BREATHE: Greenpeace activists in Durban want the Brazilian rain forest saved to preserve the world's oxygen supply. Picture: SHAYNE ROBINSON

BATTLE lines were drawn yesterday in Durban between developed and developing countries, as the two groups squared off over the future of the Kyoto Protocol and the level of cuts required to avert dangerous climate change.

Water and Environmental Affairs Minister Edna Molewa said SA hoped to ensure that the international climate change talks would see countries signing on to a second commitment period for the Kyoto Protocol. She warned that countries needed to be far more ambitious in their commitments to curb global warming.

"The current level of pledges of the whole world do not bring us to the required level of ambition (to keep average global warming below 2°C)."

European negotiators have proposed a "road map" for a future agreement. Polish Environment Minister Marcin Korolec, whose country holds the European Union (EU) presidency, said Europe was open to a second Kyoto commitment period providing its conditions were met. These include new market- based mechanisms established to help emerging economies cut emissions at the least cost.

Ms Molewa said SA welcomed the EU plan. "We believe it's a good road map. We have engaged with the Africa Group . with G77+ China . and with our BASIC members, and we say it's a good road map." But she said the conditions linked to the EU plan still required engagement.

Latin American countries, represented by the Alba bloc, warned that the talks threatened not only the Kyoto Protocol but also key elements of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.

The Kyoto Protocol is the world's only target-based legal instrument to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, while the convention sets a general framework for international action on emissions. "There is a deep danger of having not only the protocol lost but also the convention," said Bolivian negotiator Rene Orellana.

The convention includes two key principles that have informed subsequent negotiations: that of common but differentiated responsibility, which acknowledges that developed countries are responsible for historic emission levels and should therefore do more to cut back; and technology and finance assistance for developing countries. Mr Orellana said it was possible that a future climate regime would not distinguish between developed and developing countries.

Venezuelan negotiator Claudia Salerno criticised the level of emissions pledges on the table. "Developing country pledges are bigger than the pledges made by developed countries.... How are they going to raise the level of their ambitions?" she asked. If weak forestry accounting rules were included in the analysis of pledges, "the amount pledged is close to zero".

Canada, widely believed to be pulling out of the Kyoto Protocol, came in for criticism. The country was "actually demanding stronger commitments from developing countries than it is prepared to make itself", said Mohamed Adow of Christian Aid.

Greenpeace International's Tove Ryding said: "The EU needs to stand by the Kyoto Protocol and defend it, or it will also get the blame." Ms Ryding said countries that were only in Durban to block progress should be left on the sidelines. "You don't need consensus to get a second commitment period. You could see a vote."

The face-off shows the fissures that have emerged since the 2008 economic crisis, with the developed world reluctant to help the developing world.