There's not enough time to strike a detailed and binding deal at next month's Copenhagen conference on climate change but nations say it still can succeed if all 192 countries can agree on two sets of numbers.
Those numbers _ how much money will be given to poor countries to adapt to global warming and how much industrial countries will reduce greenhouse gas emissions over the next 10 years _ are highly contentious, and there's no guarantee that even the scaled-back ambition for a political agreement can be reached.
Cabinet ministers and top negotiators from 40 key countries convened Monday for two days of closed-door meetings to prepare for the U.N. conference in the Danish capital, but were unlikely to try to set those specific numbers. That will remain for the summit next month.
But other crunch issues required discussion, officials said. Key among them was how financing _ more than $100 billion a year within a decade _ will be raised and delivered to countries in need. Also critical was how major emerging economies like India and China can help fight climate change, and how their contributions can be embedded in an international accord.
President Barack Obama, in Beijing, put climate change on top of his agenda for talks with President Hu Jintao, looking to increase collaboration on green energy and joint research projects, but the two leaders were not expected to discuss specific targets to be set out at Copenhagen.
Obama and other leaders at an Asia Pacific summit last week affirmed the growing consensus that the December deadline set two years ago for a completed climate accord is out of reach, and reset the goal for Copenhagen as a political deal.
But that agreement would cover all the essential elements, leaving only the legal and technical details to be filled in later, Danish Prime Minister Lars Loekke Rasmussen told Obama and the others on Sunday.
"We cannot do half a deal in Copenhagen and postpone the rest till later," he said in a speech released by his office Monday. "We need the commitments. We need the figures. We need the action."
Loekke Rasmussen said he did not want Copenhagen to end with "a political declaration with niceties." Instead, the conference should deliver a precise text of five to eight pages laying out an agreement for financing, transferring clean-energy technology to developing countries and delivering fast-action money _ about $10 billion a year _ to help poor countries over the next three years until a new climate treaty comes into force.
U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon was upbeat about Copenhagen's prospects.
"There is no cause for alarm," he said in Rome during a conference on food security. "We can still reach a significant agreement in Copenhagen that will provide the foundation for a treaty next year."
The Copenhagen agreement is meant to succeed the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, which set emissions targets for 37 industrialized countries. The U.S. rejected Kyoto as economically damaging and unfair since it made no demands of rapidly growing economies.
The Obama administration wants to be included in the new accord. But its reluctance to commit to emissions targets or financing until Congress completes domestic legislation was partly responsible for delaying a legally binding international accord. The Senate's climate and energy bill will not come up for a full debate until next year.
The countries that must cut emissions under the Kyoto agreement have given new reduction targets for 2020, but the developing countries say the proposed cuts are not deep enough.
Together, the pledges amount to reductions of about 15 percent below 1990 levels, while the developing countries demand that those targets be lifted to about 40 percent. U.N. scientists said two years ago that reductions of 25 to 40 percent by the industrial countries were needed to avoid the worst effects of global warming.
Any deal reached in Copenhagen must be approved by all 192 countries.
The delay in discussing a legal text was a setback from the original intention of two years ago, but some analysts say it's not all bad.
"An extension _ months, not years _ could be worthwhile if countries use the time to firm up their commitments to reduce their global warming pollution," said Jake Schmidt, of the Washington-based Natural Resources Defense Council, a leading think tank on environmental issues.
It also will give time for the U.S. to clarify its intentions and for Congress to finish its climate legislation.
However, Greenpeace director Kumi Naidoo said anything short of a binding treaty in Copenhagen would be a political failure.
"The science is clear. We have to change the politics. If we can't change the politics, then we have to put our energies into changing the politicians," he told reporters in Johannesburg.
Denmark's Climate Minister Connie Hedegaard said it may take a year to conclude the full details of a treaty, but a deadline must be part of the political package reached next month.
"It is very important that we set a deadline so that we will not end up in something that could continue for year and years," Hedegaard said as she convened the ministerial meeting Monday.
Yvo de Boer, the top U.N. climate official, said he hoped the Copenhagen talks would yield "a series of clear decisions" that would specify emissions targets for each industrialized country by 2020, the actions by developing countries to limit the growth of their emissions, and fast-track financing, de Boer said.
"If these kinds of decisions are taken, it would be no problem to turn it into a full treaty in six months' time," de Boer told The Associated Press.
Loekke Rasmussen has sent invitations to all other world leaders to make the last few days of Copenhagen a summit. On Monday, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said she would attend, joining British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, French President Nicolas Sarkozy, Dutch Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende and about 40 other heads of government.
Obama has said he would consider going to Copenhagen if it would help close a deal.
Arthur Max reported from Amsterdam