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Tough Work Lies Ahead In Climate Talks


In Durban, South Africa, thousands of men and women poured into the streets in front of the International Conference Center there, where United Nations talks about climate change are taking place.


CORNISH: NPR's Richard Harris is at the talks and listened to speeches, songs and other appeals to diplomats to do more and act quickly in the face of a rapidly changing climate. He joins now from the conference center.

Hello there, Richard.

RICHARD HARRIS, BYLINE: Hi, Audie. How are you?

CORNISH: Good. Richard, this weekend marks the midpoint of the talks. Can you give us an update on the status?

HARRIS: Sure. Well, the first week of the talks is generally taken over by the lower-level negotiators. Let's remember what they are trying to do is come up with an agreement of some sort, to help slow the pace of global warming - an enormous task. The negotiators who've been here this past week have been working on text, and sort of trying to get the ducks in a row.

What happens over this weekend is the chief negotiators show up, the heads of the delegation, and they have usually more maneuvering room from their governments to actually cut deals.

CORNISH: Once those diplomats get there, what are the points of contention at the moment that they're going to have to take on?

HARRIS: Well, the two biggest are really what the future of these negotiations will look like and money. As for the future of the talks, the key part of the Kyoto Protocol, which was enacted in 1997 - was negotiated, will expire at the end of next year. And the big question is what will take its place? Will there be a second commitment period under this treaty, or will there be something else that will be substituted for it?

And that's a very, very delicate point here because lots of people have pretty well given up on the Kyoto Treaty. The United States never signed on to it. China has the obligations under it. Canada, Japan and Russia have all said we're done with this. And Europe is still hanging on to it a little bit. And the developing world is really, really wants to see it go forward, but that's not really looking like that's going to happen.

So, the backup is what will it do you look like after Kyoto, and can we find something that will do the job?

CORNISH: And to go back to something you said earlier, Richard. You mentioned money. What's the issue there?

HARRIS: Well, the issue is how the developed world, the rich nations of the world are going to help the developing world. And at a similar meeting last year in Cancun, negotiators agreed to set up something called the Green Climate Fund which would ultimately funnel about $100 billion a year; taking it from the wealthy nations to poor ones to help them adapt to climate change and to develop cleaner sources of energy.

Of course, the details of that fund are very contentious. They've been arguing over language for a whole year and they don't really have an agreement yet, except in principle, that that fund should exist. So, those issues are being hashed out here, and that's of obviously of great concern.

By the way, it's not just government aid money were talking about. It would also be money from private industry, as well. So, $100 billion here is a lot of money but we're not talking about foreign aid here.

CORNISH: Richard, given what you've said about the various degrees of commitment that different nations have to this issue, how should people measure success from a meeting like the one in Durban?

HARRIS: Well, I guess success, in some cases, is the avoidance of utter catastrophe, which is actually a potential outcome of this meeting. But let's start from the most optimistic scenario, that people who really want to see new promises for action, new sort of targets for emissions cuts before 2020. They're still holding on some hope although they will almost certainly be disappointed.

The U.S. officials have said the goals were set in Copenhagen and ratified in Cancun are good enough to get us to 2020 and they're not interested in notching those up at all. So that's probably not going to see major motion. But the question is maybe there could be some framework, some idea of what a treaty would look like post-2020.

CORNISH: And lastly, Richard, the climate talks switch cities every year. I would think it gives it a different flavor. So what's the atmosphere like in Durban?

HARRIS: It is summer here. It's kind of warm and rainy, and people are wearing short sleeves. It gives it kind of a casual feel. Walking around, people are still pretty casual about not only in clothing, but in attitude about how things are going so far. And they know that, you know, the tough work really lies ahead. The suits will go on, but ties will get tightened, et cetera.

CORNISH: NPR's Richard Harris at the United Nations climate talks in Durban, South Africa.

Richard, thanks so much.

HARRIS: Sure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.