PORT OF SPAIN Commonwealth nations representing one-third of the world's population threw their weight behind accelerating efforts to clinch an "operationally binding" U.N. climate deal in Copenhagen next month, their leaders said on Saturday.
Leaders of the 53-nation Commonwealth meeting in Trinidad and Tobago used their summit to bolster a diplomatic offensive seeking wide consensus on how to fight global warming ahead of December 7-18 U.N. climate talks in the Danish capital.
"We believe ... the time for action on climate change has come. The clock is ticking to Copenhagen ... we believe that the political goodwill and resolve exists to secure a comprehensive agreement at Copenhagen," Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd told a news conference in Port of Spain.
The Commonwealth Climate Change Declaration pledged the group's backing for Danish Prime Minister Lars Lokke Rasmussen in his efforts to secure wide attendance and commitment from world leaders at the Copenhagen climate talks.
"We pledge our continued support to the leaders-driven process ... to deliver a comprehensive, substantial and operationally binding agreement in Copenhagen leading toward a full legally binding outcome no later than 2010," the Port of Spain declaration said.
Tackling the issue of funding for poor nations' efforts to fight climate change and global warming, the Commonwealth also backed an initiative to establish a Copenhagen Launch Fund, starting in 2010 and building to $10 billion annually by 2012.
Rasmussen and U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who joined the Commonwealth leaders' discussions in Port of Spain, welcomed the declaration from the group.
Ban said world leaders should "stay focused, stay committed and come to Copenhagen to secure a deal."
Rasmussen said 89 heads of state and government had so far advised they would attend next month's talks in Copenhagen, and Trinidad and Tobago's Prime Minister and the Commonwealth summit's host, Patrick Manning, announced he would be there too, bringing the total expected number to 90.
While next month's U.N. talks are not expected to result in the immediate approval of a detailed climate treaty, the wording of the Commonwealth climate declaration made clear its leaders expected any deal reached in Copenhagen would be "operationally binding" and lead fast to a definitive treaty.
U.N. chief Ban has said an agreement to lay the foundation for such a legally binding accord is now "within reach."
The deal the United Nations is aiming for in Copenhagen would cover tougher emissions targets, climate financing for poorer nations and transfer of clean-energy technology.
The climate treaty, expected to be adopted as a final text next year, will replace the Kyoto Protocol expiring in 2012.
"FAST START FUNDING"
Commonwealth leaders suggested that 10 percent of the proposed $10 billion-a-year Copenhagen Launch Fund should be channeled to small island states most at risk from rising sea levels caused by global warming.
Nearly half of the Commonwealth's members are small island states, and developing nations have been appealing for hefty financial aid from rich governments to help them counter climate change and reduce carbon pollution.
The Commonwealth put at the forefront of the climate debate the cases of tiny island states like the Maldives in the Indian Ocean and Tuvalu and Kiribati in the Pacific, whose existence would be threatened by swelling ocean levels.
Earlier, Maldives President Mohamed Nasheed welcomed the backing of the Commonwealth's developed countries -- Britain, Australia, Canada, and New Zealand -- for the proposed "fast start funding" seen as essential for any climate deal.
"I believe the Commonwealth understands our predicament more than the others ... they have put concrete things on the table," he told Reuters.
On Friday, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown called for the creation of the $10 billion-a-year fund, arguing such financing should be made available as early as next year, well before any new climate deal takes effect.
The idea was also backed by French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who also attended the Commonwealth summit as an invited guest to lobby in support of a climate deal.
Prospects for achieving a broad political framework pact in Copenhagen next month were brightened this week by public promises of greenhouse gas curbs by China and the United States, the world's biggest emitters.