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UN boss: Climate deal is unlikely

An all-encompassing climate deal "may be beyond our reach for now," UN leader Ban Ki-moon has admitted.

He spoke after China and India delivered a setback to European plans to negotiate a new treaty that would bind all parties to their pledges on greenhouse gas emissions.

The European "road map" toward a new accord that would take effect after 2020 is a centrepiece of negotiations among 194 countries at the UN climate conference in the South African city of Durban. It has been presented as a condition for Europe to renew and expand its emissions reduction targets under the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, which expires next year.

"We must be realistic about expectations for a breakthrough in Durban," said UN Secretary-General Mr Ban as he opened the final ministerial stage of the two-week conference. "The ultimate goal for a comprehensive and binding climate change agreement may be beyond our reach for now."

Political differences, the worldwide financial crisis and a divergence of priorities among rich and poor countries are barriers to an agreement on a future negotiating path, Mr Ban said. But he urged nations to resolve lesser issues.

"We must keep up the momentum," he said. "It would be difficult to overstate the gravity of this moment. Without exaggeration, we can say the future of our planet is at stake."

As the conference moved into high gear, EU and US officials said that China made it clear in private meetings that it will not accept international limits on its carbon emissions in the future.

China has publicly stated it is willing to embark on negotiations on a legally binding post-2020 deal, but it has never explicitly stated that it would accept binding restrictions for itself.

China maintains that it is still a developing country with millions of impoverished people, despite its huge cash reserves. It said it was prepared to talk about the next phase of fighting climate change, but not to declare in advance that the objective is a legally binding treaty.

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