Climate talks nearly ground to a halt before they began in earnest Sunday, with delegates squabbling over how to conduct negotiations for the rest of the year on a new agreement to control global warming.
Talks about talks appeared at times on the verge of breakdown over seemingly minor procedural issues, but that reflected a deep divide on how to treat the hastily crafted political deal struck at the Copenhagen summit last December by President Barack Obama with a small group of other world leaders.
The lengthy battle ostensibly was over the authorization of a committee chairwoman to prepare a draft negotiating text for the next meeting in June.
But it provided an early warning that the rancor evident during the Copenhagen summit had not faded, and that the split between industrial countries and the developing world is likely to continue characterizing the talks.
After the letdown of Copenhagen, delegates and officials appeared determine to dampen expectations of a final deal this year, and said negotiations are almost certain to stretch past the next major conference in Cancun, Mexico, in December.
"We should not be striving to get answers to each and every question in Cancun," Yvo de Boer, head of the U.N. climate secretariat, said Sunday. "The quest to address climate change is a long journey, and achieving perfection takes practice."
The agreement is meant to succeed the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, which has provisions capping greenhouse gas emissions by industrial countries that expire in 2012. The new accord would be expanded to curtail emissions by swiftly developing countries like China, which already has surpassed the United States as the world's biggest polluter.
With hotel workers dismantling the meeting rooms around them, the unusual three-day meeting in Bonn debated an agreement to intensify the negotiations this year leading up to the decisive ministerial conference in Cancun. Two extra preparatory conferences were to be scheduled, each lasting at least a week.
At a final session, delegates from 175 parties wrangled over wording that implied a lesser status for the Copenhagen Accord, which failed to win consensus approval in Copenhagen. Also on the table is a draft treaty that had made slow and painful progress through negotiations among more than 190 countries over the last two years, but which left many of the core issues unresolved.
"This is not even a negotiating decision," chairwoman Margaret Mukahanana-Sangarwe said in frustration, trying to cut off the debate. "If we can't agree on this then we may have problems when we really start negotiating."
The accord, cobbled together in the final 36 hours at Copenhagen, set a goal of limiting the increase in the Earth's average temperature to below 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 Fahrenheit) from preindustrial levels, but did not specify how that would be done.
It asked industrial countries to set targets for reducing carbon dioxide and other polluting gases causing global warming, and developing countries to submit national plans for slowing emissions growth. It also called for international monitoring to ensure those goals were met, but did not set any penalties.
Many countries — even among the 120 countries that supported the Copenhagen Accord — denounced the closed-door manner in which it was done and voiced disappointment that its emissions requirements were voluntary.
U.S. chief delegate Jonathan Pershing said the accord was a package deal and rejected suggestions "in which certain elements are cherry picked."
Pershing also confirmed Washington opposed granting financial help to countries that refused to sign on to the Copenhagen deal, which included a $30 billion three-year package of aid for handling climate emergencies and helping poor countries turn to low-carbon growth.
"Countries that are not part of the accord would not be given substantial funding under the accord," Pershing told reporters. "It's not a free rider process."
On Saturday, Bolivian delegate Pablo Solon protested the cutoff of funds from the U.S. Global Climate Change initiative as "a very bad practice" and an attempt to put pressure countries to support the agreement. Solon said Bolivia would not change its policies.
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