- Associated Press - Friday, December 10, 2010

CANCUN, Mexico (AP) — Climate negotiators labored through the night and into their final day Friday with a raft of issues undergoing intense bargaining, but with high hopes an agreement was within reach on small but essential steps to stem global warming.

If successful, the two-week Cancun meeting will create a fund of $100 billion a year for developing countries threatened by altered weather patterns, and give them the technology to leapfrog old petroleum-based economic development in favor of clean energy.

In a late-night session, negotiating groups reported they had settled some disputed wording and clauses, but other knotty issues remained to be sorted out. One issue, related to pledges by industrial and developing countries to rein in emissions of heat-trapping gases, appeared deadlocked.

“We really do not have more time,” said the conference chair, Mexican Foreign Secretary Patricia Espinosa, demanding that negotiators keep at it throughout the night to meet a Friday evening deadline.

The limited agenda of secondary issues the U.N. conference had set for itself was proving tougher than expected. It was clear in the final hours of the 193-nation congress that delegates were looking for creative language to finesse irreconcilable views and buy another year until the next major conclave in Durban, South Africa.

Norwegian Environment Minister Erik Solheim, a veteran of many diplomatic battles, urged negotiators to embrace flexibility. “If you want to pick fights in this audience it’s very easy to do it. What we need is a spirit of compromise,” he said to a round of applause.

Among the issues in a set of draft accords are compensation for halting the destruction of forests for timber or for clearing agricultural land.

China and the U.S. were bickering over rules for countries to report actions curbing greenhouse gases and submit them to international scrutiny.

Even the forestry program, which had been touted as one of the easiest potential deals at Cancun, met last-minute hurdles over how to make sure that the rights of indigenous communities are safeguarded.

Off the agenda was any proposal for industrial countries to ramp up the modest pledges they made since the last annual meeting in Copenhagen for reducing greenhouse gas emissions that are causing a measurable rise in the Earth’s average temperature.

That summit failed to produce a hoped-for overarching climate pact and instead concluded with a three-page political document, the Copenhagen Accord.

Achim Steiner, head of the U.N. Environment Program, said the issues in Cancun were substantive and not to be underplayed. But even if the conference program is adopted, nothing new would have been done to reduce emissions, he said.

“We all will leave Cancun knowing very clearly that we have not very significantly changed the time window within which the world will be able to address climate change,” he said. “That challenge remains.”

A key issue of contention was whether to make the post-Copenhagen national emissions pledges legally binding, and in what kind of document.

The answer to those questions would determine the fate of the Kyoto Protocol, the 1997 document that set reductions targets for 37 wealthy countries and which expires in 2012. The United States rejected Kyoto — the only industrialized country to do so — because it didn’t require fast-growing economies such as China and India to limit their emissions.

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