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Climate Talks Grow More Complex Over Greenhouse Emissions


We're going to catch up now on the climate talks in Paris. This week, negotiators from nearly 200 countries have to really get down to business and come up with a final deal that works for everyone. But there are, as you might expect, major sticking points. NPR science correspondent Chris Joyce is in Paris. He joins me now. OK, Chris, what are these sticking points? What are the really tough issues?

CHRISTOPHER JOYCE, BYLINE: Where to begin? I mean, first, almost all countries have already pledged to make some kind of reduction in their emissions and greenhouse gases. So that's done. And it's voluntary. But the consensus breaks down after that, many developing countries saying, hold on. We will help you with emissions cuts. But how about some money, lots of it, in fact, to adapt to climate change? And they're also saying, you know, look. You've developed on the back of fossil fuels. We need to develop our economies. And we need to lift people out of poverty first. So India, for example, has been very outspoken about that.

MARTIN: All right. Let's hear more about the perspective from India from our correspondent there, Julie McCarthy. She sent this report.

JULIE MCCARTHY, BYLINE: India champions what it calls climate justice. India essentially says developed countries are negotiating to protect their energy-consuming lifestyles while developing countries, including much of Africa, are negotiating for the chance to acquire a decent life. New Delhi already has the worst air in the world. But 300 million Indians - the population of the U.S. - don't have electricity. To produce it, India reserves the right to pollute. It will continue to burn coal, the dirtiest fossil fuel, relying on its vast reserves to triple coal production in 15 years. But New Delhi pledges 100 gigawatts of solar power in the next seven years. And the past week in Paris, it offered to reduce its dependence on coal if developed economies coughed up more money for low-carbon energy technology.

MARTIN: OK, so that's one divide, we heard Julie talking about there, between the rich countries and the countries that want to become rich. What are some of the other remaining conflicts, Chris?

JOYCE: Well, as you may imagine, there are lots of countries that make lots of money on fossil fuels. Saudi Arabia, for example, Russia - they make a lot of money on oil and gas. And they do not want to see the world turn away from the very things that make them rich.

MARTIN: NPR's Corey Flintoff is in Moscow. And he's going to bring us the view from there.

COREY FLINTOFF, BYLINE: Russia is one of the world's biggest fossil fuel producers, right behind the United states. So its views on cutting carbon emissions are ambivalent. It makes a lot of money from oil and gas. But it also has a lot of Arctic territory that's very sensitive to climate change. Environmental groups say Russia's pledge to limit its emissions is too vague and wouldn't make any real change in what the country's emitting now. For one thing, Russia's counting its vast forests as one of the ways that it reduces emissions. And that's true up to a point. Russia's forests are estimated to absorb about 500 million tons of CO2 a year. But environmental groups say that counting forest land isn't enough, especially when Russia produces about 5 percent of global greenhouse gases. They say Moscow should be taking more active steps to reduce pollution. Meanwhile, Russian officials are saying that their pledge on reducing emissions will depend on what other major countries do.

MARTIN: OK, so we just heard Corey say Russia doesn't want to act unilaterally. Chris, does that mean Russia is looking to the U.S. and China? I mean, these are two countries that emit the most greenhouse gases.

JOYCE: Russia and everybody else is looking to the U.S. and China, in fact. China has now surpassed the United States as the largest source of greenhouse gases. President Obama has put forward new regulations to cut back emissions from power plants in the U.S. And China has some pretty ambitious plans of its own to lower emissions, or at least the government has made those commitments.

MARTIN: Let's hear more about China's take on the climate talks. Here's NPR's Frank Langfitt in Shanghai.

FRANK LANGFITT, BYLINE: A recent poll by the Pew Research Center found only 18 percent of Chinese people thought climate change was a very serious problem. Now, remember, that's in a country that's driving climate change more than any other and could pay dearly for it. If temperatures rise more than 7 degrees, much of Shanghai is expected to go underwater. According to one recent study, 145 million people along China's coast would eventually have to move. Now, people here are very concerned about air pollution. But many haven't fully connected smog to global warming. That could be changing. Last week, while Chinese officials promised to tackle climate change in Paris, smog in Beijing was awful. The sky at noon was so dark, it looked like dusk. Now, this was hugely embarrassing and showed that even in China's capital, officials still don't really have a handle on pollution. The Chinese government seems to be more serious about climate change than in the past. Last year, leaders pledged that the country's emissions would peak in the year 2030. And next year, the government plans to open a nationwide carbon market, where companies can buy and sell carbon credits in hopes of bringing greenhouse gases under control.

MARTIN: So we've heard the perspective from China, Russia, India. And you do get the sense, Chris, that this is really complicated. Everyone has competing views on what to do.

JOYCE: Well, as they say in France, (speaking French). I think something like that. Anyway, I mean, that's why there hasn't been a new treaty since Kyoto - because the obstacles are huge. And next week, they're going to be as huge as usual. Even more pressing is the fact that all of these greenhouse gas reductions that have been promised so far - the easy part - they're not going to stop warming. They're only going to slow it down. To really limit the warming level to what scientists say is a safe point, everyone's got to come back every few years and double down on these efforts. And that, in fact, may be the hardest thing to get an agreement on of all.

MARTIN: NPR's Christopher Joyce in Paris. Thanks so much, Chris.

JOYCE: Glad to be with you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.