U.N. Climate Change Conference Kicks Off in Cancun

Over the next two weeks, representatives of 193 nations will meet for the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in Mexico in an attempt to overcome the disconnect between rich and poor countries on fighting global warming.

During two weeks of talks, the U.N. conference hopes to conclude agreements that will clear the way to mobilize billions of dollars for developing countries and give them green technology to help them shift from fossil fuels affecting climate change.

After a disappointing summit last year in Copenhagen, no hope remains of reaching an overarching deal this year setting legal limits on how much industrialized countries would be allowed to pollute. Such an accord was meant to help slash greenhouse gas emissions by mid-century, when scientists say they should be half of today's levels.

Eighty-five countries have made specific pledges to reduce emissions or constrain their growth, but those promises amount to far less than required to keep temperatures from rising to potentially dangerous levels. Adopting scaled back ambitions for Cancun, if successful, could restore confidence in the process.

As often during the three-year process, attention will focus on the United States and China, the two nations that often butt heads in the negotiations representing the industrialized and developing world.

Congress has thus far failed to pass domestic climate legislation. President Obama has been criticized for what is often described as the feeble U.S. pledge to reduce carbon emissions 17 percent by 2020 from 2005 levels. Lawmakers are working to bundle a slew of waterways, public lands and wildlife bills into a monumental natural resources package that could attract enough bipartisan support to pass before Congress ends next month, but it isn’t clear whether the lame-duck congress will look at the proposed climate bill.

The U.S. has insisted it will agree to binding pollution limits only if China also accepts legal limitations. China, now the world's biggest polluter but also the biggest investor in renewable energy, rejects international limits, saying it still needs to overcome widespread poverty and bears no historic responsibility for the problem.

While delegates haggle over the wording, timing and dollar figures involved in any agreement, scientists and political activists at the conference will be offering the latest indications of the planet's warming. Some 250 presentations are planned on the sidelines of the negotiations.

Meteorologists are likely to report that 2010 will end up tied for the hottest year globally since records began 131 years ago.