Patricia Espinosa, the Mexico president of the climate-change talks in Cancun, musn’t like Hollywood thrillers. First of all she promised that there would be no secret texts or behind-the-door consultations at these talks, removing at least one layer of intrigue, and now she’s saying that everyone needs to have finished their work at the Moon Palace by 6pm on Friday.

It’s a tradition at these meetings that last-minute horse trading extends into the early hours of Saturday morning, usually with an unsatisfactory compromise. But Espinosa made it clear on Wednesday morning that the parties have until Friday morning to agree on negotiations. Experienced negotiators say there is a fat chance of that.

Final texts were prepared today, providing a range of options that went to ministers at about 9am Australian time. This at least is an advance on Copenhagen, and indicative of the relatively calm nature of these talks, and the changing dynamics of the international power plays. It’s no longer being dominated by US and China, the other major emitters such as South Africa and Brazil are being more vocal, and so too are the island states, who have the most to lose.

The ministers have about 42 hours to find agreement and most, including Australia’s climate change minister Greg Combet, are expecting a couple of “all-nighters”.

Inevitably, criticism from green groups focused on the US, which is so hamstrung by domestic politics that its approach is seen as a play for time. The EU has also been surprisingly timid in negotiations, says Tara Rao, from WWF International, even in its approach to dealing with some of the “loopholes” arising from excess credits and land use regulations. “They are giving up this position to get this compromise,” Rao said. “We need them to take the lead, not sitting on their backside as they are now.”

Australia is also being accused of too closely following the line of the US in some of the key negotiations. “It’s not pushing the US to do more,” says Jennifer Morgan, the head of the US-based think tank World Resources Institute. But Morgan agrees the EU has been equally passive. “No one wants to stick their neck out, no one wants to be blamed.”

Australian Conservation Foundation CEO Don Henry called on Australia to take a key role over the final few days. “We don’t send sporting teams out on the field to lose,” he said, adding that Australia was in a position of influence because it had the ear of the US, China, Brazil and other countries.

So, with 48 hours to go before Espinosa plans to declare that the talks are over, here’s a state of play of the major sticking

Problems still remain about how to “anchor” the pledges made under the Copenhagen Accord. The US wants to register only its “intention” to meet its targets, and the text is still missing the crucial legal hook to bring major emitting countries in the developing world into a UN framework, and an indication that the talks are headed towards a formal treaty.

Green groups and island states also complain that there is no recognition of the “gigatonne gap” between the pledges and the stated target of two degrees. The gap is actually 8-12 gigatonnes. Questions also remain about baseline years and the duration of the second period of the Kyoto Protocol. Australia and others are anxious that an agreement of sorts, even if not perfect, is essential at this meeting.

“Achieving a solid foundation in Cancun all hangs on clear and robust commitments by all major emitters to anchor their current targets in the UN process,” says Erwin Jackson of the Climate Institute. To achieve that will require commitments are carried forward in the protocol and the convention that is being negotiated alongside it.

Indications are that agreement is nearing on the issue of transparency, one of the principal spanners in the works of Copenhagen and one of the two “centres of gravity” of the Cancun talks. Basically it’s about being able to check and verify that countries are actually achieving the abatement they have claimed or promised.

But like financing, below, it is being held taken hostage to a power play between the developed and developing countries. India has come up with a mechanism called ICA (International Consultation and Analysis) that China seems happy with. The US, though, wants more details, just as the developing countries want more details of the financing mechanism. “This is running along the political faultlines,” said one negotiator. “It’s inevitable that a lot of the details won’t and can’t be worked out till the next year.”

Combet’s assigned project for the week is difficult enough, but is now being used as a bargaining chip and drawn into associated stumbling blocks such as transparency. Poor nations are looking for greater certainty for the $30 billion in fast-start funding and are looking for commitments to a mechanism that will unlock more than $100 billion a year in assistance to poor nations, and how that money will be applied — either through mitigation efforts or adaptation.

Agreement has appeared close but the question of details (as above) has bedeviled the talks. Do you commit now and work out the details later, or sort out the details while promising to come good on the offer at a later date, and who should run the fund. “They have moved some commas around, haven’t isolated the critical issues for ministers to decide and have still got way too many options in the text,” said Steve Herz of Greenpeace International.  And just for good measure, Tuvalu threw in an entirely new proposal at the last minute which, among other things, would require developed nations to commit 1.5% of their GDP to support developing countries — or about $600 million a year.

To read the rest of this article — and for more from Cancun — visit Climate Spectator.