Italy sees possibility of intermediate steps at next UN climate summit in Mexico

ROME (AP) — A U.N. climate summit in Mexico later this year won't broker a global accord on climate change, but may represent a positive intermediate step, the Italian environment minister said Thursday after co-hosting climate change talks.

Minister Stefania Prestigiacomo said the year-end summit in Cancun will not represent a "turnaround" but can still end with a "shared framework agreement" that can serve as a basis for a future global agreement.

A December summit in Copenhagen, Denmark, fell far short of the goal of a full-fledged and legally binding accord setting emission reduction targets for major countries. Expectations for the Mexico summit have been lowered as a result.

"Now we are all aware that conditions aren't there for a global accord," Prestigiacomo told reporters at the end of the talks held over two days in Rome.

U.S. climate envoy Todd Stern said "differences absolutely do remain" but insisted the focus remains on "how to bridge those gaps." Looking at Cancun, he said "different people mean different things" by framework.

"The thing that is important to us is that all the issues move forward together," he said. "We would not support an outcome that picked off two or three issues and left others behind. I don't think other countries would be supportive of that."

The closed-doors talks in Rome of the Major Economies Forum ended with no significant results, Prestigiacomo acknowledged. The delegates discussed all major outstanding issues — mitigation of greenhouse emissions, adaptation efforts, financing, verification methods among others. But, as expected, no breakthroughs were announced.

The Major Economies Forum group was created last year by the United States to prod along the slow-moving U.N. negotiations on a global climate change agreement by bringing together political leaders of 17 key countries in a private, relaxed setting.

This year, the meeting, in a walled garden complex, was expanded to add five more developing countries, including Bangladesh and Ethiopia, which could be severely affected by increasing droughts and floods brought on by a gradually warming Earth.

A paper summing up the discussions said the participants "emphasized the importance of quickly implementing the Copenhagen Accord's Fast Start financing provisions." The measure to provide $30 billion by 2012 in "fast-start" aid for developing nations to deal with climate change was one of the few concrete actions agreed upon at Copenhagen.

Still, many countries have yet to come through. Italy has not yet provided its share — euro200 million ($247 million) a year for three years — and Prestigiacomo said it might not all be "fresh" funds as demanded by the EU.

The Copenhagen conference concluded with a nonbinding three-page paper hammered out in an all-night private meeting among President Barack Obama and a handful of leaders, most importantly from China, India, Brazil and South Africa.

"We must not make the same mistake as in Copenhagen, to raise the level of expectations and then have it fail," Prestigiacomo said. "We must work to bring the positions closer and closer."

If Cancun were to conclude with an accord outlining the "architecture" of a future agreement, Prestigiacomo said, that would be a significant step forward and allow for a global accord in the medium term.

She said the talks highlighted the usual divide between the position of emerging economies that don't want a binding legal accord and those that do. She said previously that the issue of how to ensure that countries live up to their pledges was also a thorny one.

The summary circulated at the end of the talks also said an energy and technology meeting will be held in Washington in July 19-20 to launch new initiatives on energy efficiency and energy access.