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And I'm Linda Wertheimer. Today's United Nations meeting on climate change could be seen as a pep rally. The U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon wants to pump up enthusiasm for a climate treaty. It's supposed to be finished in December in Copenhagen, but it's in deep trouble. In a moment, we'll hear NPR's Juan Williams on the domestic politics of climate change. We start with NPR's Richard Harris.
RICHARD HARRIS: Climate change is a hard problem. An effective treaty would eventually require the global economy to change directions entirely, with a shift away from fossil fuels and toward cleaner sources of energy. There's at least serious talk about starting that transition.
The United States is a key player, and the House of Representatives passed a bill that is intended to move in that direction. But the issue is stalled in the Senate. Jason Grumet at the Bipartisan Policy Center says there are three main reasons for that.
Mr. JASON GRUMET (Bipartisan Policy Center): The global recession, the extent to which the health care debate has now really crowded out all other political activity, and the deep mistrust that people in our Congress and across our country now have about market-based approaches to problem solving.
HARRIS: The idea of creating vast new markets to buy and sell carbon emissions suddenly sounds like not such a great idea, since exotic markets in bundled mortgages nearly led to economic collapse a year ago. Grumet says given time, there are ways to solve these problems.
Mr. GRUMET: The real challenge, though, is getting beyond the kind of vitriol that is now marking our larger political discussion, because if that remains, you know, I think we're going to find ourselves not making progress on any of the important issues facing the country.
HARRIS: And time is running short. Congress needs to agree on a domestic climate policy before the Obama administration can negotiate a credible international deal. And it's looking like there simply won't be time to come up with a climate bill before December, when the next climate treaty is supposed to be negotiated in Copenhagen.
Ms. KELLY SIMS GALLAGHER (Tufts University): But the U.S. isn't the only problem.
HARRIS: Kelly Sims Gallagher at Tufts University says China is also an impediment. The Chinese government is demanding that the industrialized world make drastic cuts in its emissions before China agrees to reduce its own. Gallagher says this is not helpful.
Ms. GALLAGHER: But we have to understand China's stance as a negotiating position right now.
HARRIS: Countries often talk tough as a deadline approaches. She says time's up. The United States and China, which are by far the two biggest contributors to global warming, need to sit down together and start getting serious.
Ms. GALLAGHER: If they don't start doing that this week, it's hard to imagine being able to have enough time to get through all of the contentious issues and come out of Copenhagen with an agreement.
HARRIS: If you ask David Victor at the University of California, San Diego about the prospects of a deal by December...
Mr. DAVID VICTOR (University of California San Diego): Well, they're looking pretty bad.
HARRIS: The lack of U.S. domestic legislation is a big blow. So is the global economy. Rich countries don't have much money to offer the developing world, and money is what developing countries expect from these talks to help them cope with the consequences of climate change. So Victor is among a rising chorus of voices saying it's time to start thinking seriously about Plan B.
Mr. VICTOR: I think what needs to happen between now and Copenhagen is the diplomats need to sift through this huge list of issues on which they can't agree and find the small list of items where they can agree and where if they fail to agree there's going to be a big harmful impact on climate diplomacy.
HARRIS: For example, put in writing promises countries have already made so they don't back away from them. And don't expect to negotiate global emissions reduction targets.
Mr. VICTOR: And then develop a very distinct game plan for the two or three years following the Copenhagen process.
HARRIS: He says the worst-case scenario would be if nations lower their expectations for Copenhagen so much that nothing happens, yet everyone declares victory and goes home.
Richard Harris, NPR News.