COPENHAGEN – Developing nations staged a five-hour walkout and China accused the West of trickery as negotiators raced against time Monday to prevent a UN climate summit from ending in catastrophic failure.
While campaigners warned negotiators had five days to avert climate chaos, ministers acknowledged they had to start making giant strides before 120 heads of state arrived for the Copenhagen summit's climax on Friday.
But their hopes were hit when Africa led a boycott by developing nations of working groups, only returning after securing guarantees the summit would not sideline talks about the future of the Kyoto Protocol.
That core emissions-curbing treaty ties rich countries that have ratified it to binding emissions curbs but not developing nations.
It does not include the United States, which says the Protocol is unfair as the binding targets do not apply to developing giants that are already huge emitters of greenhouse gases. A first round of pledges under Kyoto expires at the end of 2012, and poorer nations are seeking a seven-year commitment period.
The walkout delivered another blow to the summit which has already been marred by spats between China and the United States.
Connie Hedegaard, the former Danish climate minister who is chairing the talks, sought to smooth over the walkouts and finger-pointing.
"It may look dramatic, but it's not what it looked," she said, adding she expected "more mini-crises, given the interests at stake."
Swedish Environment Minister Andreas Carlgren, whose country is the holder of the revolving EU presidency, said everyone was aware the clock was ticking.
"We are running against time. The world has waited long enough," he said.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, speaking to reporters in New York before he was to leave for Copenhagen, also warned "time is running out".
"There is no time for posturing or blaming," he said.
"If everything is left to leaders to resolve at the last minute, we risk having a weak deal or no deal at all. And this would be a failure of potentially catastrophic consequence."
In an apparent concession, China said it might not take a share of any Western funding for emerging nations to fight climate change.
But in a pointer to the tensions backstage, Vice Foreign Minister He Yafei said China would not be the fall guy if there were a fiasco.
"I know people will say if there is no deal that China is to blame. This is a trick played by the developed countries. They have to look at their own position and can't use China as an excuse," he told the Financial Times.
EU Commission chief Jose Manuel Barroso voiced fears of a failure.
"How are we going to look on Friday or Saturday if there are more than 100 heads of state and government from all over the world and that what we say to the world is that it was not possible to come to an agreement?" he said in Brussels.
Campaigners were even blunter, with Greenpeace saying the summit had five days "to avert climate chaos" and emissions targets so far offered by Western leaders such as US President Barack Obama amounted to "peanuts".
The gathering's daunting goal is to tame greenhouse gases — the invisible by-product derived mainly from the burning of coal, oil and gas that traps the Sun's heat and warms the atmosphere.
Scientists say that without dramatic action within the next decade, Earth will be on course for warming that will inflict drought, flood, storms and rising sea levels, translating into hunger and misery for many millions.
The stakes were underlined when a new UN report said that some 58 million people have been affected by 245 natural calamities so far this year, more than 90 percent of them weather events amplified by climate change.
And a study from the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), an intergovernmental group, said climate change threatens the survival of dozens of animal species from the emperor penguin to Australian koalas.