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Climate Change Conference Begins


And NPR's David Kestenbaum is headed to Copenhagen later this week. Today, he watched the first day of the climate talks from Washington.

DAVID KESTENBAUM: The conference opened with a video of children from around the world asking delegates to please do something about global warming. But, really, this is about the only point everyone agrees on. Climate change is bad. Lars Lokke Rasmussen is Denmark's prime minister.

Mr. LARS LOKKE RASMUSSEN (Prime Minister, Denmark): Global warming knows no borders. It does not discriminate. It affects us all. And we are here today because we are all committed to take action.

KESTENBAUM: It can be hard enough when two countries are trying to negotiate something. At these talks, there are delegates from over 190 countries. And if you let each of them talk for an hour, that would take up a week - half the conference. So, delegates kept their statements short today, usually saying we are committed to combating climate change, then following up with what amounted to the but.

Unidentified Man #1: I now give the floor to the Russian Federation.

Unidentified Man #2: (Foreign language spoken)

KESTENBAUM: The Russian delegate - in the grand U.N. tradition, no one introduced themselves - the Russian delegate argued that any agreement had to be legally binding. This is actually one of the big sticking points. Why does Russia care? One reason is financial. Russia has a lot of allowances to emit carbon left over from the Kyoto climate agreement and it wants to sell them for as much as possible. If countries are legally bound to reduce their carbon emissions, those permits could be worth a lot of money. In fact, most of the disagreements, they're all about money.

(Soundbite of applause)

Unidentified Man #1: Thank you. I give the floor to Bolivia.

Unidentified Man #3: (Foreign language spoken)

KESTENBAUM: Developing countries like Bolivia are arguing, hey, the global warming problem, you in the developed world made it. So, to solve it, you're going to have to give us money to adapt and to keep our emissions down as we grow. The number floating around right now for that financial assistance is $10 billion a year. Bolivia, through an interpreter, called that absolutely insufficient.

Unidentified Man #3: (Through translator) Much more is needed if we take into account the fact that to say if the Washington stock exchange and the global banks trillions of dollars have been spent and in the war budgets, greater figures are spent also.

KESTENBAUM: Every country is trying to get the best deal possible. Tajikistan pointed out that its glaciers are melting. Guatemala said its rain forest could disappear. The Solomon Islands representative said his country could disappear under water, a point he's made at climate talks before.

Unidentified Man #4: We know that the world is watching in Copenhagen. It is watching even more than Bonn, more than Bangkok and more than Barcelona.

KESTENBAUM: If there is optimism that there will be meaningful progress this time, it's in part because the big players are putting specific targets on the table for reducing their own emissions. Jonathan Pershing represents the world's second largest emitter of greenhouse gases: the United States.

Mr. JONATHAN PERSHING (Deputy Special Envoy for Climate Change): We all recognize that we are collectively engaged in a critical undertaking. Let there be no mistake, it is one to which the United States is fully committed. It is an undertaking which we believe will succeed if we put in the hard work this week and next. We are ready.

KESTENBAUM: The final speaker was the world's largest emitter: China. China has pledged to slow the growth of its emissions.

Unidentified Woman: This plan of option put forward by China is motivated for our responsible attitude towards the future of mankind. To reach this target, it requires China to make arduous and very painful efforts.

KESTENBAUM: Some climate scientists have been trying to figure out what all these pledges amount to. And the answer seems to be: not enough. Global temperatures might still rise three and a half degrees by the end of the century.

David Kestenbaum, NPR News.

NORRIS: And to get an idea of what a temperature increase like that might mean for some countries, go to Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

David Kestenbaum is a correspondent for NPR, covering science, energy issues and, most recently, the global economy for NPR's multimedia project Planet Money. David has been a science correspondent for NPR since 1999. He came to journalism the usual way — by getting a Ph.D. in physics first.