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World Leaders Back Delay To Final Climate Deal

Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong gestures as Chinese President Hu Jintao, a Peruvian representative, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, and Papua New Guinean Prime Minister Michael Somare look on in Singapore on November 15.
SINGAPORE (Reuters) -- U.S. President Barack Obama and other world leaders have rallied around plans to avert a failure at next month's climate summit in Copenhagen that would delay legally binding agreements until 2010 or even later.

"Given the time factor and the situation of individual countries we must, in the coming weeks, focus on what is possible and not let ourselves be distracted by what is not possible," Danish Prime Minister Lars Lokke Rasmussen told the leaders today.

"The Copenhagen Agreement should finally mandate continued legal negotiations and set a deadline for their conclusion," said the Copenhagen talks host, who flew into Singapore overnight to lay out his proposal over breakfast at an Asia-Pacific summit.

Rasmussen's two-step plan would pave the way for a political accord at the December 7-18 talks, followed by tortuous haggling over legally binding commitments on targets, finance, and technology transfer on a slower track, though still with a deadline.

In particular, it would give breathing space for the U.S. Senate to pass carbon-capping legislation, allowing the Obama administration to bring a 2020 target and financing pledges to the table at a major UN climate meeting in Bonn in mid-2010.

Analysts say it needs to pass through the Senate early next year to avoid becoming pushed aside in the run-up to mid-term elections.

"There was an assessment by the leaders that it was unrealistic to expect a full, internationally legally binding agreement to be negotiated between now and when Copenhagen starts in 22 days," senior U.S. negotiator Michael Froman told reporters after the meeting, which was attended by leaders of the United States, China, Japan, Russia, Mexico, Australia, and Indonesia.

"We believe it is better to have something good than to have nothing at all," Chilean Foreign Minister Mariano Fernandez said.

'Time For Leaders To Step In'

Copenhagen was seen as the last chance for countries to agree on a successor to the Kyoto Protocol and put in place painful measures needed to fight a rise in temperatures that would bring more rising sea levels, floods and droughts.

The aim of the summit is to set ambitious targets for cutting greenhouse gases, but also to raise funds to help poor countries tackle global warming.

However, negotiations have been bogged down, with developing nations accusing the rich world of failing to set themselves deep enough 2020 goals for curbing greenhouse gas emissions.

"Leaders...were clear in their view that the current officials-led process is running into all sorts of difficulties, and therefore it is time for leaders, politically, to step in," Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd told reporters after the meeting with Rasmussen.

It was not clear if China, now the world's biggest carbons emitter, had lined up behind the two-stage proposal in Singapore.

Chinese President Hu Jintao instead focused his remarks at the breakfast meeting on the need to establish a funding mechanism for rich nations to provide financial support to developing countries to fight climate change.

He was echoed by Mexican President Felipe Calderon, who said that if an agreement could be reached on a mechanism for global financing at Copenhagen it would be "much easier to achieve clear and pragmatic measures."

Their comments came a day after the presidents of France and Brazil, in a joint document, called for "substantial" financial help from richer countries to help them tackle emissions.

New Deadline Could Slip

Despite the talk in Singapore of urgent action on climate change, a statement issued after the 21-member Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit dropped an earlier draft's reference to halving greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

Environmental lobby group WWF voiced disappointment.

"At APEC, there was far too much talk about delay, and what won't be accomplished in Copenhagen," spokesperson Diane McFadzien said in a statement. "This does not look like a smart strategy to win the fight against climate change."

"In Copenhagen, governments need to create a legally binding framework with an amended Kyoto Protocol and a new Copenhagen Protocol. Legally binding is the only thing that will do if we want to see real action to save the planet."

Rasmussen said a two-step approach would not mean a "partial" agreement in Copenhagen and insisted that it would be binding.

However, analysts said a new deadline could slip if Washington's political will to agree on emissions targets and carbon cap-and-trade fades, which would be a particular risk if the U.S. economic recovery falters.

There is also a risk of growing frustration from developing countries which accuse rich nations of not doing enough to fight climate or help poorer states adapt to its impacts.