OSLO (Reuters) -- About 40 environment ministers meet in Copenhagen on November 16 to try to salvage a UN climate deal next month, after leaders at an Asia Pacific summit rallied round a plan to delay a legally binding deal beyond 2009.
The ministers, including from top greenhouse gas emitters China and the United States, are due to meet for two days in a Copenhagen hotel in one of the final chances to break a long-running deadlock between rich and poor.
The meeting will test how far the rest of the world agrees with U.S. President Barack Obama and leaders at an Asia Pacific summit in Singapore who today gave support to plans by Denmark to agree only a political deal, not a full legal treaty, in Copenhagen.
Danish Prime Minister Lars Lokke Rasmussen outlined a plan for a five-to-eight-page "political agreement" in Copenhagen to cover key issues such as curbs on greenhouse gas emissions, and that sets a deadline for agreeing a binding legal text sometime in future.
But African nations, the least developed countries, small island states and some European nations have all insisted that a proper treaty should be agreed in Copenhagen.
"Every indication is that [these nations] still want a legally binding outcome in Copenhagen," said Kim Carstensen of the WWF environmental group which also wants a treaty agreed there. "It's just too early to lower the ambition," he said.
Rasmussen said Copenhagen could still agree goals such as cuts in greenhouse gas emissions by developed nations, actions by developing nations to slow their rising emissions and funds to help the poor, even if they were not enshrined in legal text.
"We are not aiming to let anyone off the hook," he said.
"I doubt the majority of countries will buy this 'face-saving' plan," said Kaisa Kosonen of Greenpeace, saying it ignored the needs of nations most vulnerable to more floods, droughts, sandstorms, disease or rising sea levels.
The ministers' talks this week in Copenhagen are due to be closed to the media, except for a final news conference.
Developing nations insist that rich countries must agree to deep 2020 cuts in their greenhouse gas emissions and come up with billions of dollars to help the poor cope.
But rich nations, hit by recession and with unemployment above 10 percent in the United States for the first time since the 1980s, have been reluctant to promise too much in the sluggish negotiations, launched in Bali, Indonesia in 2007.
A big problem is that the United States, the only industrialized nation outside the existing Kyoto Protocol for curbing emissions until 2012, has not yet agreed carbon-capping laws. Many nations are unwilling to act while uncertainty remains about Washington's commitment.