The Moon Palace in Cancun, Mexico, where the U.N. negotiations are taking place. You can see the solar panels on its roof, installed for the conference.
The Moon Palace in Cancun, Mexico, where the U.N. negotiations are taking place. You can see the solar panels on its roof, installed for the conference. - 
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Tess Vigeland: International negotiators are heading into the last few days of the climate conference in Cancun, Mexico. This is the United Nations-sponsored event where 192 countries are struggling to figure out how to curb the global pollution that's causing climate change. Typically these meetings end in recriminations: one set of countries usually pointing fingers at another. Often at either the United States or China. But today, China surprised the world.

From Cancun, Marketplace's Scott Tong reports.

Scott Tong: The negotiating halls are buzzing about a wire story about China -- is it really compromising? Yang Ailun is with Greenpeace in Beijing.

Yang Ailun: China would like to show more flexibility and be more constructive, instead of drawing all the attention to China and then risk being blamed again.

"Again," as in China the perceived climate bad-guy last year. The issue is China's own pledge to slow the growth of its carbon emissions, and if it would be "binding" instead of just voluntary.

Here's Alden Meyer at the Union of Concerned Scientists.

Alden Meyer: If they're willing to take that domestic commitment and put it into a legally binding agreement under this process, that's basically what the U.S. has been calling for. So it would remove any of the excuses the U.S. has for not making it legally binding on us.

But the U.S. reacted ho-hum at best at its press conference today. Washington says there's no shift here. And China's offer has strings attached. Indeed, there's confusion exactly what Beijing means.

But Barry Kurtz at Oxfam says it doesn't really matter. He says China keeps its energy promises anyway, and the point is to move the process forward.

Barry Kurtz: I think what we are seeing is that increasingly the major developing countries have been stepping up to play more of a leadership role.

China's agenda is more than PR. It's investing trillions in a global economic future driven by green. Harvard economist Robert Stavins:

Robert Stavins: The 20th century was the American century. And they perceive that the 21st century could well be the Chinese century.

China wants to be a clean-tech leader in everything: renewable energy, electric cars, even markets to buy and sell pollution permits. Still, what today's news means for a Cancun deal is anyone's guess. Whatever happens, Beijing seems determined to be seen as a climate hero.

In Cancun, I'm Scott Tong for Marketplace.

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Follow Scott Tong at @tongscott