The South Pacific pounds the serpentine coastline of Funafuti Atoll, home to nearly half of Tuvalu's entire population.
The South Pacific pounds the serpentine coastline of Funafuti Atoll, home to nearly half of Tuvalu's entire population. - 
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Kai Ryssdal: Everybody who's anybody is in the world of sustainability in Copenhagen this week for that big UN conference on climate change. And so are we. Marketplace's Sam Eaton and Stephen Beard won all-expenses paid trips to the Danish capital to cover the global economics of global warming. The conference news of this Wednesday comes to us via the South Pacific and the island nation of Tuvalu. Population -- 10,000.

Tuvalu wants any deal that may get done at the meeting to be binding. That is not a position its more populous developing-economy colleagues in China and India support. And so it could split one of the most powerful groups at that summit right down the middle. Stephen Beard has more now from Copenhagen.

STEPHEN BEARD: Tuvalu became the darling of environmental activists at the summit because of the stand it took today. The tiny island state is a member of the G-77 group of developing nations. By insisting on a legally binding agreement, it defied the group's much bigger, wealthier members, like China and India.

Taukiei Kitala is one of the delegates from Tuvalu. He says his country lies barely 9 feet above sea level and a big cut in heat-trapping gases is vital.

TAUKIEI KITALA: We have no options. If our sea level rises, we have nowhere else to go except underwater. It is a threat to our very existence.

China and India are thought to have opposed Tuvalu for economic reasons. They apparently fear that tougher legally binding emission curbs might restrain their own growth. But Tuvalu's heroic stand just could backfire.

Mark Nicholls of Environmental Finance Magazine says, it could dilute any eventual agreement in Copenhagen.

MARK NICHOLLS: Potentially it could make an outcome much more difficult if it sees major developing countries splitting away from some of their poorer peers.

He says the U.S. and Europe could now resist some of the developing world's more onerous demands for deeper emission cuts in the rich countries and more financial help.

In Copenhagen, this is Stephen Beard for Marketplace.