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What makes climate deal so hard to do?

Austrian Yvo de Boer, current executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, arrives at a press conference during the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen.


CORRECTION: The original version of this story misstated Norine Kennedy's first name and the name of the organization she works for, the United States Council for International Business. The text below has been corrected.


TEXT OF STORY

Kai Ryssdal: The delicate balance that is the Copenhagen climate conference teetered on the edge for a couple of hours today. A group of developing economies threatened to walk out unless rich countries agree to a binding treaty by the time the summit wraps up, that'd be Friday. Turns out it was more negotiating tactic than actual threat. But it did work. Rich countries did wind up saying they are willing to discuss binding commitments on greenhouse gas cuts.

None of this negotiating happens in an economic vacuum, which is why we've got Sam Eaton and Stephen Beard in Copenhagen covering the global economics on global warming. And here is Sam on what might turn out to be the key question on climate change: Where is the money going to come from?


SAM EATON: Every day, activists stage dozens of demonstrations inside the conference center, a stone's throw away from the closed door meetings. And their demands reflect one of the biggest stumbling blocks to an accord. Basically, it's a question of who's responsible for heating up the planet and who pays to stop it.

PROTESTERS: Climate justice now, climate justice now...

This particular demonstration is led by a group of African activists. They say poor nations around the world are already suffering from the effects of climate change: more frequent droughts, rising sea levels, disease. They blame those problems on the rich world, and the greenhouse gases it spews into the atmosphere. They're demanding hundreds of billions of dollars a year in compensation.

Malla Reddy is an Indian environmentalist. I bumped into him as he held a giant sign, hoping to catch the attention of passing delegates.

MALLA REDDY: This is a check. It's a model of a check that we expect the rich countries will give to the poorer countries and rich people will give to the poorer people as an aid.

But the industrialized world is still deep in recession. And sending billions of dollars overseas could be politically impossible. That is unless leaders begin to frame the problems these poor nations face as a business opportunity instead of a cost. Poor countries will need help coping with natural disasters caused by climate change. But in the longer term, helping these countries become non-polluting can be financed by business investment. If the agreement encourages a business solution.

Artur Runge-Metzer is the European Commission's chief negotiator.

ARTUR RUNGE-METZER: We are not talking about throwing money into a dark hole. We are talking about investment. You invest in infrastructure. You invest in new technologies.

Investments, he says, that could have huge payoffs.

TYPES OF INVESTMENTS: Smart grids, smart buildings, smart transportation systems and general process efficiency.

That's why hundreds of businesses are here pitching their wares alongside the environmental activists. Trade groups are also roaming the halls.

Norine Kennedy is with the United States Council for International Business, which represents multinationals ranging from Nike to Proctor and Gamble.

Norine KENNEDY: Climate change and the broader energy issues are touching on every aspect of commercial activity and transaction and the opportunities are there.

Kennedy says her group wants tough limits on carbon emissions because it would create an instant global market for many of the businesses she represents. The result being billions of dollars of private capital flowing from rich nations to poor. But that won't happen if countries don't use strong enough measures to require the use of these new technologies.

Jason Anderson is with the global environmental group WWF.

JASON ANDERSON: Essentially it would mean that public capital would have to take over because you haven't stimulated the private market.

And the longer we wait to agree on a binding deal and set business in motion, the bigger the public tab becomes. At a recent press conference in Copenhagen the U.N. head of negotiations, Yvo de Boer, said by 2020 the amount of money industrialized nations would have to pay poor ones to deal with climate change would be around $300 billion a year. And he said how much of that money would come from business is impossible to answer.

YVO DE BOER: All I can guarantee is that at the end of the day it all comes out of your pocket. Just by different routes.

In other words, we can raise taxes or we can pay more for the energy we use now. But in the end, that's the point, figuring out what our pollution really costs.

In Copenhagen, I'm Sam Eaton for Marketplace.

About the author

Sam Eaton is an independent radio and television journalist. His reporting on complex environmental issues from climate change to population growth has taken him all over the United States and the world.

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