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Little warming on emissions accords

Members of the U.N. General Assembly watch a video about global warming before Monday's session on climate change.

TEXT OF STORY

KAI RYSSDAL: In case you didn't mark it in your calendar, we're smack in the middle of what's come to be called Climate Week. A United Nations global warming summit started on Monday. Tomorrow, President Bush hosts a climate change meeting of his own -- China, India and Brazil are on the administration's list of invitees.

Making sure those rising economic powers do their part to curb greenhouse gases has become a major sticking point for the White House. But as Sam Eaton from the Marketplace Sustainability Desk reports, the solutions might be even stickier.


SAM EATON: Critics say President Bush's climate summit is part of a well orchestrated effort to delay any mandatory cuts in greenhouse gas emissions for the US. Its emphasis on voluntary reductions has lawmakers and environmental groups slamming the meetings, before they even begin.

DAVID DONIGER: It's like a bake sale. You just contribute what you can, what you want.

David Doniger heads the Natural Resources Defense Council's Climate Center. He says it's not fair to expect developing nations to act until the White House supports concrete emissions reductions at home.

But Stanford University law professor David Victor says even "bake sales" can do some good. He says Bush's summit is an attempt to use carrots instead of sticks as a way to coax the developing world into acting on global warming.

DAVID VICTOR: One of the things these meetings will do is try to find areas where these countries' interests -- such as in controlling local air pollution in polluted China -- will resonate with the larger global goal of controlling emissions of the gases that cause global warming.

Victor says cooperation between the U.S. and the developing world could be a boon for U.S. companies hoping to sell their green technologies to countries like China and India. But not all U.S. businesses would be cheering, especially if Congress passes mandatory emissions cuts and the developing world doesn't.

That's where the stick comes in -- the U.S. Senate hopes to introduce global-warming legislation in the coming weeks that goes a step further than simply capping greenhouse emissions. It would also impose trade sanctions against countries that refuse to do the same. David Doniger with the NRDC says the goal is to level the economic playing field:

DONIGER: The often-expressed fear in U.S. business circles is that we'll put a cap on our own emissions and companies in China or India will be able to make the same products without paying the carbon cost.

President Bush has said he won't support any legislation that mandates emissions cuts, though the measure has gained the much-needed stamp of approval from organized labor. But Stanford's David Victor says using trade sanctions to force action on global warming could backfire. He says the key will be to wave the stick around, but never actually use it.

In Los Angeles, 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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