The advances made in U.N. climate talks last year appeared at risk Thursday as a rift between rich and poor countries reopened in negotiations aimed at crafting a global pact to stop the planet from overheating.
The session in Bonn was meant to build on a deal struck in Durban, South Africa, in December, but the talks were faltering heading into the penultimate day amid disputes over what, exactly, was agreed on last year.
Delegates were struggling to reach consensus on the agenda for future talks under the new Durban Platform, with China and others reluctant to close existing negotiating tracks that make clear distinctions between the responsibilities of developed and developing nations.
"There is distrust and there is frustration in the atmosphere," Seyni Nafo, spokesman for a group of African countries, told The Associated Press.
The two-decade-old negotiations have had limited success in creating a global regime to rein in the emissions of heat-trapping gases which a big majority of climate scientists say are warming the Earth, with potentially devastating consequences for poor countries ill-prepared to deal rising sea levels, floods and other effects of a changing climate.
Actions taken and pledged so far fall well short of what the U.N. experts say is needed to achieve the stated goal of preventing global temperatures from rising more than 2 degrees Fahrenheit (1.2 degrees Celsius) above current levels by the end of this century.
The only existing binding treaty, the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, was shunned by the U.S. because it doesn't impose any emissions targets on China, thus leaving out the two biggest carbon emitters on the globe. After Canada, Japan and Russia dropped out, the treaty's second commitment period covers only about 15 percent of global emissions.
After painstaking negotiations in Durban, countries agreed to create a new pact by 2015 that would take effect five years later and include both developed and developing countries.
But the European Union said that package of decisions was at risk of unraveling because of the bickering at the conference in Bonn, which is supposed to lay the groundwork for a bigger climate summit in Qatar, at the end of the year.
"We are very concerned that the spirit of cooperation that prevailed in Durban has not carried over into this session," EU delegate Christian Pilgaard Zinglersen told the conference Wednesday.
The EU claims China and other developing countries are backsliding on commitments made in Durban to conduct future talks on emissions cuts within the new platform.
Developing countries accuse the U.S., EU and other industrialized nations of trying to evade commitments made under previous negotiating tracks and shift responsibilities for tackling climate change to the developing world.