U.N. delegates extend climate conference to hammer out deal

Quite surprisingly, a few crucial items from the COP17 climate change conference in Durban, South Africa, were finally agreed upon. Here, minister and chairman of the Environment Quality Authority of Palestine Yousef Abu Safieh speaks at the plenary session.

Kai Ryssdal: An interesting thing happened on the way to the end of the United Nations climate conference this weekend. It didn't wrap up when it was supposed to. Delegates hung around long enough to hammer out an agreement on a roadmap, for a process, to reach a deal.

In other words, things kind of got done. We got one of our sustainability gang, Scott Tong, on the phone this morning to explain what it means.

Point one, he said, is that China and India have finally signed on -- which changes the whole ballgame.

Scott Tong: For the longest time, enshrined in this process, was this adult table and the kids' table. The rich countries had these regulations and these strict caps, and the poor countries said, 'well you know, we're not in it, we're not the historical emitters, so we'll just kind of watch it, maybe we'll do something.' Now we've moved on from that. Everybody is in now. And that was a big thing that the United States always had an issue with, and now, to the extent that there is a victory, I guess, for the U.S. position -- China, India, Brazil: they're all in now.

Ryssdal: Specifically not in the deal, Scott said, are any new limits on greenhouse gas emissions, reducing the amount of carbon in the atmosphere. Remember -- that had been the whole idea of the big meeting in Copenhagen a couple of years ago. So...

Tong: If you are the energy experts who are counting this, we're getting closer and closer to locking it at 2 degrees Celsius temperature increase. And that's important because that is the point when bad things start to happen, and they're pretty sure they will. And we're about 80 percent there now.

Ryssdal: There was also, Scott said, an agreement to extend -- in principle -- the current international treaty on climate change, the Kyoto protocol.

But then I saw on the wires just before I came in here that Canada pulled out of that treaty. 'It can't work,' the Canadians said.

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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