For China and nearly all of Europe, the issue offers tempting opportunities to expand industries and create jobs by developing and selling new technologies for wind, solar, nuclear and other low-emission energy. That is especially the case if there is a strong agreement to move away from the carbon-based energy sources that the world has depended on for more than a century.
Many of those nations, particularly China, devoted huge chunks of recent economic stimulus measures to low-emission energy technology.
"You're seeing a shift in developing countries," said Ned Helme, a climate policy veteran who is president of the Center for Clean Air Policy in Washington. "Rather than looking out and saying, 'How do we protect our old cement kilns?' they're looking forward to clean energy as their new market."
Meanwhile, the most immediate concern of nations such as the United States, Canada and India is the potential economic and political cost of imposing stricter limits on greenhouse gas emissions -- particularly for their coal, oil and manufacturing industries.
Had this been the turn of the last century, Congress would have been stuck in the grips of the horse industry. We know how sticking with horse transport would have turned out for us. I don't suspect it will be much different if we can't get past our obsession with maintaining our fading -- and polluting -- fossil fuel industries.