BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — African nations pushed wealthy countries at U.N. climate talks on Wednesday to explain how they intend to cut their greenhouse emissions under the landmark global warming agreement being negotiated.
Yet as delegates from 192 nations retreated behind closed doors in Spain, fears arose over just what will be accomplished this year on fighting climate change.
Sweden's prime minister said achieving a legally binding pact was probably impossible this year, while the prime minister of Denmark declared that a failure to reach a deal next month as planned would be "a massive disappointment."
A flurry of diplomatic activity on a new climate deal reflected high tensions worldwide as two years of negotiations approached a climax at a major climate conference in Copenhagen opening Dec. 7.
The conference had been due to anoint an agreement to regulate emissions of carbon and other greenhouse gases that cause global warming, but that deal seemed increasingly unlikely this year because the United States is not ready to commit to a specific reduction in emissions until Congress enacts a climate bill.
An emotional plea for action by German Chancellor Angela Merkel in an address before the U.S. Congress was met with silence Tuesday from most Republicans, while Democrats stood and applauded.
Republican senators also shunned the planned start of voting on amendments to a 959-page Democratic bill that would curb greenhouse gases from power plants and large industrial facilities. They protested that the bill's cost to the economy — in the form of more expensive energy and the impact on jobs — had not been fully examined.
Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt, whose country holds the European Union presidency, lowered expectations further after meeting President Barack Obama in Washington.
In Stockholm on Wednesday, Reinfeldt told Swedish Radio that "a legally binding agreement, like we have advocated in Europe, it's simply not possible to deliver."
The host of the Copenhagen conference, Danish Prime Minister Lars Loekke Rasmussen, said it will be difficult to regain momentum if the deadline is missed. He urged heads of government to step in to achieve a breakthrough.
"If we disappoint, it will be a massive disappointment, a setback where one will not be able to see how we can build that power again," Loekke Rasmussen told reporters.
In Barcelona, a five-day conference preparing the text for Copenhagen resumed work after African delegates boycotted several meetings on Tuesday to press their demand that industrialized countries must raise their targets for cutting emissions.
Talks were held in small informal sessions from which reporters were barred.
Industrial countries have submitted targets for cutting greenhouse gas emissions, but they fall far short of the 25 to 40 percent reductions below 1990 levels that scientists say are needed to avert dangerous and irreversible climate change.
The 50-nation Africa bloc wants the rich countries to improve their emissions targets so it is clear how much they will actually reduce emissions and how much they intend to offset their pollution with credits. Those credits will be bought on an international carbon market or created through projects such as helping poor countries improve their green energy development.
The developing countries demand that industrial countries reduce emissions by the full 40 percent over the next decade to blunt the effects of increasingly severe storms, floods and drought that already are causing havoc, especially in Africa.
The Copenhagen agreement is meant to succeed the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, which required 37 industrial countries to cut emissions an average 5 percent by 2012. The United States rejected that deal because it made no demands on major developing countries.