As UN climate talks move into their final three days, it appears that delegations will leave here with a framework to build a successor to the 1997 Kyoto Protocol.
But crafting the text that will guide negotiations for a post-Kyoto pact over the next two years is likely to be a bumpy ride.
European delegates and environmental groups, for instance, have held out for specific references in the text's preamble to potential greenhouse emission-reductions ranges. The original draft listed 25 to 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2020. That's the range the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) identified as providing a 50-50 chance of holding the rise in global temperatures to 3.6 degrees F.
But Australia, Japan, the US, and Canada wanted to strike the reference, so negotiators finally opted to punt the decision, listing it as an option for ministers to pick from when they begin their deliberations Wednesday.
"A road map without details, landmarks, as well as a clear destination is no road map at all, says Alejo Vidal-Quadras, vice president of the European Parliament. Even so, some environmental representatives privately say they suspect that the reference to CO2 levels eventually will get dropped to keep the US from blocking an agreement that must be reached by consensus.
Meanwhile, developing countries are waiting to see if the resulting road map signals intentions serious enough for them to agree to undertake greater efforts to curb the growth rate in their emissions.
Given the political wrangling, the best outcome would be a framework that does not "explicitly open negotiations on commitments, but they would at least leave the door open to commitments" for industrial countries, says Elliot Diringer at the Pew Center for Global Climate Change. "To do that, it's going to be rather open-ended in terms of the type of actions" countries can take "or commitments being negotiated."
Amid the debates over the text for a negotiating framework, the meeting has chalked up an early success. Negotiators cleared up last-minute details on the Kyoto Protocol's adaptation fund. It's a pot of cash available to developing countries for projects that help them adapt to more-frequent, more-intense droughts and severe storms, and sea-level rise, that scientists project will occur as the planet's atmosphere warms.
Still, the meeting's focus is on setting up the negotiation regime for a post-2012 agreement and how to draw the US back into the camp of other industrial countries in accepting binding international emission reduction targets. Most here say that the Bush administration won't end its opposition to such commitments.
Many US environmental groups here have pointed to actions in Congress and in the states on climate change as signs the US climate cavalry is on the horizon. Over the past seven years, they've made the same argument. But it has taken on greater immediacy with the 2008 presidential elections looming. That brings the prospect of a change in Washington's position on binding targets, some say.
But in a stark warning, Sen. John Kerry (D) of Massachusetts noted here that even a new administration – let alone the US Senate, which must ratify any treaty – would be reluctant to take on such targets unless developing countries made some form of commitment, based on their national circumstances, to boost efforts to reduce the growth of their emissions under an international agreement.
"A lot of us in the US are prepared to lead," he said. "But we're not prepared to do it ad infinitum without others taking part."