HOPES of a significant climate treaty in Copenhagen have been set back by developing-country officials refusing to sign on to a broad goal of cutting global greenhouse gas emissions in half by mid-century.
A meeting in Rome of climate ministers and officials of the 17 member countries of the Major Economies Forum, including Climate Change Minister Penny Wong, on Tuesday failed to agree to even aspirational targets to cut emissions by 2050.
It is a change from a draft text that arose from an earlier ministerial-level meeting that proposed that global emissions should be cut by 50 per cent by 2050, with rich nations reducing emissions by at least 80 per cent.
The numbers have been removed from text to be discussed today by the leaders of the major economies in Italy.
Chaired by US President Barack Obama, the meeting is on the sidelines of the annual meeting of the Group of Eight leading economic powers. The meeting brings together the countries responsible for nearly 80 per cent of global emissions and is seen as important to provide leadership to protracted United Nations negotiations due to culminate in December.
The draft to be considered by leaders, including Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, is believed to include a reference to limiting global warming to within 2 degrees, and nomination of a year by which global emissions should stop rising, or peak. The proposed year has been 2020.
Preliminary discussions were said to be good natured, but stalled when China and India said rich countries must be willing to cut emissions by 40 per cent by 2020 if they expected emerging economies to agree to long-term reduction goals.
US and European officials say nations such as China are doing a lot domestically, but must do more as part of a worldwide pact.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel last night warned that climate change limits were unlikely to be decided in Italy this week, sparking anxiety in Europe that the US may be at the heart of the stalemate and is negotiating directly with China.
Dr Merkel issued her call for caution during a joint news conference with Mr Rudd, after an hour-long meeting on the eve of the G8 talks.
Both leaders made it clear it would be difficult for the Major Economies Forum to clear the stalemate before Copenhagen.
Mr Rudd also appeared to hint at a stumbling block: "It is highly unlikely that anything will emerge from the MEF in terms of detailed programmatic specificity … but we as political leaders need to give our negotiators a fresh negotiating mandate, because we are running out of time between now and Copenhagen at the end of the year."
British Prime Minister Gordon Brown has put Mr Rudd on the spot by declaring he has backed a proposal to create a $122 billion climate change fund for poor countries.
Mr Brown told a London briefing that he believed he already had Mr Rudd's "in principle" support for his fund plan.
Australian Government sources were surprised, believing the commitment by Mr Rudd had not been so specific.
Acting Climate Change Minister Greg Combet said yesterday that "at this point we have made no commitment to any specific proposal".