DURBAN (Reuters) - Developing states most at risk from global warming rebelled against a proposed deal at U.N. climate talks on Friday, forcing host South Africa to draw up new draft documents in a bid to prevent the talks collapsing.
South African Foreign Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane suspended the talks in Durban after a coalition of island nations, developing states and the European Union complained the current draft lacked ambition, sources said.
Delegates held overnight talks on a fresh draft and are expected to meet for a plenary session starting from 0800 GMT Saturday with many hopeful a deal could be reached that would bring on board the world's biggest emitters of the gases blamed for global warming.
"There was a strong appeal from developing countries, saying the commitments in the proposed texts were not enough, both under the Kyoto Protocol and for other countries," said Norway's Climate Change Minister Erik Solheim.
The European Union has been rallying support to its plan to set a 2015 target date for a new climate deal that would impose binding cuts on the world's biggest emitters of heat-trapping gases, a pact that would come into force up to five years later.
The crux of the dispute is how binding the legal wording in the final document will be. The initial draft spoke of a "legal framework," which critics said committed parties to nothing.
The new draft changed the language to "legal instrument," which implies a more binding commitment, and says a working group should draw up a cuts regime by 2015. It also turns up pressure on countries to act more quickly to come up with emission cut plans.
The changes should appeal to poor states, small island nations and the European Union but may be tough for major emitters, including the United States and India, to swallow, said Alden Meyer, director of strategy and policy at the Union of Concerned Scientists.
"One of the crunch issues that has been left out is the date by which the new agreement will enter into force, which could still be as late as 2020 and making it no better than the previous text on this issue," said Tim Gore, climate change policy advisor for Oxfam.
The delegates are also expected to approve text on a raft of other measures including one to protect forests and another to bring to life the Green Climate Fund, designed to help poor nations tackle global warming and nudge them towards a new global effort to fight climate change.
The EU strategy has been to forge a coalition of the willing designed to heap pressure on the world's top three carbon emitters -- China, the United States and India -- to sign up to binding cuts. None are bound by the Kyoto Protocol.
EU Climate Commissioner Connie Hedegaard said earlier that a "small number of states" had yet to sign up to the EU plan and that time was running out for a deal in Durban.
Washington says it will only pledge binding cuts if all major polluters make comparable commitments. China and India say it would be unfair to demand they make the same level of cuts as the developed world, which caused most of the pollution responsible for global warming.
Many envoys believe two weeks of climate talks in Durban will at best produce a weak political agreement, with states promising to start talks on a new regime of binding cuts in greenhouse gases.
"A crash is still a possibility. It is going to go on all night. That much is clear," said Gore of Oxfam.
U.N. reports released in the last month show time is running out to achieve change. They show a warming planet will amplify droughts and floods, increase crop failures and raise sea levels to the point where several island states are threatened with extinction.
The dragging talks frustrated delegates from small islands and African states, who joined a protest by green groups outside as they tried to enter the main negotiating room.
"You need to save us, the islands can't sink. We have a right to live, you can't decide our destiny. We will have to be saved," Maldives' climate negotiator Mohamed Aslam said.
Additional reporting by Andrew Allan, Agnieszka Flak and Stian Reklev; editing by Jon Boyle and Myra MacDonald