Countries still working toward low-carbon agreement

Amazon rainforest preserve in northern Brazil

TEXT OF INTERVIEW

Kai Ryssdal: Procrastinate much? You've got nothing on global climate change negotiators. They've been haggling over what really is quite a modest deal down in Cancun, Mexico, for two weeks now. There's not much hope of substantive progress on cutting greenhouse gas emissions, but still, everyone in Cancun is planning for a long night as the conference wraps up today.

That includes Marketplace's Scott Tong; he's down in Cancun covering the meeting for us. Hey Scott.

Scott Tong: Hey Kai.

Ryssdal: So where are we with this conference? Everybody had wanted some kind of deal by this evening -- are we close?

Tong: We all just started looking at what's called "the text," which lays out what the countries agree on and what they still need to fight over. Presumably, we're told, throughout tonight and early tomorrow morning, the challenge here is to agree on language that 194 countries can all live with, that they're going to move together to a low-carbon economic future. To change where our electricity comes from, what powers our cars, etc. Now, the text would not lock in new carbon commitments, but define a process and a schedule, kind of as a series of train tracks that lead to Durban, South Africa, which is the meeting next year.

Ryssdal: If that's all they're waiting for, if they're waiting basically to agree to agree, what's the hold-up? What are the sticking points?

Tong: It's the rules and who they apply to. Under the system that we have now -- the Kyoto protocol -- the rich countries, all except the U.S., are legally bound to caps on carbon pollution. And if they don't meet them, they can send money to clean energy projects and developing countries and get carbon credits -- that's a money transfer to the developing world. Well, the Japanese minister last night said that's not fair. The historic rich countries now, they just use a quarter of today's emissions. And as he put it, it's like they're playing on a soccer field, everyone else -- the U.S., China, Brazil, the emerging powers -- are just watching. So it's not fair and the world has changed. And then the developing countries come back and say look, we're not the historic emitters. We are the victims of climate change, so we get to stay at the kids' table. That's what's fair. That's the problem.

Ryssdal: Isn't that same thing they were talking about in Copenhagen last year, Scott?

Tong: Well in a way, they're still stuck on this. They're making incrememental progress and looking for the words so that everyone can hold their nose and agree on. And we're still there. And there are people who say they are closer.

Ryssdal: All right Scott, here comes the now what do we do question. What substantively is happening behind closed doors? Are they making any kind of progress?

Tong: Well the people behind the closed doors say there is a fair amount of agreement that forests are very important to not chop down, because they store carbon. And a lot of people want to find a way to channel money into not cutting down forests, to wrap it into the cap and trade system, perhaps. And speaking of which, this clean development mechanism where you trade carbon credits, that is something where there's language in this text, that says it's going to continue. It's going to continue in Europe, it's expanding in Korea, several states in the U.S. are doing this; so that's part of our future, whatever happens with the adopting this text. And so what it does is it's part of this greener economy ecosystem that is starting to develop. Inventors are reacting to that, investors, multi-national companies. So there's some of that momentum going on already. Some will argue that this U.N. process would speed it up a lot, but we'll just have to see. We'll see at 12 midnight tonight.

Ryssdal: Scott Tong, at the U.N. climate summit in Cancun, Mexico. Scott, thanks a lot.

Tong: Thank you.

About the author

Scott Tong is a correspondent for Marketplace’s sustainability desk, with a focus on energy, environment, resources, climate, supply chain and the global economy.

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