The United Nations Climate Change Conference got underway in the Mexican beach resort of Cancun Monday with calls for decisive action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions worldwide as part of an effort to curb global warming. But participants are looking for advances on a handful of issues rather than an overall agreement that would legally bind nations to reduce emissions.
Delegates from more than 190 nations, and representatives of various non-governmental groups, are in Cancun for two weeks of discussion aimed at forging a comprehensive agreement not now, but at some future meeting.
But in his opening remarks, Mexican President Felipe Calderon said the world may not be able to wait much longer for decisive action.
He said climate change is already a reality for Mexico and the whole planet. He cited recent deadly floods in Mexico, Guatemala and Pakistan, as well as disasters in Russia and Africa as evidence that climate change is already disrupting life for many of the world's people.
The threat is especially keen for small island nations – rising sea levels caused by global warming threaten their very existence.
The chair for the group representing 42 of those nations is Grenada's ambassador, Dessima Williams.
"Our environmental integrity is at risk," said Ambassador Williams. "Our peoples' livelihood remains at risk and the very credibility of the multilateral system to which we are pledged and to which, as small states, we depend – all are at stake."
These nations want the world to commit to keeping global temperature no higher than 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels – an ambitious goal given that world leaders struggled to commit to a two-degree limit at last year's Climate Summit in Copenhagen.
But while people attending this conference agree on the gravity of the problem, they are not all of one mind when it comes to what exactly needs to be done.
The European Union is urging China, the United States and other large emitters of greenhouse gases to put aside differences and commit to a legally binding agreement.
The head of the U.S. Climate Change delegation, Jonathan Pershing, says any agreement on cutting emissions worldwide must be verifiable by all nations involved.
"It is extremely important to have a clear sense of understanding about what countries are delivering, what they are doing," Pershing said. "How do you know? How do you create confidence in the process and for one country in the actions of the other countries."
Whether negotiators can move a little closer to an agreement based on such transparency is one of the questions that will be answered when this conference comes to a close on December 10.