But he insisted that there was no ‘Plan B’.
“We are hopeful that there will be an outcome and in terms of what we have been hearing and seeing in the last few weeks, we believe that a deal is possible,” Runge-Metzger said evenly, over a crackling phone line from Durban.
The idea of locking the world into a process that will eventually deliver binding greenhouse gas emissions cuts has snowballed, as hopes of agreeing a comprehensive accord at the Durban Climate Change Summit, which begins today (28 November), have melted.
Runge-Metzger said that a 2015 implementation deadline favoured by the EU’s Climate Action Commissioner, Connie Hedegaard, was necessary so that an Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report, due in October 2014, and a UN review, due in 2015, could both be taken into account.
“A lot of people say that the EU is postponing any kind of action until after 2020,” he said. “That is not the case because the next negotiating round will have to depend on the latest science.”
Another negotiator in Durban told EurActiv that the EU’s idea was gaining ground. “There’s going to be a strong push and there is a better-than-even chance that we will end up with a prolongation of the Kyoto Protocol unless something goes terribly wrong,” he said.
Runge-Metzger said that the roadmap idea had “a lot of support” from developing countries in Africa, South America and the small island states.
However, “one of the few countries that has said it thinks that this is premature in Durban, is China,” he said. “China is a difficult negotiating partner in this context.”
Carving any consensus out of a weary troupe of Durban climate negotiators so stony-faced that a diplomatic call went out last week for the summit venue to be "occupied" will be an uphill struggle
To reach a deal, pressure will somehow need to be applied to recalcitrant carbon dioxide emitters like the US, Canada, Russia and Japan, which do not favour a second binding period of emissions reductions.
Environmentalists fear that these nations could prevent any meaningful action in Durban, even though in the last week, a World Meteorological Organisation report showed that CO2 emissions reached record levels in 2010, while an IPCC study found that climate change was responsible for the increased frequency of extreme weather events.
A recent outlook report by the International Energy Agency also concluded that on present trends, the window on limiting global warming to 2 degrees would close in 2017, raising the spectre of catastrophic weather events.
“You don’t close the door but you make it phenomenally difficult,” Runge-Metzger said. “Therefore we also need to see action before that time, for sure. And everyone will have to implement what they promised in Cancun and see whether further progress can be made.”
The most ambitious pledge made in Cancun was for the setting up of a $100 billion annual Green Climate Fund to help poor nations mitigate and adapt to the effects of climate change.
But it has been thrown into doubt, partly by a recent US blocking move which Runge-Metzger dismissed as “all part of the negotiations”.
More seriously, developing nations strongly object to proposals for most of the funds to come from what they see as an unreliable private sector, and for anticipated strings that would oblige them to join the ‘Annex II’ countries in the Kyoto Protocol, with emissions-reduction commitments.
“Obviously poor countries won't have to pledge as much as rich countries,” Hedegaard told reporters in Brussels on 23 November. “But by 2020, why should it only be legally binding when Europe pledges something and [not when] what we today call developed countries pledge something?”
Unlike in 1997, when the Kyoto Protocol was signed, the developing world now accounts for the majority of world CO2 emissions, while Europe’s share is just 11%, Hedegaard said.
But the overwhelming majority of the carbon already in the atmosphere was emitted by the developed world when it industrialised, developing nations say.
'Coalition of the willing'
To thrash out a way forward, the EU has held several informal meetings with the G77 countries and China since mid-October. Some negotiators say that a "coalition of the willing" has been discussed if a global deal can not be reached.
Runge-Metzger said that negotiating "red lines" and "minimal objectives" would only be decided in the last four days of the summit when governmental ministers arrive.
“These are political decisions that come on the last night so when you see it you will know it,” he laughed. But any failure would leave a heavy bruise.
“If negotiators cannot come to a conclusion, I think that people outside will lose their faith in this negotiating process,” he said.
“It will probably have some very significant implications. The public and heads of state are watching very closely and this also puts the process very much under pressure.”