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The United Nations climate treaty talks are back in session. This year, diplomats chose a tropical climate for their meeting place. They're in Cancun in Mexico. Last year's meetings were in snowy Copenhagen. And it's not just the weather that has changed here. Diplomats are taking a less ambitious approach this time. NPR's Richard Harris reports.

RICHARD HARRIS: The climate talks in Copenhagen attracted many world leaders, including President Obama. The goal was to create a global regime to hold carbon dioxide emissions in check to slow global warming. But the meeting was fractious and ended without a strong agreement.

Still, there is momentum, particularly from Europe, to use the United Nations process to take on this global issue. And Saleemul Huq from the International Institute for Environment and Development in London says people are hoping to use the meeting in Cancun to regroup.

Mr. SALEEMUL HUQ (International Institute for Environment and Development): People are lowering expectations so that we get something out of it. I think the approach that we had last year in Copenhagen, where it was a sort of all-or-nothing approach, blew up in our faces, and we got nothing out of it.

HARRIS: Cancun could possibly put some flesh on the bones of a non-binding accord that came out of Copenhagen. The U.S., China, India and other major players signed on to long-term voluntary emissions reductions. But it wasn't formally adopted by the United Nations.

Jennifer Morgan at the World Resources Institute says it was big on concepts, short on details - for example, financing.

Ms. JENNIFER MORGAN (Director, World Resources Institute): The accord said let's start a fund. But it was just a few sentences. What kind of fund? Hopefully in Cancun, they can decide as a UN to start a fund, and how they're actually going to get it up and running.

HARRIS: In fact, financing is the one area where there could be progress in Cancun. Earlier this fall, the United Nations pulled together a committee to figure out how the rich nations of the world could raise $100 billion a year to help the poor countries adapt to climate change.

Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg co-chaired that committee. In an interview with NPR, he said they tried to figure out how economic development and climate protection could move forward hand in hand.

Prime Minister JENS STOLTENBERG (Norway): One way of obtaining that is, of course, to make sure that the economic growth in the developing world is clean, is not as polluting as the economic growth has been in the developed world. And that's one of the reasons why we focus so much on financing.

HARRIS: Stoltenberg's committee concluded the world needs to put a price on carbon emissions in order to raise money for the developing world. That's admittedly a tough sell, at least in the short run, in this global economic climate.

Prime Minister STOLTENBERG: It's unrealistic to believe that the meeting in Cancun can agree on all the different proposals, recommendations we have in our report, but hopefully Cancun can agree how to move forward. Finance is a key, also, because it creates the climate of trust between developing and developed countries.

HARRIS: One perennial issue is how third-world nations would spend the money that rich nations have pledged. Saleemul Huq argues that his home country, Bangladesh, is actually setting a good example. This low-lying nation has drawn up plans for how it would cope with rising sea levels, which are expected as a result of global warming.

Mr. HUQ: And it includes a variety of things from dredging the rivers to prevent overflowing and flooding, investing in agriculture, new crops, new rice varieties that can be grown in the coastal areas with increasing salinity. And they've actually made quite a lot of progress on this.

HARRIS: Huq is also guardedly optimistic that diplomats can make incremental progress in Cancun to limit deforestation, which is a key element of coping with climate change. But don't expect big progress on the core of the climate treaty, and that is measures to slow emissions from the world's biggest emitters: China and the United States.

China has shown no interest in making legally binding promises in that regard, and in the wake of the U.S. elections, there's essentially no prospect now for aggressive climate legislation here. Still, Jennifer Morgan says she'd like to hear President Obama reiterate the pledge he made in Copenhagen, enacting policies that would reduce our nation's emissions by 17 percent in the next decade.

Ms. MORGAN: Without that, it's awfully hard for others to trust that the U.S. is really serious about doing anything about global warming. And that makes success in Cancun a pretty hard thing to imagine.

HARRIS: The meeting runs through mid-December.

Richard Harris, NPR News.

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