But a thicket of obstacles still stands between the negotiators and the goal as environment ministers talked through the night Thursday.
Countries cannot agree on extending the Kyoto Protocol past the the close of its first commitment period at the end of 2012.
The United States, which never ratified the protocol, will not approve any treaty unless major economies such as China and India are also covered.
China has resisted any legally-binding treaty but appears ready to allow verification of its greenhouse gas emissions.
In Cancun from left: Alexander Bedritsky and Oleg Shamanov of Russia, confer with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. (Photo courtesy Earth Negotiations Bulletin)
Russia, which is legally bound by the Kyoto Protocol, now opposes its extension. "Russia will not participate in the second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol," Russia's climate change negotiator Alexander Bedritsky, a former president of the World Meteorological Organization, told Cancun delegates Thursday.
Japan, which is now covered by the protocol, said last week it will not agree to a second commitment period unless the United States and China sign on to the treaty. Japanese Foreign Ministry envoy Akira Yamada is insisting on a "single, legally binding agreement."
Canada, also covered by the protocol, abandoned its commitment years ago.
As governments abandon the Kyoto Protocol, negotiators in Cancun have focused on less controversial goals - protection for carbon-absorbant forests and their indigenous inhabitants, a fund to help developing countries cope with climate impacts, and clean-energy technology sharing.
But developing countries are clinging to the protocol as their only insurance against the devastating impacts of global warming - melting glaciers, drought, floods, sea level rise, disease migration and species extinctions.
Bolivian President Evo Morales (Photo courtesy ENB)
In a fiery 20 minute speech to delegates Thursday, Bolivian President Evo Morales stressed the need to extend the Kyoto Protocol to ensure protection for Mother Earth.
"Our aim here is to look at how to cool down planet Earth. Our planet has a high temperature, it is wounded, and we are witnessing the convulsions of planet Earth," said Morales. "We have an enormous responsibility toward life and humanity."
"If, from here, we send the Kyoto Protocol to the rubbish bin we are responsible for ecocide and genocide because we will be sending many people to their deaths," Morales warned.
Important decisions are being taken in small groups in Cancun. In one session Thursday, Bolivia proposed legally-binding consequences for non-compliance with the Kyoto Protocol. Canada, which is not in compliance, opposed the idea, and Bolivia withdrew it.
Environment ministers at Cancun, from left: Indonesia's Gusti Muhammad Hatta, Sweden's Andreas Carlgren, India's Jamir Ramesh and the UK's Chris Huhne. (Photo courtesy ENB)
The BASIC nations including China, Brazil, India and South Africa said that they would not support a deal until a second commitment period for the Kyoto Protocol is agreed, a fast-track climate change fund is established and a basic agreement is reached on technology transfer.
One of the most contentious issues is measurement, reporting and verification / international consultation and analysis (MRV/ICA).
India is proposing that all countries contributing more than one percent of global greenhouse gases should report their status and actions to reduce emissions to the United Nations every three years. Others can report their actions every six years.
Actions of developing countries would be voluntary and failure to meet any domestic target would carry no consequences, the proposal says.
The European Union and a group of small island Pacific states has jointly proposed a new treaty that would commit both developing and developed nations to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions.
"Although the European Union was ready to commit to an international, legally binding agreement already in Copenhagen - and of course still is - we know that here in Cancun we cannot get everything done," European Commissioner for Climate Action Connie Hedegaard of Denmark told delegates in Cancun.
"But it is absolutely imperative that we deliver something, something substantial. Something leading to immediate action. Something that paves the way towards the international agreement that the world needs to tackle climate change effectively. To come out of Cancun with nothing is simply not an option," said Hedegaard.
Hedegaard presided over the Copenhagen conference last year, where climate negotiators failed to agree on a binding treaty and produced instead a voluntary document, the Copenhagen Accord, that during this year has attracted the emissions reduction pledges of many countries - rich and poor.
The United States supports the Copenhagen Accord, which President Barack Obama helped to draft. Chief U.S. climate negotiator Todd Stern told delegates in Cancun that his country supports,"a balanced package of decisions that builds on the understandings our leaders reached in Copenhagen."
Todd Stern, US Special Envoy for Climate Change, center, with with Sebastian Oberthur, Germany, and Artur Runge-Metzger, European Union (Photo courtesy ENB)
The Copenhagen Accord "did not find universal acceptance," said Stern, "but it provided a significant step forward in our work - including for the first time international agreement by all the world's major economies to implement their mitigation actions and targets in an internationally transparent manner, and that also paved the way for new institutions and support for climate finance, technology, adaptation, and REDD."
REDD+, the UN proposal on Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation, is under negotiation at Cancun. There is widespread agreement on the basic core elements of the deal, which would compensate forested countries to leave their forests standing to absorb carbon dioxide, but the Kyoto Protocol divide puts REDD+ in jeopardy.
Chris Huhne, UK Energy and Climate Change Secretary, warned of a "a car crash of a summit" in his speech to Cancun delegates.
"Let me be clear," said Huhne, "a car crash of a summit is in no one's interest."
"The answer has to be compromise. We cannot do everything here. But we can make progress on mitigation, deforestation, adaptation, finance, reporting and more. And restore momentum to the global process. Concrete steps to the treaty we want," said Huhne.
"We believe that the future of the Kyoto Protocol is vital to the success of this process. But Kyoto alone is not enough to protect us from a temperature rise of more than two degrees. Along with the EU, we want a second commitment period as part of a wider outcome engaging all major economies, and as long as concerns around environmental integrity are met," Huhne said.
"I want high ambition. I want a legally binding global deal to keep global temperature increase at 2 degrees or less," Huhne declared.
"We must be guided by the science, and the science has become more worrying, not less," he said. "As the UNEP report on the emissions gap makes clear, together we are not yet even promising enough, let alone doing it."
However, as negotiators argue, there is also a will to reach agreement in Cancun.
"I believe that an ambitious, broad and balanced package of decisions is within reach. That does not mean that we already have it in our grasp," said Patricia Espinosa, Mexican foreign minister and conference president.
And while only about 20 heads of state and government appeared in Cancun, elsewhere they are making commitments to climate-friendly actions.
In Brussels today, leaders of the EU and India today voiced their "firm resolve to continue working for an ambitious, comprehensive and balanced post-2012 agreement as soon as possible based on the principles of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change."
Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, EU Council Presdent Herman Van Rompuy, and European Commission President Jose Barroso pledged to work together on enhancing energy security, energy efficiency and promoting the development of renewable energy in the world's second most populous country.
Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2010. All rights reserved.