Europe is still pushing for a strong deal on global warming as the latest international climate talks overrun, but time is running out to secure a "credible" agreement, UK ministers warned today.
The UN talks in Durban, South Africa, were due to finish last night, but in a final flurry of diplomatic activity ministers worked through the night in a bid to secure a deal.
The EU wants to see the talks agree a mandate to negotiate, by 2015, a new legally binding treaty on tackling global warming, covering all major economies, in return for the bloc signing up to a second period of emissions cuts under the existing Kyoto climate deal.
Europe also wants action in the next decade to close the gap between the voluntary pledges already made by countries to cut their greenhouse gases and the reductions needed by 2020 to prevent global temperature rises of no more than 2C and avoid "dangerous" climate change.
The EU says it will not sign up to a second phase of the Kyoto Protocol, which was never ratified by the US and does not cover big polluters such as China, without action from other countries as it accounts for just 15% of global greenhouse gases.
As talks continued, UK Climate Change Secretary Chris Huhne said the US had now explicitly accepted the notion of the future treaty as a "protocol or another legal instrument" - the same language as was used in the mandate to negotiate Kyoto.
But other major emitters of greenhouse gases, China and India, had not openly backed it, he said.
And some big economies outside the "high-ambition coalition" of the EU and some of the poorest and most vulnerable nations are not keen to see the new deal come into force before 2020.
Mr Huhne said Europe could accept that - but only if there was an "ambitious plan" to tackle greenhouse gases in the next decade before the new deal came into force in order to address the emissions gap.
"The key point is you can't sit twiddling your thumbs for a decade waiting for things to enter into force," he warned.
He added: "I think it's very simple. The underlying principle is credibility - how credible are our international efforts to actually deal with this problem?
"Everything else has to be measured against that very clear criteria."
While Mr Huhne said the UK was committed to going on for as long as it took to get a successful outcome, they were running out of time as other countries may have to start leaving the talks amid no signs of an imminent conclusion.
Climate change minister Greg Barker, who is also attending the talks in Durban, said that the talks could still put countries on track to agree a legally binding worldwide agreement by 2015.
"That is definitely worth playing for. While we're into extra time, we're absolutely all hands on deck pushing for an ambitious outcome," he said.
Keith Allott, head of climate change at WWF-UK, said: "The negotiations are now right up against the clock.
"As things stand now, the text is very weak, and offers no credible process to crank up efforts to cut emissions.
"In these last few hours, progressive players must fight to raise ambition - but based on current texts, we would be heading for disastrous levels of warming of 4C." PA