COPENHAGEN - "Three years of gathering support have come down to three days of negotiating," says U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki Moon, calling on developed nations to quickly set further emissions reduction targets.
"But developing nations should also slow the growth of their emissions," he urged delegates at the start of the High Level Meeting. "The time for consensus has arrived. No one will get what they want in these negotiations but everyone can get what they need."
And so the political phase of the U.N. Climate Conference begins. Ministers and heads of state are arriving in the Danish capital; journalists gallop after celebrities; activists are being pre-emptively arrested outside the conference venue - and the political power needed for a deal is assembling.
But is there political will to agree a meaningful deal?
The Climate Change Research Centre at Australia's University of New South Wales issued a timely reminder of the scientific assessment of the dangers we face as a planet.
Drawing on hundreds of peer-reviewed papers published since the Fourth Assessment of the IPCC* was released, the Centre has little good news to report. Every key indicator is at or beyond the worst predictions made. Glaciers and sea ice continue to melt rapidly; sea levels and average temperatures are rising in line with the high end of predictions.
Researcher Corinne Le Quéré showed that oil, coal and gas emissions rose by 41 percent between 1990 and 2008, and only the financial crisis has momentarily checked this steep increase.
"We can fail," Conference of Parties president Connie Hedegaard warned environment ministers in the Bella Centre later in the day. "We have to change gears if are going to make it."
Reflecting on eight days of negotiations, she said, "You must compromise, you must commit, you must deliver now."
But in the corridors of the Bella Centre, littered with draft negotiating texts, it was rumoured that developing and developed nations continued on a collision course with the former demanding commitments under the Kyoto Protocol, while industrialised countries push for a completely new agreement.
It will not be easy for the large emerging economies to meet the demand for cuts by the West said UNFCCC chief Yvo de Boer. "In India there are 400 million people without electricity. How do you switch off the light bulb that you don't have?"
The U.S. and Canada have further frustrated North-South dialogue by announcing emission cuts of 4 and 3 percent of 1990 levels respectively.
On finance, it seems likely that a quick start-up fund of $10 billion annually till 2012 will be available at the end of the conference, with the European Union pledging $3.6 billion last week and the US and Japan expected to chip in. However, there is no movement on long-term funding for adaptation, mitigation and technology transfers.
The EU has indicated that at least $100 billion per year is needed to counter the effects of climate change, without indicating where this money will come from. NGOs put this amount higher. "We have calculated a minimum amount of $160 billion is needed for the second commitment period that runs from 2013 to 2017," said the WWF's advocacy chief for climate, Kathrin Gutmann.
UNFCCC executive secretary Yvo de Boer called for "compassion" from negotiating countries.
"Do not continue with covering the same old ground," he said. "There is too much at stake. Compassion is what makes nations great. This is not about one nation over another, not of one group over another. One hundred and fifty leaders are not coming to Copenhagen tomorrow to leave empty handed."
Emphasis was placed on a 10 billion start-up fund and a deal on REDD as the minimum outputs of the conference. "To buy time in the battle against climate change we must find a way to make the trees worth more alive than dead," said Prince Charles.
Some environmental activists present in Copenhagen don't believe the political leaders will accomplish anything.
Dionisio Cabrera, an indigenous leader from Bolivia spoke of three points that should guide action: respect Mother Earth, acknowledge climate debt, and recognise indigenous peoples, who are the moral reserve of the planet, watching those responsible for contamination go about their business.
Those most vulnerable to climate change will not simply be watching on the sidelines. Cabrera spoke at a press conference announcing a direct action to "Reclaim the Power" for the people.
"We are the creditors and the debtors must pay their debts," Kenyan activist Wahu Kaara declared.
Permission has been granted for a march at 8 am on Dec 16; direct action to occupy the Bella Centre is scheduled to begin at 10 am, with a call on delegates and observers to walk out in protest scheduled for noon.
Dr Tadzio Mueller, one of the organisers of the Reclaim the Power action was arrested by undercover police as he left the Centre following this press conference. Twenty others were snatched outside the Klimaforum parallel summit of civil society in the city centre.
Snow fell on the Danish capital today, but the temperature is rising.
*Claudia Ciobanu, Stephen Leahy and Terna Gyuse contributed to this report.