Energy and environment ministers from around the world were locked in hard bargaining yesterday, racing against a deadline set by the chairman of talks on bringing a 1997 anti-global warming treaty into force.
The Moroccan Environment Minister, Mr Mohamed El Yazghi, said the conference would finish its work today. "It's desirable that it should end in success," he said.
A total of 164 countries have gathered in Marrakesh for two weeks of UN-sponsored talks to agree on the detailed rulebook that will govern the working of the so-called Kyoto Protocol.
Signed in Japan four years ago, it is the first international treaty to set binding limits on countries' emissions of greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide, blamed for heating up the Earth and wreaking havoc on the environment.
The treaty, which requires industrialised countries to cut emissions by an average of five per cent by 2012, survived the withdrawal of the world's biggest emitter, the United States, in March, but has yet to enter into force as the remaining countries squabble over the legal fine print. Despite an apparent breakthrough earlier in the week on ensuring countries meet their pollution reduction targets under the Kyoto Protocol, the EU's chief at the talks said "the negotiations on the difficult points haven't yet begun".
Mr Olivier Deleuze, who is also Belgium's Energy Minister, said everything was left to play for before the end of the meeting. "I am not optimistic. I am not pessimistic. I am here to negotiate. I am here to be tough. The Marrakesh summit is one more in a series of tough negotiations," he said.
One of the thorniest issues - agreeing on what sanctions to impose on a country failing to make required pollution cuts - was settled in principle by government officials on Tuesday.
But nothing will be legally agreed until a formal sitting of all parties planned for today. And delegates said the tentative agreement on compliance could fall apart because of linkages with other issues yet to be solved.
One of these is Russia's demand for an increase in the amount of emissions reductions it is allowed to offset by counting the carbon stored in its trees and farmlands, a figure set out in a deal made in Bonn in July. The EU has repeatedly said it will not renegotiate the Bonn agreement as it could open a "Pandora's box" of demands for renegotiation by other countries.