The EU came to Buenos Aires wanting to narrow differences with the US ? the main source of heat-trapping gases ? and the large developing economies excluded from Kyoto like China and India.
But it soon became clear that Washington was sticking to its 2001 decision to bow out of Kyoto for fear of the impact that mandatory emissions curbs would have on economic growth. Moreover, the delegation reiterated that it would be "premature" to negotiate for after 2012.
Bush administration envoys to the conference, allied with some developing countries, including oil producers, blocked any more ambitious efforts to cap fossil-fuel emissions after reductions mandated by the Kyoto Protocol expire.
The US sought to put the focus in Buenos Aires not on emissions reductions, but on long-range US programmes to develop cleaner-burning energy technologies. That's too little, too late, environmentalists say.
??The Bush administration came to Buenos Aires with a clear agenda to stop any discussions about future action on climate change,'' Jennifer Morgan, a spokeswoman for the environmental coalition Climate Action Network, said. ??I still don't think we're ready to put on mandatory limitations (on emissions),''
Republican Sen. Craig Thomas of Wyoming, a member of the US delegation, said in the session's final days. ??There's resistance in terms of impact on the economy.''
Yesterday's agreement was not a ??foothold,'' said veteran climate negotiator Michael Zammit Cutajar, a Maltese diplomat. ??It's a finger-hold, like hanging on by your nails.''
What the annual climate conference approved was a ??seminar'' next May, as proposed by the EU, but one at which governments can only informally raise a range of issues, including next steps on control of carbon-dioxide and other emissions blamed for warming.
The Argentine hosts and the EU found a compromise in the form of a seminar for 2005 for an informal exchange of information rather than talks on a post-Kyoto regime. Some negotiators said, however, that the seminar will surely touch on the future, and that would be positive for a UN effort that languished in recent years.
"To agree to participate in a process of exchanging information is a good start," said Argentine head delegate Raúl Estrada Oyuela.
?OPEC plays bigger role' While the US remained intransigent on future talks, the oil-producing nations and Saudi Arabia in particular also thwarted the EU agenda.
"It would be a big mistake to put this all down to the US. Not for the first time, the oil-producing countries play a far bigger role than anyone ever gives them credit for," said British Environment Secretary Margaret Beckett.
Negotiators had to overcome OPEC resistance to push through a partial climate aid package for developing countries, the most hurt by the rise in world temperatures linked to man-made emissions like carbon dioxide.
The developing nations also resisted the EU's agenda, aware that many Europeans believe the fast-growing economies should stop their dirty practices, like coal-intensive industry or burning forests to make way for farming.
"We are not prepared to discuss reductions in emissions," said Brazilian head delegate Everton Vieira Vargas.
The next big moves on climate change may come from British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who has made the issue a cornerstone of his country's G8 presidency in 2005. Blair will be looking to soften up US President George W. Bush on climate and also engage the big developing economies.
??The only thing we want to discuss is future options, and we will,'' said the Netherlands' Van Geel, a key EU negotiator.
The US delegates avoided any commitment to formally negotiate mandatory reductions in emissions, the idea Bush rejected in 2001 when he renounced Kyoto. Bush said Kyoto would harm the US economy and complained that China, India and other poorer but industrializing nations were exempt from the 1997 pact's short-term goals.
Even this US-European compromise, brought to the open floor for routine adoption at the end of the two-week conference, was stalled for hours Saturday morning by India, China and others ? as the sun rose over Buenos Aires and convention-hall workers began dismantling temporary office walls.
With Argentina's mediation, new language was inserted on the floor saying the seminar ??does not open any negotiation leading to new commitments.''
If the Europeans or others at next year's seminar launch discussions about a future treaty framework, US diplomats will likely ignore them. ??We think it's premature,'' the US delegation head, Under-Secretary of State Paula Dobriansky, said last week.
Carbon dioxide, bio-product of automobile engines, power plants and other fossil fuel-burning industries, traps heat that otherwise would escape to the atmosphere.
A broad scientific consensus, endorsed by a UN-sponsored network of climatologists, holds that most of the past century's global temperature rise was probably caused by the accumulation of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.
Latest figures show that the US accounted for 21 percent of the world's emissions of carbon dioxide, methane and the handful of other problem gases, compared with 14 percent for the 25-nation EU. On a per-capita basis, Europeans produce only half the amount of greenhouse gases the US do. (BAH)