- Associated Press - Saturday, December 11, 2010

CANCUN, MEXICO (AP) - Nearly 200 environment ministers and other delegates moved late Friday toward wrapping up an annual U.N. climate conference with a package of decisions on modest steps, including a fund to help poorer nations cope with global warming.

In a late-night open session, country after country endorsed the latest compromise texts to emerge from two-week-long talks that went virtually nonstop since Thursday, describing them as key to restoring momentum and trust in the U.N. climate negotiations.

“What we have now is a text that, while not perfect, is certainly a good basis for moving forward,” said chief U.S. negotiator Todd Stern. His Chinese counterpart, Xie Zhenhua, sounded a similar note and added, “The negotiations in the future will continue to be difficult.”

Those two nations, the world’s biggest emitters, will be at the center of those future negotiations, as the Cancun talks, once again, did not take up proposals for a grand compact mandating deep cuts in global warming gases.

Underscoring what’s at stake in the long-running climate talks, NASA reported that the January-November 2010 global temperatures were the warmest in the 131-year record. Its data indicated the year would likely end as the warmest on record, or tied with 2005 as the warmest.

Bolivia and Cuba criticized the draft accords, raising the possibility that one or both might block consensus agreement. But it remained to be seen whether their concerns could be allayed by modifying the text in further consultations early Saturday, and whether they would act to prevent adoption of the decisions.

The cross-cutting interests of rich and poor nations, tropical and temperate, oil producers, desperate islanders and comfortable continental powers, all combined once more to tie up the annual negotiating session of environment ministers past its 6 p.m. Friday scheduled finish.

After many hours behind closed doors at a sprawling beachside resort hotel, leaders of the negotiating groups submitted the latest, slimmed-down versions of the main proposed texts for review.

“We are almost through this process,” Mexican Foreign Secretary Patricia Espinosa, the conference president, told delegates.

Negotiators earlier reported progress on the key issue of the Green Climate Fund, which is to aid developing nations obtain clean-energy technology for cutting their own greenhouse gas emissions and adapt to potentially damaging climate change _ by shifting agricultural practices, for example, and building seawalls against the rise of warming seas.

In the “Copenhagen Accord” that emerged from last year’s climate summit in the Danish capital, richer nations promised $100 billion for such a fund by 2020.

“There is a consensus that we set up a climate fund,” Bangladesh’s state minister for environment, Mohammed Hasan Mahmud, reported Friday. Details of the fund’s oversight were left to post-Cancun negotiations, and the eventual sources of the financing were not identified.

A U.N. advisory panel had suggested placing levies of some kind on the fuel or emissions of airlines and merchant shipping, but such a proposal was dropped during the negotiations here.

Mahmud lamented that once again a hoped-for overarching pact to slash global emissions was being deferred at least another year, to the 2011 conference in Durban, South Africa.

“I doubt if the Durban (conference) will deliver the desired level of results if the negotiations go the way we have been going through here,” he said.

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