whether that, in fact, will happen.

MONTAGNE: Well, if it doesn't, if there's no agreement out of Copenhagen, what then?

HARRIS: Well, it would obviously be a blow to world efforts, but it's also true that, actually, there's been quite a bit of progress in recent months as countries have prepared for this meeting. China, India, Brazil and other countries have announced ambitious, albeit voluntary plans. The U.S. has increased its ambitions, and so even with - not an international pact, it's certainly not a total loss.

MONTAGNE: Richard, thanks very much, and we'll be talking about this later in the morning.

HARRIS: Good to talk to you, Renee.

MONTAGNE: NPR's science correspondent Richard Harris is at the climate negotiations in Copenhagen.

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