THE HAGUE, Netherlands -- A U.N. climate conference collapsed without an agreement Saturday, the conference chairman announced after a failed all-night negotiating session on how to cut the pollution that is warming the planet.
"We have not reached agreement," Dutch Environment Minister Jan Pronk said. "I am very disappointed."
Pronk's announcement came after an unsuccessful marathon session behind closed doors with delegation leaders representing 180 countries. When that failed, Pronk held a last-minute meeting in his office with government ministers to try to salvage the talks -- to no avail.
Pronk said he was not closing the conference but would resume it at a later stage.
"We cannot go home just by stating, by confessing, that we did not reach an agreement," he said.
"We should be aware that we have been watched by the outside world," he told the delegates in a closing plenary. "There were extremely high expectations of us."
Some lobbyists from environmental groups broke into tears as they watched Pronk speak.
The negotiators broke off talks nearly 12 hours after going into seclusion to try to nail down details on the extent to which countries may meet their targets for reductions of greenhouse gas emissions without actually burning less fossil fuel.
A key issue blocking agreement was that of "sinks" -- whether to let countries count the carbon absorbed by their forests against their greenhouse gas emissions. U.S. officials say nations should get credit for existing farmland and forests because they absorb carbon dioxide and offset some emissions. Opponents say such programs would reward certain countries for doing nothing.
"Governments have spent two weeks essentially arguing about how they can do as little as possible to reduce the threat of global climate change," said Tony Juniper, vice chairman of Friends of the Earth. The environmental group Greenpeace said the meeting "will be remembered as the moment when governments abandoned the promise of global cooperation to protect the planet Earth."
A U.S. official said an accord between U.S. negotiators and a delegation representing the 15-nation European Union had wrapped up an accord on the "sinks" issue early Saturday. But other European delegations rejected the accord, and the agreement went "into limbo," the official said on condition of anonymity.
European Environment Minister Dominique Voynet said the positions of the United States and the Europeans were "radically antagonistic," and even after lengthy negotiations, the stands were "a repetition in various forms of the original positions." She said the European Union would submit a proposal to break the deadlock within two months.
Undersecretary of State Frank Loy, the chief U.S. negotiator, pledged to continue later where the talks left off.
"An agreement on key issues was close at hand, and maybe can be pursued to completion," he said in a speech to the plenary. "Failure is not an option. The stakes are too high."
Nigerian delegate Sani Zangon Daura, speaking for the developing countries, said the talks broke down over arguments among the wealthier nations. "We are really disappointed by the non-agreement purely based on really selfishness and lack of political will in particular from the north," he said.
The U.S. official said the provisional agreement reached early in the morning included measures on enforcing reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, counting sinks to offset emissions targets, and on what portion of a country's target may be met by international emissions trading.
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