There's not a lot of ambition around, said Jennifer Morgan, of the London-based think-tank E3G, of submissions to the United Nations published this month to meet a deadline for consideration in a deal to be agreed in Copenhagen in December.
Australia is a partial exception, saying on Monday that it would ratchet up planned cuts by 2020, if other nations also did so. But Canberra put back its planned carbon emissions trading scheme by a year to mid-2011, amid a recession.
Taking account of the new Australian offer, plans outlined by developed nations add up to average cuts in greenhouse gas emissions of between 9 and 16 percent below 1990 levels by 2020, according to Reuters calculations.
That is nearer the goal of the Kyoto Protocol -- an average cut by industrialized nations of 5 percent below 1990 levels by 2008-12 -- than the 25 to 40 percent reduction below 1990 by 2020 outlined by the U.N. Climate Panel as the order of cutback required to avert the worst of global warming.
The economic downturn is putting a brake on the level of commitment and investment to mitigate climate change, said Pep Canadell, head of the global carbon project at Australia's Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization.
He said Australia's delay was a sign of economic strains.
The current stimulus packages are committing the economies of developed countries to run deficits for a number of years which will not make things easier in the near future either, he said.
And the rich nations' plans contrast starkly with demands by developing nations, which are likely to suffer most from projected floods, droughts, extinctions of plants and animals and rising sea levels caused by global warming.
Countries such as China and India want the rich to cut by at least 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2020 as a condition for their greater involvement in curbing rising emissions. They also want aid and green technology -- submissions so far have been vague about cash.
Among developed nations, the European Union says cuts must ensure that world temperatures do not rise more than 2 Celsius (3.6 Fahrenheit) above levels that existed before the Industrial Revolution.
Submissions so far from all countries are nowhere near 2 Celsius, said Bill Hare, a visiting scientist at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research and a director of Climate Analytics.
Many countries are slumbering through the climate crisis like Sleeping Beauty, Norwegian Environment Minister Erik Solheim said, asked about the gap between the rich nations' offers and the expectations of developing nations.
Norway has so far promised some of the deepest cuts -- 30 percent below 1990 levels by 2020. But some of the cuts will be made by buying carbon emissions quotas abroad, funded by cash from North Sea oil, rather than by reducing emissions at home.
Fossil fuels are a main source of greenhouse gases.
Obama plans to cut U.S. emissions to 1990 levels by 2020, a cut of about 14 percent from 2007 levels, to help what he described in his election victory speech last November as a planet in peril. He wants cuts of 80 percent by 2050.
Washington says that it needs to be guided by pragmatism as well as by climate science -- and says the 25 to 40 percent range is far out of reach for 2020. But Obama's more modest goal may be having a knock-on effect.
Even going back to 1990 levels in the U.S. -- which is far from insignificant -- has just made Japan feel more at ease that it doesn't need to go any further, said Kim Carstensen, head of the Global Climate Initiative of the WWF International environmental group.
My sense is that we have seen the same relaxation in Europe...Australia may be the point where we begin to see a change, he said.
Australia said it will cut by up to 25 percent below 2000 levels if other nations join in, toughening its earlier plan to cut by 5 to 15 percent. Japan has yet to set a 2020 goal, from widely varying options. The EU has promised a cut of 20 percent by 2020 from 1990, and up to 30 percent if other nations join in.
(Additional reporting by Daniel Flynn in Rome, Editing by Mark Trevelyan)