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Diverging views signal tough climate talks

DURBAN, South Africa -- With heat-trapping carbon at record levels in the atmosphere, UN climate negotiations opened yesterday. Pressure was building to salvage the only treaty limiting greenhouse gas emissions.

The United States, Europe and the developing countries laid out diverging positions at the outset, signaling tough talks ahead even as South African President Jacob Zuma called for national interests to be laid aside "for a common good and benefit of all humanity."

As if to illustrate the effects of global warming, a fierce storm on the eve of the talks flooded shack settlements and killed five people in the port city hosting the international gathering. Municipal officials said the toll could go as high as 10, based on unconfirmed reports. The talks were not affected, though the roof of the sprawling conference center was damaged.

Scientists say such unusual weather has become more frequent and will continue to happen as the Earth warms, although it is impossible to attribute any individual event to climate change.

The talks face a one-year deadline with the expiration next December of the commitment by 37 industrial countries to cut carbon emissions, as required under the Kyoto Protocol.

As the talks opened, Canadian television reported that Ottawa will announce its withdrawal from the 1997 Kyoto accord next month. Canada, joined by Japan and Russia, said last year it will not accept new commitments.

U.S. chief delegate Jonathan Pershing said the United States, which shunned Kyoto as unfair, would accept legally binding emissions limits in the future as long as all major emitters took on equal obligations. But the United States wants to know exactly what such an agreement would contain before it agrees to the principle of a legal treaty, which would require two-thirds support in the Senate.

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