Good work had been done this week on the "how" of a second commitment period to the Kyoto Protocol, one of the largest hurdles for the Durban-hosted United Nations climate change talks (COP-17), said Christiana Figueres, executive secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, on Friday.

This will be heart-warming news to activists, nongovernmental groups and religious leaders who have criticised the summit for becoming bogged down in political wrangling.

Ms Figueres said an ad hoc working group on the European Union's proposal for a process that could lead some of the almost 200 nations gathered at COP-17 to thrash out a new deal on warding off damaging climate change was narrowing down options from which heads of state and ministers who arrived on Monday and Tuesday could choose.

A big problem, however, is that the second commitment period to the world's first and only treaty on reducing the emission of greenhouse gases is set to cover only 10%-15% of total global emissions.

The EU says this is not enough and that more nations need to come to the party.

The world's two largest greenhouse gas emitters, China (responsible for 23,3% of total emissions) and the US (18,1%), remain in the talks, but neither wants to sign up to a second commitment period if the other does not do so too.

Japan, responsible for 4% of total emissions and the world's fifth worst offender in terms of greenhouse gas emissions; Russia, lying fourth and responsible for 5,67% of emissions; and Canada, seventh with 1,8% of emissions, have all said they will not sign up to a second commitment period.

Canada is the only signatory to the Kyoto Protocol, which set emissions reduction targets for developed nations, that has openly said it will not meet those targets.

The World Wide Fund for Nature's Keya Chatterjee, of the fund's US branch, said the world was on the verge of "closing all the viable options for limiting global warming to below 2°C", and that it was the ministers and heads of state who arrive next week who could change this.

Scientific consensus is that global warming must be limited to 2°C or even 1,5°C, to limit catastrophic climate change.

The Climate Action Network's Srinivas Krishnaswamy, of CAN South Asia, said: "The problem we have is not technological; it is not the economics. It is just the politics. So whether or not countries are willing to move forward without other countries is a political question the ministers are going to have to face.

"There haven't been that many moments in history where we have seen countries willing to move forward without big players."

Religious leaders under the banner of the Interfaith Declaration on Climate Change handed a letter of protest to Ms Figueres.

The talks needed to proceed in an atmosphere of trust instead of "competition between nations", said retired Anglican Bishop Geoff Davis.

The multifaith organisation has demanded that political leaders honour their commitments under the UNFCCC, make stronger ones and work together to forge a solution.

"We no longer accept words and catchy phrases (from politicians)," said Roman Catholic Cardinal Wilfrid Napier.

Ms Figueres said their message was "loud and clear".

"We cannot affoird the luxury of (our) children being as irresponsible as we have been (in looking after the planet) ... I have two daughters, and I know that they do not learn from what I say, but from what I do," she said, agreeing to convey the declaration to political leaders.

Ms Figueres said the $30bn "fast-start" fund agreed to at the 2009 climate change talks in Copenhagen, Denmark, had "to a great extent" been identified and allocated, but the $100bn-a-year long-term finance under the Green Climate Fund was a tougher nut to crack. Consensus was needed on "a process to identify sources of funding" and work was afoot.

"It will be challenging, but not impossible," she said.

So far, the UNFCCC is expecting 12 heads of state and 130 ministers to arrive in Durban on Monday and Tuesday, although it does not appear any heads of state from heavy hitters such as the US, the UK or Europe are on the list.

blaines@bdfm.co.za