Breakthrough Announced In Climate Talks

In Coppenhagen on Friday, President Obama said he had reached an agreement on global warming with many of the world's leaders. The announcement caps two tense weeks of negotiations. The deal has not been formally approved by the 193 nations at the conference, and the details of the plan aren't yet public.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

And I'm Melissa Block.

World leaders may have broken the deadlock at the climate talks in Copenhagen. There is word that the U.S., China and other major nations have finally moved beyond obstacles that threaten to bring down the negotiations.

Joining us from Copenhagen is NPR's Richard Harris. And, Richard, not a lot of detail yet about what this agreement might be. But what can you tell us about it?

RICHARD HARRIS: Well, Melissa, there has been no official announcement yet, but U.S. officials have told some reporters here that the United States, China, India and South Africa have finally made a deal that breaks the deadlock. We don't really know exactly what it says at this point, but I've seen earlier drafts and if - they are sort of an edit of that draft or just more or less what I would expect, it's a package that puts together a way for nations to commit to reducing their emissions and dependent upon each country's circumstances. There would also be ways to check progress on those commitments, a big financing package to help the world's poor countries and a whole host of other details.

BLOCK: Being characterized there in Copenhagen, as I gathered by the White House, there is a historic step forward, a first step though. How did we get to this point? Richard, set the scene for us a bit.

HARRIS: Well, today started off with ministers and secretaries of state and so on negotiating all the way from last night into the morning. They were supposed to have something for the heads of state to sign this morning when President Obama arrived. But they couldn't reach an agreement. And Mr. Obama arrived and instead of going and proceeding to give a speech, he plunged first into a whole series of meetings. He first met with 19 other major players. Then he met alone with Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao. That was because a lot of this is a conflict between the two countries and then with more world leaders again.

BLOCK: And the conflict between the U.S. and China that you've mentioned seems to be turning on the question of accountability, right?

HARRIS: That's exactly right. China has up to now had - has up till now had no responsibilities in global climate treaties. It's grown to be the world's largest emitter of carbon dioxides and its emissions are so growing extremely rapidly. China at least has a domestic plan to start tackling its emissions, but the U.S. says China now needs to share that information and account for its emission so it kind of can become part of an internationally binding deal. Here's how Mr. Obama put it in a speech this afternoon.

President BARACK OBAMA: Without such accountability, any agreement would be empty words on a page. I don't know how you have an international agreement where we all are not sharing information and ensuring that we are meeting our commitments. That doesn't make sense. It would be a hollow victory.

BLOCK: Well, Richard, assuming there is now an agreement there in Copenhagen, what happens next?

HARRIS: Yeah, well, it sounds as though that it would not be a hollow victory. We are not done here, that much I can say. What we've been talking about up to this point has been a political declaration, which they're calling the Copenhagen Accord. And if they can all agree to it, if they have agreed to it, then they will send this along to the entire United Nations' body here. And they will need to reach a consensus agreement, maybe later tonight, possibly tomorrow, maybe who knows, I hate to suggest Sunday.

(Soundbite of laughter)

HARRIS: But there's a whole lot of work left to be done here. And so, they have to do that. And it will be up to them to put in place a plan that will come up with a legally binding deal. Presumably, there still would be treaty talks that would proceed next year. But that's still up in the air. So, it's not over yet.

BLOCK: Okay, Richard, thanks very much.

HARRIS: My pleasure.

BLOCK: That's NPR's Richard Harris in Copenhagen.

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