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With Copenhagen Summit Approaching, Leading Polluters US and China Undercut Hopes of Substantial Pollution Cuts

Has the UN climate summit in New York just set the stage for disappointment in Copenhagen?

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ANDREW REVKIN: Well, Ban Ki-moon knew he wasn't going to get some magical deal here, but the idea is to increase pressure on world leaders, putting them on a global stage and on webcasts around the world to stake some positions.

As you heard, there was a lot of vague positions staked. India is proposing a more specific menu. They could triple their emissions in the next thirty years, according to their own forecasts, of CO2, the main greenhouse gas. So India, in some ways, almost matters more for the future than China, because China's population is going to stabilize while India is still growing. But India's plan is also kind of touchy-feely. They want to put forward legislation; they would need Parliament to approve. What you'll see toward December is more specifics being kind of squeezed out of people as the deadline emerges.

AMY GOODMAN: China and US, basically equal on global warming, on being the number one emitters?

ANDREW REVKIN: And when you tally up gross emissions, yeah, we're about the same now. China has pulled into the lead recently by some estimates. But, of course, they have three times or more the population that we do, and they make that point repeatedly, that the countries that have generated the greenhouse gases that have already accumulated in the atmosphere, us rich folks, for a century, basically we've had a fossil fuel party for a century, gotten very wealthy, and they're saying, "Hey, you know, if we're going to divert from that same benefit, you guys have to pay for it."

The big issue here will be who pays for change. China and India both are saying, "We're going to do what we can, as long as we can keep our economies growing. And if you want us to divert more than that, the wealthy countries have to chip in." And Ban Ki-moon was basically saying the same thing, that the established powers owe a climate debt, in essence. You heard that from other -- the Bolivian, I think it was, spokesman earlier.

One reason Obama can't come out with specifics is because he has this huge chain and shackle on his -- on him, on the presidency, which is, to sign onto any treaty, he knows he has to get two-thirds approval of the Senate, under our Constitution. So that's sixty-seven votes. That's more than just passing a health bill with sixty. So he knows that from the get-go. His administration has been very sober and kind of real world in the statements they've made all this year about what they can and can't do. And all this is playing out in a way that's making a lot of environmental groups unhappy, because they would like to see some more specifics already.

ANJALI KAMAT: And yet, Andrew Revkin, the countries that are most affected by climate change, they are the ones calling for mandatory limits. The president of the Maldives, Mohamed Nasheed, his country, an Indian Ocean island, they are threatened with extinction if --

ANDREW REVKIN: I've been there twice. I know. You feel the waves. You can kind of feel the vibrations.

AMY GOODMAN: And what can be achieved for these millions of people who aren't the ones with the most emissions?

ANDREW REVKIN: In 2007, we did a long series called "The Climate Divide," which basically articulated clearly that the countries with the least history of emitting are the ones that have a fundamentally greater vulnerability to climate risk now. This is -- to garden variety drought and flood, let alone what may come down the line. So, how that obligation, that ethical obligation, is played out is part of this, as well.

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