RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
Turning now to the subject of climate change. Just 16 nations are responsible for 80 percent of the world's greenhouse gas emissions. Representatives from those countries are meeting in Washington today and tomorrow, to see if they can work together to slow the pace of climate change. As NPR's Richard Harris reports, this is part of the Obama administration's approach to crafting an international deal on global warming.
RICHARD HARRIS: The Obama administration has moved quickly to deal with climate change in the international arena. It has joined in the United Nations talks that aim to help come up with a climate-change treaty in Copenhagen later this year. It's working one-on-one with China, which recently surpassed the U.S. as the world's largest carbon emitter.
And in the talks that start today, it's convening a meeting between the 16 nations that contribute most to climate change. President George W. Bush originally brought this group together.
Mr. TIM WIRTH (The United Nations Foundation): It was originally started, I think, by the Bush administration so that they would appear to be doing something when they weren't really doing anything.
HARRIS: Tim Wirth served in the Clinton administration as a climate envoy. He now runs a nonprofit group called the United Nations Foundation.
Mr. WIRTH: It was a way of ducking their responsibilities, I think. But since then, I think people have come to understand how important it can be and should be. And I think it's a promising opportunity for the United States.
HARRIS: Wirth says this process gets around one of the biggest challenges of working with the 192 United Nations member-states who have pledged to deal collectively with the issue of global climate change.
Mr. WIRTH: That's too bulky a group. A hundred and ninety-two is just too difficult. They are very important. It has to be done that way. It's a good forum.
HARRIS: But you need something smaller, he says, to make quick progress. So, now the Obama administration is making use of the major emitters group. During a speech last week, State Department official Jonathan Pershing said part of the strategy is for this group to help shape the broader international negotiations.
Mr. JONATHAN PERSHING (Department of State): If you can grow a major economy's group, which includes the U.S. and China and Europe, and then Japan and Canada and Australia, but also India and Indonesia and Brazil, at that point you're at about 75 or 80 percent of global emissions, and you now have the political force and momentum to drive change.
HARRIS: Pershing said this group can also speed development of new, clean technologies and then figure out how to get them deployed around the world rapidly.
Mr. PERSHING: And in that context, partnering with others around the world is going to be central. If just the U.S. and China do it, it won't work, you need a larger economic force and the capacity brought to bear by all that talent that's around the world.
HARRIS: Since this group is just getting started with the new vision, it's not entirely clear what they will set out to do. That's supposed to be fleshed out, starting with a meeting this week in Washington and culminating in a deal cut by the world leaders in Italy come July.
Some representatives of business in the U.S. look at this as a forum that could help them. Lisa Jacobson, who heads a clean-energy industry group called the Business Council for Sustainable Energy, says the major emitters group could help assure that American businesses aren't put at a disadvantage.
Ms. LISA JACOBSON (Business Council for Sustainable Energy): Having all large emitting countries on a level playing field, a part of a global, multilateral, binding accord to reduce greenhouse gases is only going to mitigate competitive tensions.
HARRIS: And in an ideal world, a deal that limits carbon emissions and promotes cleaner technologies could end up being a big boost to the companies ready to capitalize on that.
Richard Harris, NPR News.
MONTAGNE: And this is NPR News.