UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon urged governments to rise to the global-warming challenge, and Pacific islanders pleaded for haste in drafting a new pact to slow climate change before their homes are swallowed by the rising ocean.
The appeals on Tuesday came as a two-week UN climate conference moved into its final days, with delegates seeking to resolve a host of arguments barring agreements to help poor countries cope with climate change and protect the world's last native forests.
With divisions running deep, the 193-nation conclave set aside the seemingly intractable question of how much countries should reduce emissions of greenhouse gases from industry, transportation and agriculture, and focused instead on creating tools for future work.
The meeting comes one year after the disappointing climate summit in Copenhagen, and the frustration was apparent.
"I am deeply concerned that our efforts so far have been insufficient," Ban said, opening the high-level meeting of presidents, prime ministers and environment ministers. "We are still not rising to the challenge."
Ban said he was encouraged that governments had nearly met their pledges to raise $30 billion in emergency climate funds for poor countries up to 2012, but said that didn't go far enough. "We need to make progress on the actual delivery of funds, along with a transparent and robust accountability system," he told reporters.
Nations also had to devise ways to fulfill last year's promise made in the Danish capital to raise $100 billion a year by 2020 to fight climate change, he said.
The world's most vulnerable nations warned the 15,000 conference participants that their situation was dire and immediate. "The gravity of the crisis has escaped us. It has become lost in a fog of scientific, economic, and technical jargon," said Marcus Stephen, president of the island of Nauru, which has fewer than 10,000 inhabitants.
Stephen chided delegates for allowing dogmatic positions to delay the years-long negotiations. "Our governments are not deadlocked because of ideological divisions," he said of his fellow Pacific nations.
"The oceans that once sustained us now threaten to swallow us, said President Johnson Toribiong of Palau. "The world must hear our cry for collective action to save us ... and our planet Earth." Even the modest ambitions the conference set for itself were proving stubborn to realize.
The most difficult was the future of the Kyoto Protocol, a 1997 pact mandating emission reductions for industrial countries that critics say is too narrow and unfair since it excludes rapidly emerging economies like China and India.
Kyoto set reduction targets for wealthy nations that expire in two years. Developing countries insist that the countries falling under Kyoto accept new post-2012 targets, and that a mechanism be created to oblige the United States, which rejected Kyoto, to commit itself to reduce emissions.
China and other developing countries have pledged to limit the growth of their emissions, and negotiators were struggling to find ways to verify that all sides were not cheating on their commitments.
The conference also is seeking to create a green fund, financed by richer nations, to support poorer nations in converting to cleaner energy sources and in adapting to a shifting climate. Other agreements would give developing countries access to patented green technology, and compensate nations like Brazil and Indonesia for halting the destruction of forests that soak up carbon from the atmosphere.
In his speech to the conference, Ban said the issue of climate change was linked to poverty, food security, energy and water supplies, and that the world was looking to Cancun to deliver. "We do not need final agreement on all issues, but we do need progress on all fronts," Ban said.