A Forecast For The Climate Change Summit On Tuesday, 100 world leaders will meet at the United Nations for a summit on climate change. Host Liane Hansen talks to NPR science correspondent Richard Harris talks about what's at stake and what to expect.
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A Forecast For The Climate Change Summit

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A Forecast For The Climate Change Summit

A Forecast For The Climate Change Summit

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On Tuesday, leaders from countries from around the world will meet at the United Nations for a daylong summit on climate change. The goal is to get some momentum behind the effort to create a new treaty to address global warming.

NPR's science correspondent Richard Harris will be covering the summit and joins us now. Richard, remind us who called this meeting and why.

RICHARD HARRIS: Well, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, of the United Nations called this meeting because things are going really, really poorly in the global climate talks. Couple years ago in Bali, everyone got together and agreed that we should have a new climate treaty by December of 2009. And they're meeting in Copenhagen barely three months away, and basically the whole thing is a mess. There's almost nothing. There's very, very poor momentum into that meeting. And Ban Ki-moon said, this is a huge problem. We got to do something about it.

HANSEN: So, what kind of agreement are they looking for?

HARRIS: Well, at the United Nations talk, it will be inspirational essentially. Let's get people to agree; yeah, this is a big problem; yeah, we have to take things seriously; we have to agree that the developing world needs more money; we have to agree that the developed world needs to do something; we need to agree sort of on broad concepts.

But it's not a negotiating session per se, but I think Ban Ki-moon hope that by pulling everyone together and getting world leaders to give speeches that that would give a little momentum to the underlings who actually have to go to Copenhagen to make everything work.

HANSEN: Can you be a little specific about the conflicts between developing nations and nations that have already developed, specifically, like, items they're going to be talking about.

HARRIS: Yeah, well, the developed world would like clean energy technology, something other than coal - maybe wind or solar or something like that. They're saying we haven't even had a chance to develop a lot of these technologies. We need help developing them and developing them cleanly. And the problem is with a global recession right now, there's not much money to be had, and that's one real huge issues.

Another major conflict is between the United States and China. Because China has basically not agreed to reduce its emissions, and in fact, it says before we do we want to see the United States have some incredibly dramatic emissions reductions. And so, they're taking a very hard line. The U.S. is responsible for about a quarter of the world's emissions. And as we know, the U.S. Congress has not figured out what to do about this.

And so, it's hard to go to an international talk and say, well, we haven't figured out what we're going to do domestically, then have any credible position in the international talks. So, Europe is mad at the United States for dragging its feet along those lines. So, I mean, these are enormous.

HANSEN: Political, economic, environmental questions to be asked.

HARRIS: Really, really hard problems. And it's not surprising that in two years we haven't solved them all. But, yeah, but that was the deadline they set for themselves.

HANSEN: Right. But there's three months until Copenhagen and, you know, you said they're going to start setting out like what's they're going to try to do on Tuesday. From what you're saying, it doesn't sound too likely that there will be an agreement in three months in Copenhagen. What happens if there isn't?

HARRIS: Yeah. Well, I think that there's got to be some sort of agreement as to hope. I think the expectations are beginning to be scaled back. I think the hope for a full new climate treaty is really unrealistic. But the question is how to make Copenhagen not a complete disaster. Because if that's a disaster then the odds are that countries will decide, oh, this problem is just too hard and we'll go away and think about something else for a while. And that's obviously the worst possible outcome.

HANSEN: NPR's science correspondent Richard Harris. Tuesday, at the United Nations, there is a daylong summit on climate change. Richard, thank you very much.

HARRIS: My pleasure.

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