Nearly five weeks before the start of the Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen, Denmark, the United Nations has signaled that it has reduced its expectations about reaching agreement on a new treaty to slow global warming.
More than 15,000 officials from 192 countries are expected to attend the UN conference from December 7-18. They will try to reach an agreement that would replace provisions of the Kyoto Protocol, which expires in 2012.
The Kyoto Protocol requires industrialized countries to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions that cause global warming to 5 percent below 1990 levels by 2012.
In Copenhagen, it was hoped countries would agree on tougher emissions targets for industrialized nations, new targets for developing countries, and funding for poorer nations to adapt to climate change and to curb their own greenhouse gas emissions.
But Janos Pasztor, climate adviser to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, says Copenhagen most likely won't produce a treaty. He predicts that Copenhagen will push governments as far as they can go on the content of an agreement.
John M. Broder, an energy and environment reporter at the Washington bureau of "The New York Times," tells RFE/RL that the talks will likely lead to a nonbinding political declaration and that international negotiators will agree to continue discussions on a comprehensive treaty next year.
Broder says it is hard to say how far the Copenhagen meeting will be able to go.
"I think it will set the developed countries on a path toward reducing their emissions below a certain benchmark. Whether that is 2005 or 1990, whether it's 10 or 20 percent below, those things probably will not be agreed to," he says. "I think the developing world will agree that they have to slow the pace of growth of their emissions. There will also probably be pieces on financing and adaptation."
One unresolved issue is an agreement on emission reduction targets for key industrialized countries -- notably the United States, the No. 2 emitter behind China. Other issues include financing for poorer nations, and the best way to deliver and manage those funds.
Broder says one big obstacle to a deal is the unwillingness of the U.S. Congress to enact legislation on reducing carbon emissions 20 percent by 2020 from 2005 levels before Copenhagen.
"The United States' negotiators will be unable to put a firm proposal on the table in Copenhagen. Without a firm and binding pledge in domestic law from the United States, the other countries -- India, China, Brazil, Mexico, Russia -- will not deliver binding targets of their own," Broder says.
According to Kim Carstensen, the leader of the World Wildlife Fund's Global Climate initiative, what is now needed is political will and determination, not diplomatic pessimism.
He tells RFE/RL that it is still possible to outline the core elements of a climate agreement.
"It is very, very likely that the final details of an agreement will have to be negotiated in legal form in 2010," Carstensen says. "What is really important is that the Copenhagen meeting ends up with a clear political agreement on a legally binding format and text of what will be the future climate regime. And I think that is really doable."