193 Reasons Why Climate Talks Move Slowly

If you're having trouble understanding why the Copenhagen talks are making such slow progress, try imagining having 193 children in your family. And every little decision has to be reached by consensus. You'd be lucky to get through breakfast. At the climate talks, 193 countries are trying to find common ground.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Now if it's hard to understand why it's so hard to make progress in Copenhagen, imagine you're the chaperone on a trip with 193 children, and every little decision - where to go, how to get there, what to do - has to be reached by consensus. NPR's David Kestenbaum is in Copenhagen, where the 193 countries have tried to find common ground.

DAVID KESTENBAUM: Every day, the delegates gather in a hall that seems big enough for an airplane. Some of them speak French, some Chinese, some Swahili. Fortunately, they all speak bureaucrat.

Unidentified Woman #1: Kenya, please.

Unidentified Man #1: Mr. Chair, I seek clarification. You are now telling us as the chair that you have converted us into drafting committees.

KESTENBAUM: Ah, the drafts. There are always draft texts circulating of possible agreements or parts of possible agreements - but they have lots of blanks in them and numbers in parentheses. We will reduce emissions by 20 percent or 40 percent or 80 percent. Because no one is really in charge, everyone is in charge.

Unidentified Man #2: It seems as Sudan have asked for the floor.

Unidentified Woman #2: Thank you. Thank you very much. We would like to have clarity on the deadline. What do you mean by a short deadline? We have lost two - at least two precious days of negotiations on this text because of the lack of clarity on the process. It is not the fault of G-77 and China. We had - we were ready to work. We are ready to work´┐Ż

KESTENBAUM: To make this whole experiment in global democracy more complicated - and I apologize if you're hearing this for the first time; we've kept it out of our reports since it's kind of confusing - there are actually two different sets of negotiations going on in parallel, barely acknowledging each other.

There are the countries who are part of the Kyoto Agreement signed in 1997, and then there's a whole separate negotiating track of countries trying to drop what might be a new treaty. Maybe you know this group as the ad-hoc working group on long-term cooperative action under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. It's the one that includes the United States and China, and it's the one most observers are watching closely.

And it is totally unclear how these two tracts are going to be merged. This is actually a very sensitive issue. At one point, He Yafei, vice foreign minister from China, said it was okay if the drafts from both tracts go forward, but he seemed to insist that the two have the same word count.

Mr. HE YAFEI (Vice Foreign Minister, China): The language we use for each document, whether in length or substance, should be more or less similar - more similar and the same. Of the same length, for instance.

KESTENBAUM: Connie Hedegaard, who has had the difficult job of being president of the proceedings, said in a press conference this week that when she first saw this whole process, it did seem like it could be improved.

Ms. CONNIE HEDEGAARD (President, U.N. Climate Conference): It might sound like a strange thing, so these procedural things can be so important. And why not just do it in a more efficient manner? But this is a U.N. conference, and everybody has to agree basically on everything. And if they don't, then you get stuck. That is the reality here.

KESTENBAUM: That is why Denmark has invited heads of state to come who might be able to rise above it all and hammer something out. Eva Debora, the United Nations officials in charge of running the talks, has explained the proceedings by noting that you can bring a horse to water, but you can't make him drink. The conditions are right here, he says, and they've brought 193 horses to water, but you just can't make them drink.

David Kestenbaum, NPR News, Copenhagen.

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