The Doha round of climate talks came under a cloud of uncertainty on Saturday as serious differences plagued the parties, with the US-led rich nations refusing to relent to strong demands from poorer countries that they take greater responsibility to save the planet from the catastrophe of global warming.
At the centre of the dispute were issues like the poor countries' demand for finance for mitigation and adaptation efforts as well as climate-induced loss and damage.
The texts on three major tracks under negotiation were repeatedly discussed and debated over the last few days but the talks took a negative course last night when the developed countries insisted that the long-term cooperative action track – the LCA as it is called – close in Doha without the developing countries' concerns aptly addressed.
After several rounds of drafting and proposing amendments, rich and poor nations could not agree over the state of the LCA, a track that was scheduled to close in Doha.
The US and EU were apparently insisting on closing the track, but developing countries, including India and China, have argued that core issues under the negotiating track, including finance and technology transfer, have not been adequately addressed.
India and other developing countries have insisted that for any successful closure of the LCA track, all the unaddressed issues under it need to find ways to be adopted into other mechanisms of the UN framework.
"India has always called for a comprehensive package and that no issues should fall off the table under the LCA," said an Indian negotiator yesterday.
There was a sense in the past few days that the developed countries wanted to anyhow close the LCA track while junking the issues that were critical to poorer countries.
As negotiators talked all night with no signs of progress, it was abruptly conveyed at 4 am that a "presentation of outcomes and next steps towards closure" would be made at 7.30am (local time), a meeting that was earlier expected to take place last night.
The sudden announcement made it clear that negotiations were stuck.
At the stock taking meeting early in the morning that came after a night of hectic discussions, Conference of the Parties (COP) Chairman Abdullah bin Hamad Al-Attiyah urged negotiators to consider a set of compromise agreements, asking them to convene again after 90 minutes.
A new set of documents was set forth, including some that were a source of contention between the parties, setting course for a rocky plenary where fireworks were expected to fly.
"I believe that this is a package that we can all live with and which is also good for our planet and future generations," Al-Attiyah said.
The ministers and top delegates were meeting to discuss the compromise agreements.
People privy to the details suggested the US had sought the removal from the text of several issues of concern to the developing world, angering the BASIC group of Brazil, South Africa, India and China, and practically making it impossible for any agreement on the issue.
The talks were supposed to end on Friday but stretched overnight, well into the early hours of the day.
Another sticking point in this year's climate talks has been absence of any financial commitments from the rich nations to help poor countries deal with the impact of climate change.
The US and other developed countries have not been keen to address the issue of loss and damage at the talks, with the poor countries, which are most at risk, demanding that an international mechanism be established to provide for the losses they suffer because of climate change – that has been largely brought about by the actions of the West since the industrial revolution.
This, however, is anathema to the US as an acceptance of the loss and damage clause will not only mean that it had admitted to the historic responsibility but would also pave ways for damage claims.
Seeking an end to the days of dispute, Al-Attiyah said that time had come "for the final push" and "we have to close this in the next couple of hours."
"This is the time to assess what we have in our hands. I have put these documents before you because, in my judgement, they make a balanced package. We should not make the search for the better the enemy of the good," he said.
He urged the parties to agree to a compromise as a deal is always better than no deal.
"If we take them as a whole, they should make us all equally happy or unhappy. But can any of us honestly say we would be happier with no package, with no outcome from Doha?"
He said the final documents that have been put on the table may not solve all issues, but have historic elements like a second commitment period under the Kyoto Protocol, results from the AWG-LCA, completing the Agreed Outcome of the Bali Action Plan and qualitative but bold understanding on finance, especially for the medium term, leading to 2020 and the 100 billion a year target.
"I see this package as a gateway to the future, the Doha Climate Gateway," Al-Attiyah said.