DOHA - Despite mounting alarm about climate change, almost 200 nations meeting in Doha from Monday are likely to pay little more than lip service to the need to rein in rising greenhouse gas emissions.
A likely failure to agree a meaningful extension of the UN's Kyoto Protocol, a legally binding plan for cutting emissions by developed nations, would also undercut work on a new deal meant to unite rich and poor in fighting global warming from 2020.
"The situation is very urgent ... We can no longer say that climate change is tomorrow's problem," Andrew Steer, president of the Washington-based World Resources Institute think-tank, said of the November 26-December 7 talks in Qatar.
Superstorm Sandy had been a wake-up call for many Americans as the sort of extreme event predicted by climate scientists in a warming world, he said, even though individual weather events cannot be blamed on man-made global warming.
A UN study last week said the world was on target for a rise in temperatures of between 3 and 5 degrees Celsius (5.4 to 9F) because of increasing emissions. That would cause more floods, droughts, heatwaves and rising sea levels.
A UN conference two years ago agreed to limit any rise in temperatures to below 2 degrees Celsius (3.6F) above pre-industrial times. But greenhouse gas levels hit a new record in 2011, despite the world economic slowdown.
And countries are showing little sign of raising ambition.
"A faster response to climate change is necessary and possible," Christiana Figueres, head of the UN Climate Change Secretariat, said in a statement outlining hopes for the talks.
"The climate talks so far have not produced anything like the results that the science tells us that we need," said Samantha Smith, leader of global climate and energy work at the WWF conservation group.
Delegates will meet in a cavernous conference centre in Qatar - the first OPEC state to host the annual talks and the nation with the world's highest per capita greenhouse gas emissions, roughly three times those of the average American.