BALI, Indonesia (AP) _ The U.S. and Europe headed toward a compromise Friday at the U.N. climate conference, breaking a deadlock over how ambitious the goal should be in negotiating future cutbacks in global warming gases, officials said.
Delegates for days had sparred over the wording of the conference's main document, particularly the European Union's suggestion of a goal of reducing emissions by between 25 percent and 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2020.
Trying to break the deadlock, Indonesian Environment Minister Rachmat Witoelar _ the conference president _ proposed revised language early Friday dropping those mid-range numbers but still reaffirming that emissions should be reduced at least by half by 2050.
U.N. climate chief Yvo de Boer said a deal was certain. ``Absolutely. The only question is how long is it going to take to get, how long we will have to stay up to wait for it,'' he said.
He told reporters the mid-range 25 percent to 40 percent was implicit _ ``an inevitable stop on that road'' _ in the 50 percent goal by 2050.
Witoelar's proposal gave the two sides room to work out the long-expected compromise, producing a relatively vague mandate for two years of negotiations.
``We are sure we are able to reach an agreement,'' said German Environmental Minister Sigmar Gabriel. ``All parties are ambitious to tackle climate change and to have success and the development of the international climate policy.''
The annual assembly's main goal was to launch negotiations for a regime of deeper emissions reductions to succeed the Kyoto Protocol, which requires 37 industrial nations to cut output of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases by 5 percent below 1990 levels by 2012.
The United States is the only major industrial nation to reject Kyoto. The Bush administration instead favors a voluntary approach _ each country deciding how it can contribute _ over internationally negotiated and legally binding commitments.
For years, the rest of the world has sought to bring the Americans into the framework of international mandates. At this point, however, many seem resigned to waiting for a change in White House leadership after the 2008 U.S. election.
In a series of landmark reports this year, the U.N.'s network of climate scientists warned of severe consequences _ from rising seas, droughts, severe weather, species extinction and other effects _ without sharp cutbacks in emissions of the industrial, transportation and agricultural gases blamed for warming.
To avoid the worst, emissions should be reduced by 25 percent to 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2020, the Nobel Peace Prize-winning panel said.
The Kyoto Protocol nations have accepted that goal, and the numbers were written into early versions of the Bali conference's final document _ not as a binding target, but as a suggestion in the preamble. The text also called for ``comparability of efforts'' _ that is, U.S. cuts comparable to those of other industrial nations.
The U.S. delegation immediately opposed any inclusion of such numbers, complaining they would tend to ``drive the negotiations in one direction,'' as U.S. negotiator Harlan Watson put it.
In a countermove, the Americans early Friday had submitted amendments that would introduce the idea of voluntary cutback programs.
Environmentalists accused the U.S. of trying to wreck future talks.
``The United States in particular is behaving like passengers in first class in a jumbo jet, thinking a catastrophe in economy class won't affect them,'' said Tony Juniper, a spokesman for a coalition of environmentalists here. ``If we go down, we go down together, and the United States needs to realize that very quickly.''
The European Union had threatened to withdraw from separate U.S.-led climate talks if Bali did not endorse the numbers.
President Bush started those talks at the White in September, seeking pledges from 16 other nations to curtail greenhouse gases according to their own formula. The 16 countries are responsible for 80 percent of global emissions.
On Friday morning, Gabriel said the Americans were being constructive on some issues, but Russia was now arguing against the target range. Russia, Japan and Canada have often sided with Washington at these talks.
The draft final document also calls for developing countries to take new steps toward restraining growth in their emissions. The exemption of fast-growing economies like China and India from the Kyoto pact was a major U.S. complaint.