COPENHAGEN – The hour of truth loomed Thursday at the UN climate talks where countries had to draw a line under procedural squabbles to nail down a deal ahead of one of the largest gatherings of world leaders in history.
With just hours to go before some 120 leaders are called to seal an accord to roll back a terrifying rise in Earth's temperature, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said she was receiving "bad news" from Copenhagen.
"At the moment, the negotiations do not look promising but I of course hope that the presence of more than 100 heads of state and government can give the necessary impetus to the event," Merkel said in Berlin.
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Wealthy nations pledged some 22 billion dollars late Wednesday to help bankroll the war on global warming, with Japan leading the way by promising to stump up a whopping 1.75 trillion yen (19.5 billion dollars) to developing nations on climate change if a comprehensive deal is reached at Copenhagen.
But the announcements could not mask the huge differences still dividing rich nations and the developing world over how to shoulder the burden.
Some of the bitterest exchanges at the 12-day conference have been between the United States and China, the world's two biggest polluters.
"It's proceeding at a snail's pace right now," Australia's Prime Minister Kevin Rudd said after talking into the small hours with Ethiopian counterpart Meles Zenawi on funds to help developing nations. Related article: Australian PM comments
"But the nature of these negotiations is that they either run into a brick wall or you get a breakthrough towards the end."
A deeply gloomy senior delegate told AFP: "It won't be feasible to get a complete agreement unless it's just one page. We need several more months."
US President Barack Obama was not due to arrive until the climax on Friday but his top diplomat, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, was working the conference hall Thursday in a bid to prevent an embarrassing failure.
The US was widely condemned for foot dragging on climate change under the previous president George W. Bush, and Obama is hoping that his presence will be evidence of a transformation of policy.
The Obama administration has already said it will table an offer in Copenhagen to curb emissions in the world's largest economy by 17 percent from 2005 levels by 2020 -- well below pledges by Europe and Japan.
Emerging economic giants such as China and India say they are willing to promise voluntary measures to slow their forecast surges in emissions.
But they are reluctant to be subject to tight international scrutiny and insistent that developed nations should take the lead in committing to substantial reduction targets.
Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao arrived in Copenhagen on Wednesday, saying he wanted "to show that the Chinese government and people attach great importance to the climate change issue by attending this summit."
India's Premier Manmohan Singh meanwhile he would not cannot accept a global warming treaty that would stall its drive to lift millions out of poverty.
"Climate change cannot be addressed by perpetuating the poverty of the developing countries," he said as he flew out.
Singh is bearing an offer to reduce India's carbon intensity by 20 to 25 percent by 2020, compared to 2005 levels.
"We are willing to do more provided there are credible arrangements to provide both additional financial support as well as technological transfers from developed to developing countries," he added.
India and China have been at the forefront of criticism of the negotiations process which has been chaired by the summit host Denmark, saying it has lacked transparency while other smaller nations have complained of being sidelined. Related article: Chinese PM Copenhagen visit
Britain's Prime Minister Gordon Brown said Thursday that he "believe(d) we will" reach an agreement but his climate change minister, Ed Miliband, warned that arguments about procedure could kill an agreement.
Scientists say the cost of failure on limiting the rise in temperatures to two degrees centigrade (3.6 Fahrenheit) will be catastrophic with hundreds of millions of people already facing worsening drought, flood, storms and rising seas.
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© AFP 2013