Negotiations over an outcome text to frame expectations at next week's sustainable development conference in Rio de Janeiro were tense yesterday, with disputes not resolved on international technology transfer and finance for green economies in the developing world, among a host of other issues.

Sources on the ground in Rio, where pre-conference talks are ongoing, said the mood surrounding the negotiations is pessimistic about the likelihood that a final outcome document will be agreed to by the end of today, when the "prepcom" meetings are supposed to produce an agenda.

The agenda has been in the works for months, but with U.N. member nations and interest groups having failed to ratify the sprawling document in New York, parties had to schedule rushed meetings this week in an attempt to set the stage for "deliverables" from the conference, which officially starts Wednesday.

Meena Raman, a negotiation expert at nonprofit development group Third World Network, said in an email from Rio that nearly two-thirds of the now 80-page draft is still "mired in disagreements."

"No one seriously believes the official preparatory process will resolve the key contested issues, let alone complete the draft," she said.

The outcome document started several months ago as a 19-page document only to fluctuate between 100 and 200 pages more recently. Ideas have ranged from bold proposals such as establishing a World Environment Organization and ending fossil fuel subsidies to less ambitious ideas like starting discussions on a set of sustainable development goals.

'A 10-ring circus'
Even those who expressed more optimism acknowledged that the talks were not going as smoothly as some would like. Susan Lieberman, director of international policy at Pew Environment Group, said she is hoping for a breakthrough on ocean issues specifically, but she added that progress has been hard to track.

"It is not a three-ring circus," she said during a news briefing from Rio. "It is a 10-ring circus."

If the concerns prove correct and a further postponement of the outcome text develops, that means the Brazilian government will take charge of the talks starting tomorrow, when a series of "dialogue days" is planned in Rio on 10 key issues through Tuesday.

Raman said representatives from interest groups were curious to see how Brazil, as host of the summit, would conduct the consultations. Nongovernmental organizations are hoping to be kept in the loop, but "so far, there has been little information" from Brazil about how the talks would proceed, Raman said.

"In fact, there is still no official word on whether or when the prepcom process will end and if the Brazil-led consultations will take over," she said.

Lieberman said NGOs could be "further marginalized next week," but she believes the Brazilians are up to the task in any event.

"I am confident that Brazil will be able to guide the discussions effectively as soon as they take over," she said.

U.N. officials were being tight-lipped about what would happen if no agreement emerges by the end of today. A senior U.N. official close to the logistics of the talks said it would be "very difficult" to say how the talks will proceed with Brazil in charge or what product might result.

U.S. and E.U. want technology transfer deleted
Soon after the delegates started meeting this week, it became clear that the subject of technology transfer among nations was stuck, sources said.

The United States and European Union have insisted on removing any mention of the word "transfer" from the outcome document, according to Raman, who said the United States in particular has been insistent that the concept "technology transfer" doesn't belong in a sustainable development conversation.

The U.S. delegation "also wanted removal of all references to intellectual property rights," Raman said.

The subject is important to the Group of 77 developing nations, which regard technology transfer from more advanced countries as key to improving their green economies and not having to rely on older technologies, many of them fired by fossil fuels.

But the United States, Canada and Japan were said to be adamantly opposed to any international technology mechanism. The U.S. delegation apparently believes Rio+20 is not the right forum for the subject and wants to delay further discussion until "fresh thinking" develops, Raman said.

Also in dispute is how much money would be made available by wealthy nations as part of a sustainable development fund.

U.S. and Russia oppose fisheries pact
In fisheries and oceans, there appears to be more opportunity for agreement. Lisa Speer, director of the oceans program at the Natural Resources Defense Council, said a biodiversity agreement to protect marine life in the high seas beyond national jurisdiction is in the works, with only Russia and the United States opposed.

Lieberman agreed that a breakthrough of some sort is possible on oceans and various fisheries issues. She said a framework for policing the high seas under the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea is possible, or at the least the beginning of a negotiation process to do so.

"The majority of the world except the United States and Russia want some action here," Lieberman said, adding that Russia and the U.S. delegation want to proceed fishery by fishery and sector by sector, as opposed to trying to establish an international legal framework.

Such a pact would seek to establish marine protected areas and environmental impact statements in areas beyond 200 miles from a sovereign shore, where often no clear authority is in charge of fishing.

When asked whether there was danger of washout in Rio, with President Obama, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and other key figures not attending, Lieberman said she is "very confident" Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton has the full force of the administration at her disposal.

"We certainly hope that they're paying attention back home," she said. "We want to see some strong collective commitments."

Asked the same question, U.N. officials said they were hopeful for agreement on crucial issues that would "sweep through the text" and settle the agenda.

"We might not know until the wee hours of the 23rd what we've accomplished," said Amy Fraenkel, director of the U.N. Environment Programme's regional office for North America. "This meeting will yield renewed political commitment to sustainable development and recognition of that.

"The progress is a bit slow, but it is moving forward," Fraenkel added. "There's a buzz."

Sullivan reports from New York.

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