ANDREA SEABROOK, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Andrea Seabrook.

A dramatic scene early this morning as the United States almost torpedoed a sensitive international agreement on climate change. Let's listen to some of the voices at the U.N. negotiations in Bali, Indonesia.

We start with the U.S. delegate Paula Dobriansky.

Dr. PAULA DOBRIANSKY (Under Secretary, Democracy and Global Affairs): We would like to find a way forward here. We are not prepared to accept, though, this formulation at this time.

Mr. KEVIN CONRAD (Ambassador of Environment and Climate Change, Papua New Guinea): We ask for your leadership, we seek your leadership, but if for some reason you are not willing to lead, leave it to the rest of us. Please get out of the way.

SEABROOK: That was the delegate from Papua New Guinea Kevin Conrad. His and other nations put such tough pressure on the United States that it eventually did get out of the way - backing off from its position and joining the consensus of a hundred and eighty-eight nations on a roadmap for a future agreement on climate change.

What was the U.S. so opposed to that it almost tanked the whole deal? One of the same things that kept America from signing on to the Kyoto accords - the levels of greenhouse gases that emerging economies, like China and India, will be allowed to emit. The White House restated its concerns about this in a statement released this afternoon. The agreement did set up a process for nations to negotiate a global accord to replace Kyoto, which runs its course by 2012. More on that in a moment.

The U.S. still finds big sticking points with this agreement. NPR's Richard Harris is in Bali. He covered the negotiations.

RICHARD HARRIS: The U.S. does frame it very much as an issue of competitiveness with the rest of the world. Europe frames it very much as a moral issue. You know, the developed world has put most of the carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. The developing world needs to expand and grow because billions of people are in poverty around the world and you're going to bring them out of poverty by having their economies expanded. Their economy is going to expand with more energy use and so on. So, the question really is when is it appropriate to bring those nations in to the - to emissions reductions? It's a tough question.

SEABROOK: This has been the big fight for the U.S. for a long time - this question of how do you hold other countries with which the U.S. competes to environmental standards?

HARRIS: What this roadmap says in terms of the obligations of China and India are that it recognizes that it's important, eventually, for developing world to start thinking about also having to reduce their own emissions. But it doesn't apply words like verifiable and other words that the United States really wanted to see in association with that. It is not in there right now. It doesn't prelude it, but it gives, potentially, China and India a way out if they want a way out.

SEABROOK: So, I guess the U.S. gave on that front by not, not insisting that the words verifiable and these sorts of things are in the agreement.

HARRIS: Yes. For the - for these developing countries, the word actually got moved from the beginning of the sentence to the end of the sentence where it no longer clearly applies to the actions that these countries need to take. So, yes, that was the weakening of the language that India sought and ultimately got.

SEABROOK: It's amazing that it comes down to, you know, the wording of a sentence. It just seems like such arcane procedure for such huge, vastly important issues.

HARRIS: Yeah, I agree. An, I mean, there was this huge fight over a slash versus the word and between national and international - national-slash-international. And also a huge fight about a semicolon and what that meant. And what this tells me is, not only that when you get 3,000 lawyers in a room all trying to negotiate a single document, you're bound to have some pretty ridiculous arguments, but it also tells me that as much as we hear people talking about this being a moral imperative, people are really very tied up in the Manichean(ph) of what it means for them and their national interest and so on. And this is not just, you know, the world is on fire and we need to do something about it. This is still seen very much in the context of business as usual in the international arena. It's true, it is a conundrum. The tools that we bring to the problem of global warming don't really match the magnitude of the problem.

SEABROOK: NPR's Richard Harris in Bali, Indonesia.

For a broader look at this agreement, we turn to an independent think tank -the Pew Center on Climate Change. Its president is Eileen Clausen.

Ms. EILEEN CLAUSEN (President, Pew Center on Climate Change): I think one thing that was really positive was that the developing countries - the major emitting developing countries seemed very willing to play a constructive role in dealing with their own emissions there. And so I think that, in itself, was actually terrific. But I also think the agreement on how to proceed was important, not because it had any specifics in it, because it does not, but because nothing is taken off the table. It is open as to the kinds of actions that countries take and the levels that they might be willing to commit to.

SEABROOK: Is there a darker side of that coin? Because everything is open at this point, it also leaves sort of escape valves and loopholes and ways to get out of the agreement in the future?

Ms. CLAUSEN: Yes. It's both a positive and a negative. I don't think the U.S. would be willing to say - at least the Bush administration - that they would be willing to take on specific emission reduction targets. They weren't willing to do that, and as a result of that, the developing countries, I think, would not be willing to say we're definitely going to take on policy commitments. So I guess, I think, this is the best you could do given the players at the table at the present time.

SEABROOK: Hmm. And what happens next? What's the next step?

Ms. CLAUSEN: Well, there's a very intense period of negotiation that is envisioned here - four meetings in 2008 and, I suspect, at least that many meetings in 2009 with the aim of getting a final agreement at the end of 2009. And, of course, we will have a change of administration in the middle of that period. And I think the dynamic will change pretty dramatically after the start of 2009.

SEABROOK: We heard from our reporter in Bali that the level of negotiation does not meet the level of urgency of this crisis - at least as it's seen within the scientific community. What do you think of that?

Ms. CLAUSEN: Well, I think the kind of language that was finally agreed, including things like deep cuts in global emission as necessary, is some sense of it. But I would agree with your reporter that when you're talking about legal language, and you've got a hundred and eighty-eight countries at the table, it is very hard to actually accomplish very much. And that's one reason why, I think, in addition to the formal meetings that are envisioned, we are going to have to have a lot of informal meetings among key players to actually try to negotiate specifics and then bring them back to the broader body.

SEABROOK: Eileen Clausen, president of the Pew Center on Global Climate Change, thanks very much for speaking with us.

Ms. CLAUSEN: Thank you.

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