Industrial nations shy away from stiff 2020 goals

VIENNA, Aug 31 (Reuters) - Industrial nations were shying away from fixing stiff 2020 guidelines for greenhouse gases cuts at U.N. talks on Friday in what environmentalists said would be a vote for "dangerous" climate change.

A draft text at the U.N. talks dropped mention of steep cuts in greenhouse gases of 25 to 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2020 as a non-binding "guide" for rich nations' work on a pact to fight global warming beyond 2012, delegates said.

"We're still working on the text," said Leon Charles, the chair of the session from Grenada after overnight talks on the final day of Aug. 27-31 meeting in Vienna of 1,000 delegates.

The European Union and many developing nations such as China and India wanted industrial states to use the stringent 25-40 percent range to guide future talks to force a shift away from fossil fuels, blamed by U.N. reports for stoking global warming.

But Russia, Japan, Canada, New Zealand and Switzerland objected to setting the stringent range in negotiations about extending the U.N.'s Kyoto Protocol, the main plan for fighting global warming that runs to 2012, delegates said.

"The lower the stabilisation level (of greenhouse gases) achieved, the lower the consequent damages," the draft said.

It mentions the option of 25-40 percent cuts but drops a previous reference to them as an initial indicative range to guide future work.

"This is voting for the apocalypse," said Stephanie Tunmore of environmental group Greenpeace. "The 25-40 percent range is needed to help avert dangerous climate change" such as more powerful storms, rising seas and melting glaciers, she said.

"Japan is willing to let the typhoons roll in and the water flow onto its coastal land. Switzerland is committed to melt all its remaining glaciers," environmentalists said in a newsletter.

Kyoto binds 36 industrial nations to cut emissions of greenhouse gases by at least 5 percent below 1990 levels by 2008-12 in a first step to contain warming that could bring more floods, desertification, disease and raise sea levels.

The talks are the first chance for Kyoto backers to see if they can agree a range for industrial nations' talks on a new climate pact that many governments want to agree in 2009.

The United States has not ratified Kyoto and thus is not involved. President George W. Bush has separately called a meeting of major emitters in Washington on Sept. 27-28.

Cuts of 25-40 percent below 1990 levels by 2020 are the stiffest scenario by the U.N.'s climate panel in a May 2007 report seen as limiting global warming to 2.0 to 2.4 Celsius (3.6 to 4.3 Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial levels.

The EU, which has said it will unilaterally cut emissions by 20 percent by 2020 and by 30 percent if other nations follow suit, and environmentalists say that any gain in temperatures above 2 Celsius will bring dangerous changes.