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Hopes of sealing a new climate deal in time for a December deadline have turned gloomy. Negotiators meeting in Spain say a UN climate treaty will likely need an extra year.
Green groups are calling for a treaty to drastically cut CO2 emissions
Delegates to the November 2-6 meeting of 175 nations in Barcelona – the final session before a UN accord is due in Copenhagen next month – said that the chances of salvaging a strong deal looked slim after two years of negotiations. They suggested extensions from three months to a year or more.
Toughening a Copenhagen text if it falls short of a binding deal "should be done as early as possible ... three months, six months," said Artur Runge-Metzger, head of the European Commission delegation.
A British official said it was likely to take at least six months and "ideally no longer than a year" to agree details.
This follows recent comments by some world leaders that Copenhagen may merely agree a politically binding deal rather than a full legally binding treaty.
Talks to agree on a UN pact got underway in Bali, Indonesia, in December 2007 with a two-year deadline to agree a pact meant to fight a rise in temperatures, more floods, droughts and rising sea levels.
Yvo de Boer, head of the UN Climate Change Secretariat, has said Copenhagen should at least set 2020 greenhouse gas emissions goals for rich nations including the United States, agree actions by developing nations to slow their rising emissions, and ways to raise billions in funding and mechanisms to oversee funds.
John Ashe, chairman of talks to extend the existing Kyoto Protocol, which is set to expire in 2012, said negotiations should wrap up at the next meeting of officials in Bonn around May if Copenhagen stalls.
Talks bogged down with disputes
Hundreds of clocks are arranged outside the venue to remind delegates that time is "running out" for a deal
The Barcelona negotiations have got bogged down with disputes between rich and poor nations, including a day-long boycott by African countries which accuse developed nations of failing to set themselves deep enough goals for curbing greenhouse gas emissions by 2020.
"It seems that somewhere, someone decided 'let's shift gear, let's make sure we don't move so much'," said Bruno Sekoli of Lesotho, chair of the group of least developed nations.
However, Sekoli admitted that a delay was better than a "very bad deal."
Green groups blame rich nations
Environmental groups and activists for the developing world accused rich nations of tiptoeing away from vows to seal a binding, far-reaching treaty on climate change in Copenhagen.
A spokesman for aid agency Oxfam International blasted advanced economies for "backsliding." Oxfam's Antonio Hill said: "There's no question: they're trying to get a get-out-of-jail card," referring to a tactic used in a board game. "It is a political decision now.
Negotiators are perfectly capable of drawing up what needs to be agreed," he added.
Greenpeace climate policy director Martin Kaiser blamed US "intransigence."
"What's unfolding today is being driven by America, which in turn is being steered by big fossil-fuel interests," he said, adding: "Now is the time for Europe - Sarkozy, Merkel, Brown - to stand up, not give up."
Meanwhile, in Washington, the US Senate Environment and Public Works Committee approved a Democratic bill that would require industry to cut emissions of greenhouse gases by 20 percent by 2020 from 2005 levels.
Editor: Andreas Illmer