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Leaders gather for crucial climate change summit
THE HAGUE, Netherlands -- Political leaders are gathering at a United Nations summit aimed at slowing global warming and reducing the risk of environmental disaster.
Delegates to the climate conference, which opened in The Hague last week, said the position of the United States, the world's biggest polluter, was crucial to the progress of what Green groups call the most important environmental negotiations ever held.
Preliminary talks last week became bogged down in technical negotiations with the European Union (EU) sharply criticising a U.S. plan to use existing forests and farms as "sinks" to suck up carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.
The U.S. opposes an EU call for limits to "flexible mechanisms," which would allow wealthy countries to buy credits to meet their greenhouse gas targets.
The Hague discussions continue a climate-change process that began in Kyoto, Japan, in 1997 with an international agreement that industrialised countries should cut pollution outputs by an average 5 percent by 2010.
Three years on, 185 countries and thousands of environmental and business representatives will grapple with how to implement those cuts.
Scientists say emissions of greenhouse gases, mostly by industrialised nations, risk raising temperatures by 1.5 to 6.0 degrees Celsius (2.7 to 10.8 Fahrenheit) and causing sea levels to rise by as much as 1 metre in the 21st century.
Those changes could have disastrous effects on weather, agriculture and the spread of disease.
Threats to agreement
Only 30 states have ratified the Kyoto Protocol domestically, and none of the major industrialised countries have legally bound themselves to the targets.
Some delegates said on Sunday that a potential threat to the success of the talks came from OPEC oil nations keen to promote demand for the strategic commodity on which they depend for export revenue.
"Not all countries are willing to reach an agreement. Some have been working since the start to wreck an agreement," Argentina's Raoul Estrada said.
Although the summit will continue until late on Friday, when negotiators are likely to work through the night to find a compromise, some participants expect signals of an agreement to emerge earlier as the political horse-trading heats up.
"By Wednesday things have to be clear," said Estrada, who chaired the Kyoto meeting.
"If we don't have something by the middle of the week we won't have anything."
Reuters contributed to this report.
'Make or break' talks on climate change
United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change
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