OSLO (Reuters) - Governments must confront risks that the U.N.'s Kyoto Protocol for fighting climate change will collapse because of splits about a successor treaty, the U.N.'s top climate official said on Monday.
Yvo de Boer also said that 194-nation climate negotiations in 2010 were likely merely to lay the "groundwork" for a new legally binding pact to slow global warming after a U.N. summit in Copenhagen in December fell short with a non-binding accord.
In a speech to about 45 environment ministers at informal May 2-4 climate talks in Petersberg, Germany, he said the fate of Kyoto beyond a first period ending on December 31, 2012, was "on everybody's mind but, unfortunately, on no one's lips."
Kyoto binds almost 40 developed nations to cut greenhouse gas emissions by at least 5.2 percent below 1990 levels by 2008-12. The United States, the top emitter behind China, is not a party to Kyoto and developing nations have no Kyoto targets.
"It is your political responsibility as ministers to take this thorny topic by the horns," he said, warning ministers that Kyoto backers might become reluctant to set targets beyond 2012 "...and that in turn will mean the end of the Kyoto Protocol."
De Boer, head of the U.N. Climate Change Secretariat, said it seemed "highly unlikely" that Kyoto supporters would agree to new curbs beyond 2012 that were binding in international law if the United States merely had targets in U.S. domestic laws.
So far, even U.S. national legislation for capping emissions until 2020 is stalled in the Senate.
Developing nations want industrialized nations to sign up for an extension of Kyoto before they agree to limit the growth of their own emissions under a separate deal. Most Kyoto backers want a single new treaty with targets for both rich and poor.
De Boer, who will stand down in July after almost four years, separately told Reuters that few expected a full treaty to be worked out at an annual meeting of the world's environment ministers in Cancun, Mexico, from November 29-December 10.
"People are not licking their wounds," he said by telephone of the atmosphere after Copenhagen. "There is a shared feeling that we need to put Copenhagen behind us and move forwards."
"A significant number of countries are saying that perhaps Cancun can do the groundwork -- Cancun can adopt a series of decisions that can make climate action operational, but that turning that into treaty text would take more time," he said.
The Cancun talks could take decisions, for instance, to unlock aid to developing nations to help them adapt to the impact of climate change, to promote new green technologies or to launch a scheme to protect tropical forests.
The Copenhagen Accord, backed by about 120 nations, seeks to limit a rise in average world temperatures to below 2 Celsius (3.6 F) above pre-industrial times, but does not spell out how. It also outlines $100 billion in annual climate aid from 2020.
A document prepared for the Petersberg talks by Germany and Mexico said there was deadlock over cash. Developing nations wanted money up front to help them slow climate change while the rich insisted that the poor had to start acting first.
"Financing negotiations seem to have been caught by the vicious circle 'no money, no action - no action, no money'" it said.
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