Developing countries don't trust wealthy nations' promises that they will help them meet the challenges of climate change, the U.N.'s top climate official said Monday, adding that means any new global warming deal must have legal force.
The legal status of an agreement and whether nations will be sanctioned for failing to meet their commitments are contentious issues in talks on controlling the world's emissions of carbon and other heat-raising greenhouse gases.
"We live in a world of broken promises," said Yvo de Boer, the U.N. climate chief, told The Associated Press. Developing countries are concerned "they will commit to targets and not deliver."
He spoke as negotiators resumed work Monday on a draft agreement for approval at a major U.N. conference next month in the Danish capital of Copenhagen.
The talks among some 180 countries focus on emissions targets by industrial nations and on actions the developing countries can take to slow the growth of their own emissions without impairing their development. Delegates also must determine how to raise and manage some $150 billion (euro100 billion) a year to help poor countries adapt to climate change.
With time running out and wide gaps between nations remaining, attention focused Monday on if United States can commit to a specific target to reduce emissions over the next decade and how much the U.S. will contribute to a global fund to help developing countries.
Scientists say poor countries will be hardest hit by climate change. They say coastal areas will be threatened by rising sea levels, countries will be hit by more severe storms as well as more frequent drought, and tropical diseases and warm weather pests will spread.
U.S. commitments have been tied up in legislation slowly making its way through Congress, which may not be completed before the Dec. 7-18 conference in Copenhagen.
"We expect the United States to be able to deliver on one of the major challenges of our century," said Danish Environment Minister Connie Hedegaard, who will chair the Copenhagen meeting.
Hedegaard noted that President Barack Obama will be receiving the Nobel Peace Prize in the neighboring country of Norway on Dec. 10 - just as the decisive climate conference is under way.
"It's very hard to imaging how the American president can receive the Nobel prize for his contributions to hope in the world ... and at the same time has sent an empty-handed delegation to Copenhagen," said the Danish minister.
The bills in Congress would commit the U.S. to reduce emissions of carbon and other greenhouse gases by 17 to 20 percent from 2005 levels.
A U.N. panel of scientists have said industrial countries need to reduce emissions 25 to 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2020 to keep the Earth from dangerously overheating. So far, a calculation of pledges - including a presumed U.S. commitment - would mean a reduction of 15 percent or less.
"There is room for improvement - and there has to be," de Boer said.
And the question of money to pay for all this is never far away. Thirty of the draft agreement's 180 pages deal with financing.
The European Union on Friday called for euro5 billion to euro7 billion ($7.5 billion to $10.3 billion) in climate change aid to poorer nations over the next three years, scaling up to euro100 billion, or nearly $150 billion a year, by 2020.
De Boer called the EU pledge a good step but said it lacked specifics.
"I don't think the EU put enough on the table," he said.
Under the EU plan, as much as half the money should come from governments, while the other half should derive from private investments and from the carbon market in the industrial countries.
Europe has had carbon trading since 2005, and the U.S. Congress is considering a similar cap-and-trade scheme.
Still, the EU did not say how much it would contribute to the climate fund, saying only it would pay its "fair share." It called on all countries except the poorest to throw money into the climate change aid pot.