U.S. President Barack Obama and other world leaders on Sunday supported delaying a legally binding climate pact until 2010 or even later, but European negotiators said the move did not imply weaker action.
Some argued that legal technicalities might otherwise distract the talks in Copenhagen and it was better to focus on the core issue of cutting climate-warming emissions.
Given the time factor and the situation of individual countries we must, in the coming weeks, focus on what is possible and not let ourselves be distracted by what is not possible, Danish Prime Minister Lars Lokke Rasmussen told the leaders.
The Copenhagen Agreement should finally mandate continued legal negotiations and set a deadline for their conclusion, said the Copenhagen talks host, who flew into Singapore to lay out his proposal over breakfast at an Asia-Pacific summit.
Rasmussen said the December 7-18 talks should still agree key elements such as cuts in greenhouse gases for industrialized nations and funds to help developing nations. Copenhagen would also set a deadline for writing them into a legal text.
We are not aiming to let anyone off the hook, Rasmussen said after the meeting, which was attended by leaders of the United States, China, Japan, Russia, Mexico, Australia and Indonesia.
WAITING FOR UNITED STATES
French Environment Minister Jean-Louis Borloo said it was clear the main obstacle was the United States' slow progress in defining its own potential emissions cuts.
The problem is the United States, there's no doubt about that, Borloo, who has coordinated France's Copenhagen negotiating effort, told Reuters in an interview.
It's the world's number one power, the biggest emitter (of greenhouse gases), the biggest per capita emitter and it's saying 'I'd like to but I can't'. That's the issue, he said.
Danish and Swedish officials said they wanted all developed countries including the United States to promise numbers for cuts in emissions in Copenhagen. The U.S. Senate has not yet agreed carbon-capping legislation.
There was an assessment by the leaders that it was unrealistic to expect a full, internationally legally binding agreement to be negotiated between now and when Copenhagen starts in 22 days, said U.S. negotiator Michael Froman.
We believe it is better to have something good than to have nothing at all, said Chilean Foreign Minister Mariano Fernandez. The next major U.N. climate meeting is in Bonn in mid-2010.
Copenhagen can and must deliver clarity on emission reductions and the finance to kickstart action. I have seen nothing to change my view on that, said Yvo de Boer, the U.N.'s top climate change official. Ministers from 40 nations will meet in Copenhagen on Monday and Tuesday for preparatory talks.
Copenhagen was seen as the last chance for countries to agree on a successor to the Kyoto Protocol, aiming to fight a rise in temperatures that many scientists predict will bring rising sea levels and more floods and droughts.
The aim of the summit is to set ambitious targets for cutting greenhouse gases in industrialized nations, but also to raise funds to help poor countries slow their own emissions growth and tackle the worst impacts on crops and water supplies.
But negotiations have been bogged down, with developing nations accusing the rich world of failing to set themselves deep enough 2020 goals for curbing greenhouse gas emissions.
It was not clear if China, now the world's biggest carbon emitter, had backed the two-stage proposal in Singapore.
Chinese President Hu Jintao instead focused his remarks at the breakfast meeting on the need to establish a funding mechanism for rich nations to provide financial support to developing countries to fight climate change.
Britain's Energy and Climate Secretary Ed Miliband told the BBC the issue was tough but he was quite optimistic.
It is about saving the world ... If we can get a very clear set of commitments from the world's leaders in Copenhagen on how they're going to cut their emissions -- not just Europe, not just the United States but India and China and other countries -- then that will be a very major step forward, he said.
Despite the talk in Singapore of urgent action on climate change, a statement issued after the 21-member Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit dropped an earlier draft's reference to halving greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.
Environmental lobby group WWF was disappointed.
At APEC, there was far too much talk about delay, spokesperson Diane McFadzien said in a statement.
In Copenhagen, governments need to create a legally binding framework with an amended Kyoto Protocol and a new Copenhagen Protocol. Legally binding is the only thing that will do if we want to see real action to save the planet.
(Additional reporting by David Fogarty, Oleg Shchedrov, Yoo Choonsik and Lucy Hornby, Stefano Ambrogi in London, Emmanuel Jarry and James Mckenzie in Paris, Alister Doyle in Oslo and Pete Harrison in Brussels; Writing by John Chalmers; Editing by Jon Hemming)