Developing countries will need billions to curb carbon pollution and cope with its consequences, and where that money will come from has emerged as a major stumbling block as another round of UN climate talks winds down in Bonn.
The five-day negotiating session ends Friday, with many participants expressing frustration at the lack of progress only four months ahead of the Copenhagen climate conference slated to deliver a planet-saving global climate treaty.
The best that can be expected from the December meeting, say some, is an "interim agreement" that lays out the basic architecture of a post-Kyoto accord, with hard numbers to be filled over the course of 2010.
The provisions of the Kyoto Protocol run out in 2012.
Efforts this week to whittle down an unwieldy 200-page document into a draft treaty have been stymied by a deep rift between rich nations and poor.
Disagreement over how deeply wealthy economies must slash their greenhouse gas emissions by 2020, and whether commitments by developing nations should be binding, have helped deadlock the process.
The more than 180 nations engaged in talks cannot even agree on a procedure for drafting the text.
"There really isn't a very strong climate of confidence," said France's climate ambassador, Brice Lalonde.
But the most critical point of blockage today, say many participants, is money.
"The fact that there are no proposals for financing on the table is preventing progress," said Jose Romero, a negotiator from Switzerland. "This is the big issue."
The UN has estimated that, by 2020, the cost of mitigating and adapting to climate change will rise to 200 billion dollars and 100 billion dollars per year.
Top UN climate official Yvo de Boer has called for a first pledge in Copenhagen of 10 billion dollars, to help poor nations map out "solid strategies to limit the growth of their emissions."
But even that figure has caused wealthy nations -- coping with stalled economies and concerned about the money will be managed -- to balk.
It is not just the amount that matters, but the framework, de Boer told AFP as the negotiating session got underway.
"The thing that I find most worrying today is that there is little or no clarity on how financial resources are going to be mobilised to allow developing countries to engage," he said.
This view is widely echoed by delegates and observers in Bonn.
"At this stage, what's most critical is forward movement on the finance issue," said Elliot Diringer, vice president of the Pew Center on Global Climate Change, a Washington-based think tank with close ties to the Obama administration.
"Governments need greater clarity on the shape of any new financial arrangements before than can begin to put real numbers on the table."
A meeting of G20 leaders in Pittsburgh next month could prove critical in providing such a framework, he added.
With the UN process bogged down, several participants are quietly dialing down their expectations for Copenhagen, even if they remain optimistic in the long run.
"The general impression is that in Copenhagen we are not going to have the complete and perfect accord," Lalonde told AFP. "We are moving toward the idea that we may wind up with a political accord, one that will continue to evolve."
"The best likely outcome in Copenhagen may be an interim agreement nailing down the basic architecture," agreed Diringer.
But if the crafting of a global treaty spills into 2010, it should not necessarily be seen as a setback. "Far from a failure, that would actually be a huge step forward," he said.
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