Poor countries stepped up demands Friday on the industrial world to keep the Earth from catastrophically overheating, amid warnings that negotiations are moving too slowly to meet a December deadline for a sweeping accord on global warming.
This week delegates from 180 countries have skirmished over a draft agreement with some 2,500 paragraphs, sentences, phrases and words in dispute. They struggled to whittle down 200 pages of incomprehensible text into a workable document — but left Bonn after five days' diplomacy with much work still to do.
Government leaders are expected to discuss the key elements of a deal at a special United Nations meeting in New York next month, followed by a gathering of the world's 20 leading economies hosted by President Barack Obama in the U.S. city of Pittsburgh.
With time running short, negotiators and lobbyists are expressing fears that a deal won't be sealed this December in Copenhagen, the long-billed deadline to unveil a successor to the 1997 Kyoto Protocol.
"If we continue at this rate, we're not going to make it," said Yvo de Boer, head of the U.N. Climate Change Secretariat.
"It would be incomprehensible if this opportunity were lost," he said, adding that only 15 days of actual negotiations remained before Copenhagen.
"Delegates spent too much time arguing over procedure and technicalities. This is not the way to overcome mistrust between rich and poor nations," said Kim Carstensen, head of the Global Climate Initiative of WWF.
The world's poorest and most vulnerable countries, including tiny island states that barely break the surface of the ocean, banded together to ratchet up the pressure on the industrial countries.
"Adverse affects of climate change already are being felt," said Dessima Williams, the delegate from Grenada, who led the 80-nation coalition. She cited rising sea levels, the spread of deserts and the loss of water sources, declining biodiversity and the growing frequency and intensity of hurricanes, floods and drought.
"Some states are likely to become entirely uninhabitable" unless carbon emissions are quickly checked, she said.
Scientists say carbon, mainly from fossil fuels for transportation and power, has accumulated in the atmosphere over the last 150 years to block heat from escaping, leading to a gradual warming of the air and seas.
The bloc of poor states said climate change is outpacing the best estimates of a few years ago, when scientists warned that the maximum safe increase in the planet's average temperature was 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) from preindustrial levels.
Williams said the 80-country group emphasized that every effort should be made to restrict the temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit). She said that would require industrial countries to slash carbon emissions by 45 percent from 1990 levels within the next decade.
Offers from wealthy countries total 15 percent to 21 percent so far, the U.N. Climate Change Secretariat said this week.
To avoid failure in Copenhagen, negotiators and activists said, government leaders need to resolve three related questions: How much more can industrial countries cut emissions? How much can developing countries slow the growth of their own? And how much money does the global community need to raise to help poor countries survive the effects of climate change?
Financial estimates vary wildly. The WWF says $160 billion is needed annually. Williams said the world should dedicate 1 percent of its gross domestic product — the equivalent of $400 billion annually.
The hoped-for Copenhagen agreement would succeed the Kyoto Protocol, which bound 37 industrial countries to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 5.2 percent from 1990 levels by 2012. Kyoto placed no obligations on developing countries.
This time around, the world's wealthier nations want developing countries, particularly China and India, to share the burden and agree to slow their explosive emissions growth.
A key point of dispute remains whether developing countries would agree to be legally bound to a Copenhagen accord.
The U.S. House of Representatives has already passed a climate bill that would impose trade penalties on countries that do not accept limits on their emissions, and the Senate is considering a similar bill. President Barack Obama has opposed attaching trade issues to climate and energy legislation.
India criticized the U.S. lawmakers' approach, and proposed a clause Friday that would forbid any government from erecting trade barriers to punish a nation that refused to accept limits on its carbon emissions.
India's chief delegate, Shyam Saran, said U.S. Congress was pursuing "protectionism under a green label" and sidetracking negotiators.
Saran said trade issues are "extraneous to what we are trying to construct here, which is a collaborative response to an extraordinary global challenge."