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Late hitch hits climate deal hopes

Overrunning UN climate talks have been thrown into disarray after Europe said a last minute change to the roadmap for a new deal on global warming was "unacceptable".

European ministers had been racing against the clock to secure the strong climate deal they have been seeking from the latest round of talks in Durban, South Africa, which were due to finish on Friday night.

The EU wants the talks to agree a mandate to negotiate a new legally binding treaty on global warming by 2015, covering all major emitters, in return for the bloc signing up to a second period of emissions cuts under the existing Kyoto climate deal.

Europe also wants ambitious action to tackle emissions in the next decade, to address the gap between the voluntary pledges countries have made to cut greenhouse gases and what is needed by 2020 to keep global temperature rises to no more than 2C and avoid "dangerous" climate change.

Earlier there had been a sense that the talks, although slow, were edging towards the deal for which Europe, backed by a coalition of some of the poorest and most vulnerable countries, was seeking.

But the options for the new legal deal were watered down to add a "legal outcome" to the existing possibilities of a "protocol or another legal instrument" - the language which was used in the mandate for negotiating the Kyoto Protocol.

UK Climate Change Secretary Chris Huhne said legal outcome could mean "absolutely anything and nothing," warning it was unacceptable to the EU, to small island states, the poorest countries and to the vast majority of countries at the talks.

The move comes after the US conceded that it would accept the language of a legal instrument in the roadmap. But other major emitters China and India had not supported it, and there were suggestions in the corridors of the conference hall that one of them was responsible for the last minute addition.

Mr Huhne continued to insist that a deal could be done in Durban but as the talks stretched into a second unscheduled night, uncertainty reigned at the conference.

He said: "We are still at a point where I think we can get a very good deal out of this conference. It's very clear that the vast majority of the participants in the conference are in favour of a good, balanced package which would give us a roadmap to a single over-arching protocol or legal instrument negotiated by 2015, entering into force by 2020."

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