BEIJING (Reuters) - China's top climate negotiator said on Saturday although progress had been made in negotiations for a new accord to combat global warming, there was still some distance to go before a binding deal could be secured.
At a conference of ministers and environmental organizations in Beijing, Xie Zhenhua, also vice-chairman of China's National Development and Reform Commission, said all sides needed to "strengthen trust" and "deepen cooperation" in order to achieve positive results at the next global climate change meeting in Cancun, Mexico at the end of this year.
"Climate change negotiations have already made gradual progress, but there is still a relatively long way to go to reach a legally binding agreement," Xie said.
He said many developed countries had already committed to reducing emissions after last year's United Nations summit in the Danish capital of Copenhagen but the key issue was still "converting political will into concrete action."
Negotiators from 194 nations will gather in Cancun at the end of the year to try to build on the Copenhagen accord signed last December with the ultimate aim still a legally-binding treaty that will set the tempo for global CO2 cuts over the next decade.
The main stumbling block has remained the issue of "common but differentiated responsibilities," a principle enshrined in the U.N.'s Kyoto Protocol to recognize the fact that industrialized countries have been responsible for the bulk of the greenhouse emissions blamed for rising global temperatures.
Developing nations have not been obliged to set binding emission targets under the Kyoto Protocol, and critics -- particularly in the United States -- claim it gives countries like China a free ride and competitive advantage in world trade.
The first phase of Kyoto is set to expire at the end of 2012, and many have expressed doubt about the prospects of a new deal, especially after the efforts to secure a full and binding agreement at Copenhagen ended in failure.
Ministers at the conference said lessons needed to be learned from Copenhagen before a new international accord could be reached by the end of next year, and the key issue was toning down expectations.
"What we are looking for is not a repetition of the same old mistake of putting everything together and expecting a full and comprehensive negotiated result, but actually something that is the only way you can proceed in these negotiations -- which is by incremental progress," said Tim Groser, New Zealand's minister in charge of climate change talks.
Michael Church, environment minister of Grenada, which represents the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS), an association of nations vulnerable to rising sea levels, hurricanes and prolonged drought, also called for a more pragmatic approach -- but he suggested there was now too much pessimism as a result of last year's Copenhagen summit.
"What we need to do is to set ourselves some realistic goals and work toward satisfying those goals," he said on the sidelines of the conference. "Cancun is not the end of the world because already we have started talking about continuing negotiations the following year."
"In some quarters, you get the sentiment being expressed that there will be no deal -- it is like reaching a conclusion before you've started."
Groser said a more low-key approach to the negotiations was already yielding results.
"We now have a more politically mature atmosphere, and that is more likely to lead to progress than the razzle-dazzle, showbiz approach (of Copenhagen)," he said.
"Surrounding the delegates with film stars and 40,000 protesters was not conducive to progress."
Smaller nations like Grenada said the Copenhagen talks were scuppered when their bigger counterparts tried to "hijack the whole process" by imposing their own deal, but Church said attitudes had now changed noticeably, and the old conflict between developed and developing nations had eased.
"I have just come from the Petersburg dialogue (in Bonn, Germany) and I believe we have all learnt something from Copenhagen. I think if there is one positive thing that came out of Copenhagen it is emphasizing the need for trust.
"I sensed a different spirit -- a greater willingness to compromise," he said.
(Editing by James Jukwey)