As Climate Negotiations Stall, UN Calls on World Leaders

The climate may change, but the same old disagreements drag on.

Infighting and conflict dominated the two weeks of climate talks that ended in Bonn on Friday, as negotiators struggled to salvage the United Nations' Kyoto Protocol -- the worldwide climate accord set to expire in 2012.

The talks among 180 nations made it evident that the controversial climate pact faces the threat of extinction due to lack of support.

Christiana Figueres, a top U.N. climate figure, said at this point it will take "high-level political attention" to resolve mutual demands between industrial countries treaty-bound to reduce carbon emissions and countries that now have no legal obligations on fighting global warming.

"Resolving the future of the Kyoto Protocol is an essential task this year and will require high-level political guidance," Figueres told reporters, but it also is part of a bigger picture embracing other major emitters.

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Developing countries insist that the nearly 40 countries bound to specific reductions targets by the 1997 Kyoto Protocol renew and expand their commitments when they expire in 2012. But the wealthy countries say they want the rest of the world to show willingness to accept legal obligations, if not now at least in the future.

South Africa, which hosts the next major climate conference in Durban beginning Nov. 28, has called for two ministerial meetings and a meeting of heads of government on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly in September.

The last time world leaders tried to break the rich-poor deadlock on climate change was at the 2009 Copenhagen summit, which ended in disillusionment. Instead of a legal agreement, it concluded with a political statement brokered by President Barack Obama -- and even that failed to win unanimous approval and adoption by the conference.

As Copenhagen showed, the fringes of the General Assembly "is not the place for negotiation," said Alden Meyer, of the U.S.-based Union of Concerned Scientists. "But sending political signals would be very helpful" before negotiators reconvene in Durban.

U.S. chief delegate Jonathan Pershing said it was unclear whether Obama's schedule would be open for a brief climate summit, and what such a top-level meeting could achieve. "It depends on who's there, depends on the agenda," and on what else is happening at that time, he said.

Hopes for a deal on new targets for another period under Kyoto were set back when three Kyoto countries announced refusals to sign on again. Japan, Canada and Russia said there was no point as long as countries like the U.S., China and India -- the world's three largest emitters -- face no legal constraints.

Before the Bonn talks began, Mexico and Papua New Guinea submitted a proposal meant to break the perpetual logjam in the negotiations, now in their 20th year.

The proposal would amend the rule requiring consensus for any decision to allow an "overwhelming majority" vote of 75 percent as "a last resort" when consensus proves impossible.

"We are concerned about the narrow interpretation that provides any party with a veto. We have to reconsider the rules," said Fernando Tudela, the Mexican climate change ambassador.

But few delegates thought the proposal would be adopted when countries large and small seeking to preserve their influence and power.

"It's a tall order," Figueres said, doubting that it would take priority at the Durban conference.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.