COPENHAGEN -- Denmark's prime minister, the host of next month's U.N. climate change conference, has proposed pushing back the deadline for binding greenhouse gas emission targets until next year in hopes of salvaging a political agreement at the upcoming talks.

Speaking in Singapore at the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit yesterday, Lars Løkke Rasmussen proposed that next month's talks result in a political declaration on emission cuts and financing while leaving a legally binding treaty for later.

"I envisage a political text framing the agreement, say, five to eight pages," the Danish premier said, according to a transcript of his speech provided to E&E. "Not a political declaration with niceties, but precise language of a comprehensive political agreement covering all aspects of the Bali mandates: commitment of developed countries to reductions and of developing countries to actions; strong provisions on adaptation, finance and technology, including upfront finance for early action.

"Beneath that, we will have underlying annexes outlining the specific commitments of individual countries. These will be negotiated, and they will be subject to a transparent system of measurement, reporting and verification."

Rasmussen warned that this approach was more than just one of many possible options. "It may well be the only one," he said.

"If we focus on what we can agree, a strong, comprehensive and global agreement is within reach," Rasmussen said. "Given the time factor and the situation of individual countries, we must in the coming weeks focus on what is possible and not let ourselves be distracted by what is not possible."

About 40 environment ministers are meeting in Copenhagen today and tomorrow behind closed doors to try to hammer out the basis of a political deal to fight global warming for next month's conference.

The United States, China, India, the European Union and others are still arguing about who should cut carbon dioxide emissions by how much and who should pay for it. The United Nations says developed nations need to cut emissions by between 25 and 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2020 to avoid serious consequences of global warming.

India's environment minister, Jairam Ramesh, complained recently in a speech here that rich countries have only offered between 10 and 15 percent so far. A likely scenario may be to agree on a political declaration in Copenhagen next month and leave the binding details for a conference scheduled for Mexico in December 2010, Danish government officials said.

"I believe a Copenhagen agreement could be constructed to serve the dual purpose of providing for continued negotiations on a legal agreement and for immediate action," Rasmussen said in his speech. "The Copenhagen agreement should be political by nature, yet precise on specific commitments and binding on countries committing to reach certain targets and to undertake certain actions or provide agreed finance."

He added that an agreement should be global but flexible enough to accommodate countries different national circumstances. It should also mandate continued legal negotiations and set a deadline for their conclusion.

"The overall aim will be to conclude a binding agreement that will set the path to limit global warming to a maximum of 2 degrees Celsius as recommended by science," Rasmussen said.

Reprinted from Greenwire with permission from Environment & Energy Publishing, LLC., 202-628-6500