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WELLINGTON (Reuters) - Major climate talks in South Africa at year-end will be unlikely to strike agreement on a new pact, but will be important in determining the shape of long-term efforts to tackle climate change, a senior U.N. climate official said on Tuesday.
The future of the Kyoto Protocol, the existing U.N. plan which obliges about 40 industrialised nations to cut greenhouse gas emissions until 2012, is widely seen as under threat. Japan, Canada and Russia have said they will not extend it, while the United States never signed up to it.
"It's too early to call the Durban result, expectations are not high at the moment," said Adrian Macey, chair of U.N. Kyoto Protocol negotiations, referring to the Nov 28 to Dec 9 talks in South Africa.
"But my own view is that whatever happens, I don't see all 191 parties under the U.N. abandoning efforts to develop a comprehensive effort in the longer term for climate change action," Macey told a climate conference in Wellington, New Zealand.
There would be a gap after the first Kyoto Protocol commitment period expires at the end of 2012, Macey said, with a number of issues remaining outstanding.
"It's become clear that what we might be looking at in Durban is a transition to a more viable long-term architecture," Macey said.
Last week, New Zealand's Climate Change Negotiations Minister Tim Groser told Reuters the global community was accepting the reality that there would be no deal in Durban but progress was being made.
Global negotiations have faltered because of a gulf between developed and developing countries about who should shoulder the burden of reducing emissions blamed for stoking global warming.
Kyoto does not oblige developing nations to take on binding emissions cuts and these countries now produce more than half of mankind's greenhouse gas pollution. China is the world's top emitter, followed by the United States and India.
Intractable issues in international negotiations ahead of Durban include aviation emissions, maritime emissions and how to manage carbon markets in developing countries, Macey said.
"It's not going to be the final answer and it will be very difficult to get anything like a treaty," Macey said, referring to the Durban talks.
Scientists say time is running out for the world to agree on cuts to prevent the planet warming by 2 degrees Celsius, regarded as the threshold for dangerous climate change such as more intense droughts, storms and floods.
A group of scientists has estimated that existing plans for cutting greenhouse gases so far put the world on a path to a rise of 3.2 degrees Celsius. Emissions rose last year to a record high, the International Energy Agency says.