Europe and a group of small island Pacific states have jointly proposed a new international treaty at the UN climate talks in Cancún, Mexico, to commit developing and developed countries to reducing their climate emissions, according to leaked documents seen by the Guardian and the Times of India.
The move has outraged many developing countries, including China, Brazil and India, who fear that rich countries will use the proposal to lay the foundations to ditch the Kyoto protocol and replace it with a much weaker alternative.
The new negotiating text could provoke the most serious rift yet in the already troubled climate talks because the Kyoto protocol is the only commitment that rich countries will cut their emissions.
The treaty, adopted in 1997 and due for renewal in 2012, has been the subject of fierce arguments in Cancún, with Japan flatly refusing to sign up to a second round of pledges. Some Latin American countries have declared that they will not sign up to any deal if Japan carries out its threat.
Observers last night said that to break the impasse and save the talks from failure, the Mexican presidency has begun to prepare new texts which will be presented to the 193 countries negotiating in Cancún within 24 hours.
Britain and three other countries have been asked to prepare short texts which are expected to be used by Mexico in a final text to be presented at the conclusion of the summit on Friday.
The result, said sources close to the talks, would be that most of the elements of the controversial Copenhagen accord - the non-binding political agreement pushed by the US in Denmark last year - would be put up for adoption by the UN, presenting a major victory for the US and other rich countries.
However, the move to negotiate a text outside official meetings was compared last night to Denmark presenting a secret text last year at the Copenhagen talks.
"Informal meetings are taking place. We do not mind if these lead to formal discussions but there is no evidence that they will. The text is not to be drafted by a small group of ministers," said the Bolivian ambassador to the UN, Pablo Solon.
In a tense meeting on Wednesday, Bolivia and Saudi Arabia complained to the Mexican presidency about closed door meetings, arguing that the issues should be disclosed first to all parties.
But the practice of holding unofficial talks was defended by other countries. Qumrul Choudhury, spokesman for the least developed countries group, said nations should be "pragmatic".
"There is an great sense of urgency. We have to use every mean possible to negotiate. All countries have been invited to put their views forward," he said.