Climate talks: To the wire and beyond
At the UN climate negotiations in Barcelona.
It looks like the UN climate summit in Copenhagen is shaping up to be another final-night, early-hours, last few seconds kind of affair.
On the surface, what we're witnessing here at the final preparatory session in Barcelona is a stand-off between a pair of adversaries whose positions are both rock solid and un-reconcilable.
Lumumba Stanislaus Di-Aping, the Sudanese diplomat who leads the negotiating team from the G77/China bloc, is adamant that developed nations have to pledge to cut their greenhouse gas emissions by at least 40% (from 1990 levels) by 2020; otherwise there can be no deal.
"Anything less than 40% means Africa's land mass is offered destruction as the only alternative," he said.
And "destruction" included people's livelihoods as well as forests and other ecosystems, he said.
The "at least 40%" demand has raised some eyebrows because it's a deeper cut than the 25-40% figure recommended by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in order to keep the rise in the average global temperature since pre-industrial times below 2C.
But later, Sweden's chief negotiator Anders Turesson expressed some sympathy for the G77 position.
"It's not unreasonable. We say 30% (the EU target in case of a global deal) is within the span of the IPCC in order to meet a 2C target, but we do also recognise that 2C will provide serious consequences for some countries."
But developed nations - the EU, Australia, Japan, New Zealand, Norway, Canada - have already set out their targets; with or without a big US pledge, it amounts to a lot less than 40%.
So on the surface, no deal is possible in Copenhagen in December, nor in the mooted "child of Copenhagen" conference some time next year that is looking increasingly necessary - nor in any other session thereafter until one side or other drops down from exhaustion.
The same divide appears to be evident when it comes to finance - richer countries paying poorer ones either to help them develop along low-carbon lines, or to help them adapt to impacts of climate change.
Last week, the EU set out its vision for finance. A global pot of 100bn euros per year would be needed by 2020; between a quarter and a half of that would come from the public finances of developed nations, and the EU would pay its fair share.
The EU stopped short of declaring explicitly what that would be; but here, the European Commission's chief negotiator Artur Runge-Metzger clarified that it would be between 5bn and 15bn euros per year - dependent on other developed countries paying their "fair shares" too.
Again, on the surface this is not enough to secure a deal, with various developing country blocs demanding that richer nations contribute 0.5-1% of their GDP, and from public funds too.
Asked how these apparently unbridgeable divides could be bridged, Mr Turesson said it would be wrong to think that final negotiating positions would emerge here in Barcelona, nor in the first week of Copenhagen.
Only when ministers - and possibly heads of government - arrived towards the end of the Copenhagen talks would we really know, he said - and very likely not until the last day, or probably the last night, or the unscheduled early morning beyond the last night.
Later, in a news conference with lead negotiators from the EU, the subject of Canada's emissions reduction target came up - a 20% cut from 2006 levels (or 3% from 1990 levels) by 2020, which the government has declared to be "non-negotiable".
"Negotiators often say things are 'non-negotiable'," said Mr Runge-Metzger. "But if it is really that, why are they here negotiating?"
I asked Mr Di-Aping whether he was sure that no deal was better for the nations he represents than a deal under which developed countries cut their emissions by, say, 30%. He replied by emphasising the arguments lying behind the G77's 40% demand.
I'm sure he wasn't giving away his final negotiating position either, and why would he?
He's probably waiting until the final night in Copenhagen too.
So there are two questions running round my mind.
One is whether it's worth holding the first nine days of that conference. Maybe the thousands of delegates, ministers, aides, campaigners, journalists, caterers and everyone else should spend their time listening to music or watching football with a beer or two before piling in solely for the final night when they'd all be happy and relaxed and thinking of nothing but the good of the planet and its inhabitants.
(Scurrilous I know - and also flawed, because in reality negotiators do have a lot of groundwork to do, including formatting a new draft text that can be used as a basis for the final discussions - but tempting nevertheless.)
The other question is whether this is really the best way to reach a deal that is supposed to have such far-reaching consequences.
After nearly two years of talking, you might think it wouldn't need to come down to another final-night, early-hours, last few seconds kind of affair.
If so, it's looking increasingly likely that you'd be wrong.