BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Loopholes in the United Nations climate treaties could actually amount to an increase in global climate-warming emissions and the chance to rein in temperatures may be slipping away, a draft European Union report showed.
"Optimistic assessments...indicate that a pathway toward limiting the global temperature increase to no more than 2 degrees Celsius is still feasible, but more pessimistic assessments indicate this chance is disappearing fast," it added.
European Climate Commissioner Connie Hedegaard will announce her strategy on Tuesday for advancing international climate talks after the conclusion of a weak deal in Copenhagen in December.
She is expected to outline a roadmap toward a legally-binding global climate treaty, and focus on strengthening the integrity of U.N. rules.
An EU report to back that announcement estimated rich countries' current pledges for carbon dioxide cuts will add up to a reduction of between 13.2 percent and 17.8 percent over the next decade.
The difference comes from the fact that some rich countries have pledged a range of possible cuts.
That would fall far short of the 25-40 percent cut recommended by U.N. scientists to keep temperature rises to within 2 degrees Celsius of pre-industrial temperatures -- beyond which the delicate climate system might become unstable.
Anti-poverty group Oxfam said that by contrast, poor countries looked set to cut emissions at the very top end of the range suggested by U.N. scientists of 15-30 percent below business-as-usual.
"Unless developed countries now rapidly increase their mitigation targets and act to close these loopholes, the impacts on poor and vulnerable people will be catastrophic," said Oxfam campaigner Tim Gore.
"The current pledges could lead to four billion people affected by water shortages by the end of the century," he added.
The leaked report, seen by Reuters on Monday, said two key loopholes must be tackled -- the use of spare carbon emissions permits left after the collapse of the Soviet Union, and loose rules on emissions from agriculture and deforestation.
Heavy industry collapsed in former communist countries during the transition to a free market economy, leading to sharp falls in carbon emissions -- and a huge surplus of emissions rights under Kyoto for countries like Russia and Ukraine.
Russia, for example, is on track to undercut its Kyoto target by about 1.4 billion tonnes of greenhouse gases annually -- equivalent to the entire emissions of Japan, the world's fifth biggest carbon emitter -- U.N'. data show.
Those permits can be bought by big emitters to avoid taking any meaningful climate action.
If the spare emissions permits are not somehow dealt with, they could reduce the real-world emissions cuts by rich nations by 6.8 percentage points, the EU report warns.
In the worst case, that could mean rich countries cut emissions to only 6.4 percent below 1990 levels over the next decade.
Loose U.N. rules for emissions from forestry and agriculture could erode 9 percentage points from emissions cuts.
"This would mean that for the lower end of the pledges, we would in fact allow for an increase in developed country emissions of 2.6 percent above 1990 levels," warn the report. "For the higher end of the pledges, we would only see a 2 percent reduction in relation to 1990."